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More local attorneys to be used in death penalty cases

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The retention of two private attorneys to assist in the death penalty trial of Kelvin Johnson is the beginning of a trend in the Augusta Judicial Circuit.

For the next 12 to 24 months, the Georgia Public De­fen­der Standards Council will appoint local attorneys to future death penalty cases “in an effort to improve the delivery of services,” according to an Aug. 2 letter from Execu­tive Director Travis Sakri­son to Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet.

Mon­day was scheduled to be Johnson’s third trial date since his indictment in 2009 in the death of Martha Greene. But last month, the third co-counsel appointed to Johnson’s case said he couldn’t be ready for trial. Superior Court Judge David Roper declared that the Geor­gia Capital Defender Office was “systemically broken” and threatened to remove public defenders from the case.

The office has since contracted seasoned death penalty attorneys Jacque Hawk and Peter John­son to assist in the case. There was also a meeting in Co­lum­bia County involving Pub­lic Defender Kate Mason, District Attorney Ashley Wright, Overstreet, standards council Chairman Ron Cross and Sakrison.

In court, Wright classified the meeting as an “airing of grievances” about issues pertaining to local death penalty cases.

Wright said she discussed “my frustration and inability to get cases into a courtroom” for trial and a “lack of consistent representation” by the defenders’ office. She questioned why nothing had changed since Superior Court Judge Daniel Craig chastised the office last summer for long delays in the case of Tony Grubbs.

Instead of starting Johnson’s trial Monday, Roper presented what he viewed as evidence that the system was broken, and the defenders’ office answered his complaints, contending that it would take more funding from the state Legislature to boost the office’s performance.

“The remedy is not in this courtroom,” Hawk said. “We can’t fix what the Legislature has created and not funded.”

After the hearing, Sakri­son said several measures were in place to improve the quality of work, specifically in the Augusta circuit. Chief among them was the new policy of hiring local counsel. He also said a regional office was opening in Athens, similar to those in Tifton and Brunswick, to eliminate excessive travel between Atlanta and Augusta.

“Going forward, the plan is to look at effectiveness,” he said.

Wright said her goal is to continue pushing the John­son case, which is now planned for trial in January. She said local attorneys will have more incentive to perform diligently because they know the judges in this circuit.

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Riverman1
83642
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Riverman1 08/07/12 - 02:26 pm
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Get out your wallets.

Get out your wallets. Somebody is going to make a lot of money. I'm reminded of what famed attorney Gerry Spence said when asked how much he got for a murder trial. He answered, "Everything."

I hope the newly hired attorneys don't end up getting everything. If we are going to hiring private capital defense attorneys, we had better figure out a way to pay them.

Little Lamb
45867
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Little Lamb 08/07/12 - 02:30 pm
1
1
Pro Bono

Whatever happened to lawyers who do a certain number of pro bono cases each year as community service?

billcass
782
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billcass 08/07/12 - 02:38 pm
0
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All consuming

Capital cases are all consuming. The Supreme Court has stated "Death is different" in explaining why capital do (and should) take so long to prosecute and so much work to defend. This is not like being appointed to some routine robbery case, that will likely plead out. A capital murder cases essentially means you close your office to any other work for six months to a year. The workload is astounding, and if we are not prepared to fund the defense of these cases, we should not prosecute them as capital cases.

Little Lamb
45867
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Little Lamb 08/07/12 - 02:54 pm
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Shovel Ready

Just declare the case "shovel ready" and TARP can send some funding.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 08/07/12 - 03:24 pm
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KUDOS,

Judge Roper,

for your efforts to place Justice at the heart of our local judicial system.

So doing hasn't made you too popular in the eyes of "The Chief" and his minion.

Riverman1
83642
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Riverman1 08/07/12 - 04:28 pm
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Judge Roper is Doing a Service to the Capital Defender

Actually, Judge Roper is doing a service to the capital defenders. He is saying fund it or do away with it. Nothing to argue with there.

realitycheck09
307
Points
realitycheck09 08/07/12 - 09:54 pm
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Hey Little Lamb -

Do you do your job pro bono? I'm guessing not.

You want lawyers taking on traffic cases or some simple case pro bono. Not a likely two or three week capital murder trial.

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