Originally created 08/14/97

Indigent defense to release records



Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver said Wednesday he hopes to receive by week's end the records from an undisclosed bank account used for pay raises for some city employees.

"I hoped to have the information by now. But I would expect we'll get it within the next day or so," he said.

The administrator filed a written request for the records after city finance officials were rebuffed twice Tuesday in efforts to obtain copies of the past three months of checks and bank statements from the account.

Sam Cruse, chairman of the Augusta Judicial Circuit Indigent Defense Committee, wrote in a letter Wednesday that he is assembling the indigent defense office's bank statements at Mr. Oliver's request. Mr. Cruse didn't immediately return telephone messages left on answering machines.

The administrator wants to see checks written on the account the indigent defense governing board opened in January with state grant money. The money from the Georgia Indigent Defense Council previously went into a city account to help pay for operating the office that will cost taxpayers $677,000 this year.

Under the state's sunshine law, The Augusta Chronicle also is seeking records from the taxpayer-supported indigent defense office.

Some $26,811 of $129,871 deposited into the account through March was used to boost salaries of indigent defense Director Eddie Goode and his staff. Mr. Goode received a 50-percent raise, boosting his pay from $28,130 to $41,937 a year. Four other staffers received 15 percent bonuses ranging from $2,585.70 to $4,332.99, according to committee records.

No tax deductions were withheld from the raises, a practice Mr. Oliver described as illegal.

Mr. Cruse contends the indigent defense office is a "hybrid system" with an autonomous governing board, although its employees are on the city payroll and local taxpayers will foot most of the nearly $750,000 budget this year.

The committee does not report to the Augusta administrator, Mr. Cruse contended. The six members are appointed by the Augusta Commission, the Bar Association and Chief Judge William H. Fleming Jr.

Richmond County Commission - which operated before city and county governments merged last year - appointed Mr. Cruse and John Fleming, both Augusta lawyers. The Bar Association appointed Richard Dunstan and Doug Flanagan, also local attorneys. Judge Fleming appointed Burke County Administrator Billy Hopper and David Watkins, a lawyer recently appointed to a Richmond County State Court judgeship.

The indigent defense office appoints lawyers for defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford one.

The bank account was never secret because it was authorized by high-ranking city officials, Mr. Cruse said. But Commissioner Moses Todd said that unless six commissioners voted to change how the office was set up, opening the bank account was illegal.

City officials learned of the account during the city's annual audit, according to Mr. Oliver.