Originally created 08/15/97

New records show indigent defense employees got two raises in '97



Employees of the city's indigent defense office got two raises from an undisclosed bank account this year instead of only one as had been reported earlier, new records delivered to city hall showed Thursday.

Indigent Defense Coordinator Eddie Goode received a $6,903 check June 26 in addition to a previously reported $13,807 check in January, bringing the total paid him this year to $48,840, according to the records.

City officials thought Mr. Goode was making $28,130 a year.

Four other employees in the office also received second raises in June, ranging from $1,391 to $2,166, bringing their total increases for the year to $19,502.

No taxes were deducted from the payments, which is illegal, according to Augusta Administrator Randy Oliver.

Another $3,364 went to pay for a seminar for local attorneys at Savannah Rapids Pavilion in Columbia County, including a $1,001 payment to Mayor Larry Sconyers' restaurant, Sconyers Bar-B-Que.

The indigent defense office assigns lawyers to defendants in criminal cases who cannot afford to pay for their own attorneys. Its operations will cost taxpayers $677,000 this year in payments to lawyers, administrative expenses and salaries to employees who are on the city payroll.

Mr. Oliver did not know the office's governing board, the Augusta Judicial Circuit Indigent Defense Committee, had bypassed him and directed state money that previously went into a city account into a committee account and used the money to boost salaries.

The committee's bank account was discovered during the city's audit in February, when the state indigent defense office reported discrepancies in the amount of money Richmond County recorded receiving from the state office last year. The money had gone instead to the indigent defense committee, records show.

After receiving the bank records Thursday, Mr. Oliver said he was concerned about the amount of money paid to employees.

"They paid Mr. Goode 50 percent of his salary in January, and then they paid him another 25 percent of his salary in June," he said. "So this year he's gotten a 75 percent supplement - almost double of what he was being paid. "And his staff has gotten 22.5 percent salary increases.

"I don't think that's fair to our employees," Mr. Oliver said. "We can't do that for them and in my mind, it's not the right thing to do."

Mr. Oliver's request for the latest records was initially turned down twice Tuesday. He was required to file a written request to Sam Cruse, chairman of the indigent defense committee, to obtain the records from the taxpayer- supported office. Then he waited two days for the committee to provide the records.

The Augusta Chronicle also made a request Tuesday under Georgia's open-records law. The deadline for the committee to comply with the law is 3 p.m. today.

Mr. Cruse did not return telephone messages left at his office Wednesday or Thursday seeking information about the records. But he said previously that the committee did not report to Mr. Oliver.

"I think this is an example of how government works when it is operated in the dark, out of the sunshine," said Augusta Commissioner Moses Todd.