Originally created 07/18/02

Sheriff's lawyers want more time



SPRINGFIELD, Ga. - Lawyers for Effingham County Sheriff Jay Space say they need at least another month to prepare their case showing the suspended lawman should not be permanently removed from office.

Savannah lawyer Bobby Phillips said he will ask Superior Court Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. for a one-month continuance during a pretrial hearing today.

"Even the most heinous criminal deserves time to prepare an adequate defense," Mr. Phillips said. "Jay has served the public in law enforcement for 18 years, and he has a provable medical situation that should also be considered. We just need another month to prepare our case."

Sheriff Space was formally served with the petition to remove him from office July 10. That same day, he was arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for illegally purchasing 4,000 prescription pills over the Internet.

Facing five felony drug charges, Sheriff Space is free on $10,000 bond.

Even before those charges, it had been a rough few months for the second-term sheriff, who told people last summer that he had multiple sclerosis.

In late May, after months of complaints about the sheriff's alleged inappropriate behavior, officials at the Georgia Sheriffs' Association and the Effingham County Commission asked Gov. Roy Barnes to investigate Sheriff Space and consider suspending him.

On June 18, after a two-week investigation by two other sheriffs and Attorney General Thurbert Baker, Mr. Barnes suspended Sheriff Space for 60 days. Under state law, it can be extended 30 days.

That gives Judge Woodrum until mid-September to decide on District Attorney Joe Martin's petition.

A 30-day continuance would push jury selection back to Aug. 12, with a trial to follow.

In the petition, which he filed after reading the committee's transcripts and doing his own investigation, Mr. Martin alleges that multiple sclerosis and drug abuse have incapacitated Sheriff Space during the past 18 months.

Mr. Phillips said defense lawyers have been slowed by the number of allegations in the 17-page petition and by Sheriff Space's medical condition.

"There are allegations of 24 criminal incidents and numerous other driving and disorderly conduct complaints over a period of nearly two years," Mr. Phillips said. "We need time to seek out the facts and determine what happened."