Defense's pay battle goes back to court

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A Burke County death penalty case will take center stage Monday in a battle over indigent defense payments.

The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that began when two Augusta attorneys tried to get paid for their legal work defending Willie Palmer, who murdered his estranged wife, Brenda Jenkins Palmer, and his 15-year-old stepdaughter, Christine, on Sept. 10, 1995.

Augusta Judicial Circuit Senior Judge William M. Fleming Jr. ordered the statewide public defender system to pay Mr. Palmer's attorneys in 2007, but the agency refused.

On Monday, attorneys for Michael Garrett and Randolph Frails and the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council will argue over who is responsible for paying the bills for Mr. Palmer's defense.

Mr. Palmer's case has already taken a contorted path through the justice system. After a mistrial aborted his first trial, a jury convicted and sentenced him to death in 1999. His conviction was overturned when appellate courts learned the Georgia Bureau of Investigation kept secret the fact it paid a major witness against Mr. Palmer. While Mr. Palmer's case made its way through appellate courts, legislators faced a critical report about the defense of poor people in Georgia.

Legislators voted to created a statewide public defender system. The public defender council was created in January 2005, several weeks before Mr. Palmer's conviction was overturned.

The system's director in 2005 drafted Mr. Garrett and Mr. Frails to defend Mr. Palmer. Two years later, Mr. Palmer was convicted at his retrial and sentenced to death.

Mr. Garret and Mr. Frails submitted their bill of $68,947 to the council, which refused to pay, insisting the cost of any case indicted before the system was created should be the county's responsibility.

The council -- whose funding was slashed by state legislators in reaction to a multimillion-dollar defense bill for Fulton County courthouse killer Brian Nichols -- insists it will go bankrupt if it has to pay for every death penalty defense. The council contends it is "threatened with financial jeopardy" if forced to pay Mr. Palmer's attorneys, according to a synopsis of the council's position prepared by the Georgia Supreme Court press office.

The attorneys contend they were promised payment by the council. The defense costs in capital cases is paid by the state and the council shouldn't be allowed to set an arbitrary cutoff date, they contend.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

ABOUT THE COUNCIL

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council is an independent agency with the mission of ensuring every person facing a felony criminal charge has legal representation regardless of his or her ability to pay. The council serves as the administrative support for the 49 circuit public defender offices throughout the state.

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Riverman1
84225
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Riverman1 02/15/09 - 02:57 am
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The Georgia Public Defenders

The Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council has no money. They have been cut dramatically by the state. Their attorneys are suing the state for being overworked and underpaid.

SandyK2005
1
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SandyK2005 02/15/09 - 03:34 am
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"Legislators voted to created

"Legislators voted to created a statewide public defender system." ----- Don't you wish the paper had those editors with blue pencils, instead of software that can't distinguish present and past tenses? Seeing this w-a-y too much now. Bring back the blue pencil edits!!!!

patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 02/15/09 - 07:44 am
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What? Trying death penalty

What? Trying death penalty cases 2 to 6 times costs more than trying them once? Who knew? Quit raping the taxpayer and get down to business. The politically correct choker used during trials wastes a lot of time and resources. While pretty politically correct speeches can be made to justify all of the additional trials, the fact remains that in cases like the Palmer case the end result (after 20+ years) is the defendant is executed. This crazy approach reached the pinnacle of stupidity during the Nichols case, but it goes on during most cases. Get down to business, cut out the b.s., and indigent defense will be affordable.

UncleBill
6
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UncleBill 02/15/09 - 09:02 am
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There are rules to be

There are rules to be followed, known as laws. If things were done correctly the first time, then they would not need to be done over. You get what you pay for. This has nothing to do with "political correctness" and everything to do with competency and resources.

WClark40
0
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WClark40 02/15/09 - 09:09 am
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This is the sytem that we

This is the sytem that we have. Three cheers for that .I don't mind my taxes going to citizens having an equal at least somewaht equal footing against the government this is a good thing.Its the nuts and bolts of the system that causes theses huge costs runups. Its the enormous avenues of appeals that are going to drive up the costs of theses cases.Don't get me wrong this young man is entitled to the most vigorous defense he can find. Its the appeals system that needs the overhaul!!

junket83
0
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junket83 02/15/09 - 11:35 am
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While it might be nice that

While it might be nice that the public is expected to pick up the defense tab (either at the state or county level), there needs to be a little common sense used.

I recommend that the amount allowed be capped. If we can cap the salaries of bank executives receiving public monies, then we should be able to do the same for those that want the public to pay for their legal defense. If the lawyers in the Nichols case were capped at $50,000 then the trial would have been held rather quickly and without delay.

Craig Spinks
817
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Craig Spinks 02/15/09 - 01:34 pm
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A "Bronx cheer" to the Brian

A "Bronx cheer" to the Brian Nichols' defense team for spending much of the balance of our state's indigent defense funds. And an essential question to Palmer's defense team: did you bill the State of Georgia for a combined total of 24 hours of work on the Palmer case on a recent July 4?

Riverman1
84225
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Riverman1 02/15/09 - 02:06 pm
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RetArmy makes a point whether

RetArmy makes a point whether he meant to or not. Defense attorneys are required to provide a proper defense under penalty of disciplinary action by the State Bar. Currently Georgia State Public Defenders each have hundreds of clients. The ABA practices guidelines recommends that criminal defense attorneys limit their practices to under 50 clients. These attorneys representing hundreds of clients each have enormous pressure on them and work for the lowest salary of any attorneys with little support staff. The Georgia State Public Defenders Council works for free and is made up of well known attorneys, judges and law school professors. The Council has recommended more funding for State Public Defenders. The response is an attempt to do away with the Council.

justus4
101
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justus4 02/15/09 - 02:46 pm
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The GBI kept secret that it
Unpublished

The GBI kept secret that it paid a witness. Wow! Isn't that something in violation of something. This is what happens to poor people, especially minorities. The entire system is corrupted and almost every single high-profile have these so-called "expert" witnesses and given the intellegence of lay people on a jury, these proceedings are complete atrocities. Something must be done to expose this corruption because state agancies are not capable. What a mess.

jack
10
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jack 02/15/09 - 04:55 pm
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I believe the Defense Concil

I believe the Defense Concil is correct IF the case were tried before they were formed. The County is stuck. Frankly, I'm tired of criminals getting more "justice" than the victims.

WW1949
19
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WW1949 02/15/09 - 05:48 pm
0
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Limit the attorneys to

Limit the attorneys to $100.00 per hour and you would see a speedy trial.

disssman
6
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disssman 02/15/09 - 06:36 pm
0
0
Change the law to read if a

Change the law to read if a defendent pleads guilty they are eligible for life in prison. If the defendent should contest the plea and opt for "not guilty", make it a mandatory death sentence. And no changes as the trial goes on. That would make a bunch of these murders think twice before trying to beat the system and it would lower taxes, and insure innocent people are given a fair trial.

Riverman1
84225
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Riverman1 02/15/09 - 07:01 pm
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For capital crimes volunteer

For capital crimes volunteer criminal defense attorneys often provide their services without costs. The things that run into money are expert witnesses, research and what have you. State Public Defenders are paid far less than $100 an hour. Either the state has to provide adequate funding for State Public Defenders or get out of the business and start contracting out all cases. That is going to cost so much more, but something has to give.

realitycheck1
0
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realitycheck1 02/15/09 - 07:22 pm
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No one seems to mention that

No one seems to mention that the cost of PROSECUTING the Nichols case was 3 or 4 million dollars. Nichols would have plead to life without parole (which is what he got), but the DA didn't allow him to. No one seems to care about that little nugget. So, in essence, the DA forced all that money to be wasted--not the Defense.

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