ATLANTA (CN) – A hearing is set for Thursday to determine whether a contract the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council offered to public defenders is “unconstitutional and unconscionable.”
Contract lawyers will not receive benefits and liability insurance, said Stephen Bright, an attorney with the Southern Center for Human Rights. “This would be a giant step back to what is supposed to be a bygone era in Georgia.”
Bright added: “The use of fixed-rate contracts has been roundly condemned and was one of the primary reasons for creating the Public Defender system in 2003.”
The hearing will be at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta.
Georgia Public Defender Standards Council Director Mack Crawford announced on June 6 that the Metro Conflict Defender Office would be closed at the end of that month due to a budget shortfall.
Bright, who represents the fired attorneys and their staff, sued in Fulton County Superior Court on June 11 to block the closing. As a part of a statewide public defender system, the Metro Conflict Defender Office represents defendants in cases in which there is more than one defendant and conflicting interests.
Later in June, as a part of a compromise, the Georgia Public Defender Standards voted to close the office at the end of July and rehire seven lawyers of the 16 who had represented more than 1,800 indigent people in felony and juvenile cases in Fulton and DeKalb counties, Bright said. In addition, lawyers were to be hired on a contract basis to deal with non-complex cases.