From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Jury selection in Silver Comet case may be delayed

Prosecutors and defense attorneys Monday discussed delaying for a week jury selection in the capital case against a man accused of killing a woman on the Silver Comet Trail.

The talks began after Michael William Ledford’s attorneys told Paulding County Superior Court Judge James Osborne they may try to withdraw from the death-penalty case because they are not being paid.

Of course, it is the capitol defense bar that bankrupted the defense system in the first place.  Nothing is too good for a capitol defendant — they get multiple, silk-stocking lawyers on the public dime.  Ordinary people waiting for a divorce to work its way through the courts can pay their own way and cool their taxpaying-heels doing so.  You’ve got to kill someone to get access to a support staff like this.

Last month, Osborne ordered the cash-strapped [hmmm] Georgia Public Defender Standards Council to pay bills submitted by defense lawyers Tom West and Jimmy Berry. Those bills now total more than $60,000, West said.

Osborne interrupted the first day of jury selection to consider a motion to hold the council in contempt for not paying the fees. Osborne expressed frustration that the local public defender’s office has money to defend shoplifting cases while the council cannot pay lawyers defending a man whose life is at stake.

Osborne suggested he could order the defender’s office be shut down so Ledford’s lawyers would get paid. But he rejected the contempt motion because Ledford’s lawyers failed to properly serve the council with their motion.

These crack lawyers spent 60K of the public’s money before the trial even started, and yet they somehow bungled an invoice, so consequently an entire courtroom staff — judge, secretaries, guards, transcriptionists — have to stop proceedings and reschedule work, and scores of citizen jurors facing profound disruptions to their lives and jobs are now facing even more uncertainty in this difficult job market?

Does anybody really believe that, after months of alleged non-payment, West and Berry suddenly had to file a motion demanding their fees on the first day potential jurors had to disrupt their own lives to appear in court?  Besides, isn’t invoice-bungling just defense-attorney-tactic #1009 designed to intentionally drive up the costs of trying capitol cases?  Having failed to win their battle with the public or in the legislature, the defense bar has taken this fight to the courtroom, intent on bankrupting public coffers in order to get what they could not get through legitimate means — an end to capitol punishment.

When I see a clearly orchestrated delay like this one, I have to ask: who’s in on it?  Clearly, West and Berry.  What about the local public defender’s office, the highly politicized Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, and the even more highly politicized Georgia Capitol Defenders?  Are they really “dragging their heels,” or are they grandstanding along with Berry and West as part of their stated mission to end capitol cases in Georgia?

Even though they clearly don’t view themselves this way, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council and Georgia Capitol Defenders are taxpayer-funded agencies.   So here’s the civics lesson for the day: go to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council website.  It’s your website, after all, part of the executive branch of Georgia. Now click on “Death Penalty” to get to the Georgia Capitol Defenders homepage.  You pay for this, too.  Funny, though, it doesn’t look like a government agency website: it looks like the personal homepage for some steroid-addled professional wrestler.

It’s your money, as the McClatchy New Service (motto: “truth to power”) explains in the interestingly titled article: “In Georgia, Group of State-Funded Lawyers Does Whatever is Necessary.”

Apparently, one of the things necessary to a good capitol defense in Georgia is Michael Mears selling his book, or, rather, using taxpayer funds to sell his book.  Click on the “clock” icon on the Georgia Capitol Defenders website.  This is all that comes up:

History of the Death Penalty in Georgia
The Death Penalty in Georgia – A Modern History 1970-2000
Hardback edition includes information such as complete statistics: death sentence, inmate lists.
Author, B Michael Mears, Multi-County Defender, Copyright 1999
Price: $10.00 inclusive of postage
To purchase hardback copy, mail request with check or money order made payable to “GIDC” to:

Att: Robin Fisher
Georgia Indigent Defense Council
104 Marietta Street, Suite 200
Atlanta, GA 30303

Aren’t you glad we’re using our tax dollars for this?  I’m going to stick my copy right next to the History of the Fulton County Superior Court Clerk of Court’s Office that we also paid for, just as soon as disgraced former Fulton County Superior Court Clerk of Court Juanita Hicks gets around to actually writing it (see this marveolusly bracing editorial by Maureen Downey on the subject).

Of course, shilling a book using taxpayer funds is small, though pricey, potatoes.  The real problem is the vast network of taxpayer-funded employees embedded in the Georgia Capitol Defender’s office who are using our money to lobby against the laws we have passed, instead of representing defendants in capitol cases, which is what we are paying them to do.  Take a good look at their staff.  No fiscal recession in here, Bob.

Meanwhile, district attorneys throughout the state are being forced to send prosecutors home on furloughs, resulting in huge backlogs of criminal cases (many of which will never be tried because of budget-cutting).  See this eye-opening article by Houston County DA Kelly R. Burke, which refutes the claims by the defense bar about the purportedly unilateral effects of budget cuts on defendants (incidentally, Burke manages to provide his constituents with excellent, easily accessed information about what is going on in the courts — while Fulton County and the City of Atlanta spend astronomically higher amounts of money on “public information” without providing any).

So why aren’t any of the dozen or so attorneys from the stretch-limousine staff of the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ office actually sitting at the defendant’s table alongside Michael Ledford in the Silver Comet murder trial?  Those dozen staff attorneys are busy with other things, you see:

The office provides assistance in death penalty cases by: (1) providing training and assistance to attorneys who have been appointed to defend defendants charged with a capitol offense; (2) serving as co-counsel to assist local appointed lead counsel in trial and direct appeal of cases involving defendants facing the death penalty; (3) accepting appointments to provide direct representation as lead counsel in death penalty cases based upon the circumstances of each individual case.

Let me translate: first we pay for the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ staff, then we pay a second time for so-called “local” counsel (which isn’t always local to Georgia because they’re local to other places, like Washington and New York).

How many capitol cases are being tried in Georgia at any given time, anyway?  How much “training and assistance” do public defenders need?

Of course, the public servants at the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ office are busy, spending much of their time filing appeals, premised on the notion — manufactured by the public servants at the Georgia Capitol Defenders’ office — that the good work they do is never good so long as even one blood-soaked psychopath gets the chair.

Talk about job security.  All we have to do in order to reign in their outrageous “training and assistance” budget is let all murderers go free.  Or, conversely, we could ask legislators to audit Georgia Capitol Defenders.  Taxpayers are already funding much of the ideological anti-death penalty movement through university and law school budgets.  Isn’t that enough advocacy on the public dime?

Or we could give in and allow a bunch of activists-cum-advocates derail the democratic process “by any means necessary.”  Then they’ll doubtlessly move on to overturning Georgia’s new Life Without Parole law.  The anti-death penalty movement is already laying the groundwork for this transition.

Expect that bill in the mail, too.

***

The hot air that keeps legal Zeppelins like Georgia Capitol Defenders afloat is serial claims that innocent men are continually being discovered on death row.  It’s not true, despite much careless press to the contrary, but that is a subject for another day.  Tomorrow, I will offer a closer look at the horrific consequences of one life sentence overturned on a technicality — the case of a violent recidivist transplanted to Georgia by a criminally lenient California judge — a favor we returned to the Golden State, in spades.

Meanwhile, the judge in the Silver Comet case should prevent the process from being derailed by naked political maneuvering by the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, or the Georgia Capitol Defender’s office, or whichever branch of the defense bar is responsible for this particular pricey delay.  Tom West and Jimmy Berry misfiled an invoice?  Tough luck: take it off the 60K they’ve already manufactured in pre-trial fees.

They’re supposed to be smart, competent lawyers supported by all the collective wisdom and guidance the taxpayer-subsidized Georgia Capitol Defenders has to offer, right?  Enough is enough.

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