5:38 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014
By Bill Rankin
A South Georgia public defender office lets juveniles go unrepresented and processes adults through the courts in assembly-line fashion, a lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges.
The lawsuit targets the defender office for the four-county Cordele Judicial Circuit. It contends the office is so grossly underfunded and severely understaffed it cannot provide effective representation for indigent people accused of crimes.
“The right to counsel — essential for fair trials, equal justice, reliable verdicts and just sentences — is routinely violated or reduced to a hollow formality in the Cordele Judicial Circuit,” the suit alleges.
Gov. Nathan Deal, the head of the state’s public defender system, judges, prosecutors and commissioners from Ben Hill, Crisp, Dooly and Wilcox counties are among the defendants in the case. The suit seeks class-action status on behalf of other juvenile and adult defendants prosecuted in the circuit under similar circumstances.
The suit was filed by mothers of four juvenile defendants and by four adult defendants prosecuted in the Cordele circuit. They are represented by lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta and by the Washington firm Arnold & Porter.