The State Supreme Court ruled this week that Public Defenders offices can no longer represent clients in the same case with conflicting interests. The decision could cost the state millions.
Travis Sakrison, with the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council says public defenders will have to hire other lawyers to represent clients which have conflicting interests.
He says “It’s going to cost the agency millions of dollars that it was not appropriated, and that we do not have access to.”
Sakrison says they will have to ask the state for more funds to cover that cost.
Mercer University associate law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore says the ruling protects the rights of defendants who can’t afford to pay for an attorney.
“You’re entitled to effective and conflict-free counsel. And I think what we saw the Supreme Court do is not bow to pragmatic concerns, but hold the standard where it should be.”she says.
There are 49 public defenders circuits in Georgia. Sakrison says the ruling could impact as many as ten thousand cases a year.
He says outside attorneys may not have as much experience as public defenders.
“They specialize in doing these kinds of cases. They have experts and support staff and investigators. And they don’t have the demands of a private practice.”he says.
Gerwig-Moore says there are concerns it could set up a two tiered system for poor defendants. The lucky would get public defenders who have extra resources like investigators.
“The unlucky will be represented by some contract defenders who are taking these cases to try to keep the lights on and not because they care about them.”she says.
But Gerwig-Moore says it will ensure that indigent defendants have the same right to conflict-free counsel that wealthier defendants have enjoyed for years.