State can't pay for indigent defense -, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

State can't pay for indigent defense

February 6, 2008

 Lee County --  A South Georgia attorney says the State owes him about $20,000 for representing indigent clients. Many criminal cases are on hold now because of a lack of money to pay them. 

Ramon Fajardo says he is one of many Georgia lawyers the state hasn't paid.
 Fajardo has withdrawn from 67 cases in several South Georgia counties as a conflict attorney, because the state has not paid him for more than six months of  indigent defense work. 

He wonders if he will ever be paid. "I hope so," he laughs. "I hope so.  Its got me in a bind."

Fajardo says the state has owed him about $20,000 for several months for work done on a number of cases, including the Stacy Sims murder trial in Tift County. 

Fajardo's business is suffering, and most of those cases have been put on hold because of the lack of funding from the Georgia Public Defenders Standard Council. He says they will not even talk to him about the debt.

 "They don't return my calls. They don't respond to my correspondence, my letters. And after a while you get tired of calling," Fajardo said.

We tried to talk with that Council's Executive Director Mack Crawford, but he was too busy in meetings.  But he has testified in hearings that all the indigent defense money allocated by the legislature has been drained, especially by the defense for Brian Nichols, the man charged with killing several people during a bold escape attempt from an Atlanta courthouse.

Fajardo says he would like his money, but he worries more about his clients. "It's not so much me, it's out clients that we represent.  They do not get a fair shake in court if they are not adequately represented."

Fajardo says if state legislators don't provide more money for indigent defense, the state will face numerous costly lawsuits from defendants who say they aren't getting fair treatment in court.

Fajardo says conflict attorneys hired by the state earn $45 an hour for out of court work, and $60 an hour for time in the courtroom.


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