17 August 2004

Georgia Impliments a Public Defender System

As of last Spring the General Assembly passed a law which "creates a public defender's office in each of the state's 49 judicial circuits." Things are getting worked out. One brand new PD's working conditions are described thusly:
Tucked into a tiny office in a far corner of the second floor of the Liberty County Courthouse since assuming his new job July 1, he has a desk, a filing cabinet- and that's about it.
Of course, there are problems. There are concerns that the offices need to worry about diversity and at least one case where a rejected applicant is suing on allegations of racial discrimination:
Wright said he and attorneys Alonza Whitaker, the Democrat nominee for circuit district attorney, and Dorothy Williams were the only black applicants for the local post.

"Both of these other lawyers have a lot more experience in criminal law and indigent defense than the appointee," Wright said. "And I've spent 27 years practicing criminal law, including 12 years in indigent defense and three years as a Recorder's Court judge -- but they didn't even grant me the courtesy of an interview.

"It has to be racism. I can think of no other reason," he said.
However, it would seem that there might be other reasons for the rejection (at least for Mr. Wright):
"On the one hand you've got a lawyer with over 20 years of experience who distinguished himself in combat, or somebody who won't pay his taxes," Hyles said. "That's an easy choice, isn't it?"

The panel chairman said Wright's well-publicized position that he shouldn't have to pay taxes was a factor in his evaluation.

"It's not right to give someone a government position with tax revenues when he will not pay his taxes," Hyles said. "In my mind, that disqualified him up front."

Wright has had a long-running dispute with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service over tax issues. In May, he filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of the income tax law as applied against African-Americans. He contends in the suit that African-Americans have been denied key citizenship rights over the years, which exempts them from application of the income tax law and entitles him to a refund of about $25,000 he's paid in income taxes from 1964-95.

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