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Governor Sonny Perdue Signs Indigent Defense Legislation

Thursday, May 22, 2003  Contact: Office of Communications 404-651-7774


Key Components Position Georgia's Legislation To Serve As Model for Other States

Atlanta - Governor Sonny Perdue signed into law today legislation that will bring much needed reform to Georgia's indigent defense system.

"For too long, we have turned our heads away from a real and growing statewide issue. We have not provided the resources and tools necessary to uphold our moral obligation of providing criminal defendants with adequate legal counsel. The signing of House Bill 770 represents the successful culmination of many individuals and organizations across Georgia that share my belief that our state should provide adequate and quality defense to those individuals who cannot afford it," said Governor Sonny Perdue.

"I applaud the hard work of the Commission On Indigent Defense for the completion of its report, which offered a number of commendable reforms to our current system. I applaud Senator Chuck Clay for serving on the Commission and would like to recognize him, along with House Speaker Terry Coleman and Representative Tom Bordeaux for their contributions toward the final passage of a reform bill. Today, thanks to a spirit of bipartisan collaboration and cooperation, justice and fairness will be more realistic for all Georgians, regardless of their financial resources," said Governor Perdue.

Under the new law, Georgia will provide constitutionally adequate legal assistance of counsel for indigent defendants. The bill creates an 11-member state board to oversee public defender offices, commits the state to increased funding and gives flexibility to counties to opt out provided certain conditions are met. The new system seeks to be operational in 2005.

Added Perdue: "While I am pleased with the gains made on this issue, addressing our state's indigent defense needs will be a work in progress. I plan to closely monitor this program and work closely with leadership in the legislative and judicial branches to ensure we continue to meet our fiscal and moral obligations to this program and the citizens of Georgia."

Summary Information Regarding Indigent Defense Legislation

As signed into law by Governor Perdue, House Bill 770:

  • Creates a new system that will be headed by an 11-member Board overseeing public defender offices in the state's 49 judicial circuits. The Board is expected to set standards of performance to ensure quality representation. It will also have the power to remove public defenders whose quality of representation fails to meet the standards. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, House Speaker, Court of Appeals and Georgia Supreme Court will each have two appointments for the 11-member oversight board. The final position will be filled by a public defender.

  • Calls for the state of Georgia to assume a significantly larger share of program funding. Counties are expected to supplement public defender office funding. Legislators will work to find funding next year. Governor Perdue recommended a 71% funding increase for the 2004 budget - from $7.5 million in 2003 to $12.9 million in 2004. The legislature eventually approved a 32% increase in funding to $9.5 million for 2004.

  • Provides allowances for counties to opt out of the public defender system if they can prove their current programs are as good as or better than the new one. Counties that opt out will not receive state funding.

  • Provides that public defender offices will provide legal representation to indigents charged only in Superior or Juvenile courts. Counties will be allowed to contract with public defender offices to handle State Court cases.