Donovan X. Ramsey at The Public Square, a Blog on Atlanta Politics and News, reports that the City of Atlanta’s Public Defender’s Office receives less money for indigent defense than the Atlanta Mayor’s Office receives for office supplies.
The Atlanta PD’s office is allocated about $1.1 million dollars for use in defending a projected 16,500 cases to be divided among 13 full-time employees, only 9 of whom are attorneys. I went to law school, but even I can see that this math is troubling, particularly when compared to what the ABA guidelines are for a public defender’s caseload. Mr. Ramsey quotes the recommendations from National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals on its advised caseload for public defenders as: 150 felonies, 400 misdemeanors, 200 juvenile court cases, 200 mental health cases, or 25 appeals annually.
Mr. Ramsey makes one “flaw” in his reporting. He aggregates the number to 975 cases. Actually, the guidelines suggest a total cases load per category not an aggregate caseload of all types of cases. Still, even if one were to allow for an aggregate caseload, the numbers for Atlanta are pretty messed up.
There is pathetically little budgeted beyond salary to the office either. The margin between what is allocated for salary — $1,183,058 — and what is allocated for other expenses — $1,137,317 — is razor thin. So, lawyers can’t really do much with the cases they have such as order criminal histories, hire expert witnesses, investigate cases, or issue subpoenas.
Adam Liptak in the New York Times, wrote an article criticizing the abyssal state of indigent defense for death penalty cases in Georgia. It turns out that Georgia’s 3rd World indigent system exists for the garden variety misdemeanor / felony lite case as well. Yet, the Constitution applies in Atlanta since Georgia was on the losing team in the Civil War.
It is a good thing that client autonomy is valued in the 6th Amendment because it appears that Georgia’s indigent defendants are on their own.
But the Atlanta Mayor will not go without staplers.