GPDSC is Getting a Lawyer to Investigate Itself

R. Robin McDonald is on a roll. She reports in the Fulton Daily Report’s ATLAW Blog that The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council has retained the previous president of the State Bar of Georgia “to investigate whether an affair between former Griffin Superior Court Judge Paschal English and Kim Cornwell, a Griffin Circuit public defender, compromised any of Cornwell’s cases that were adjudicated by English.” Bill Rankin, of the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports, “there are as many as 450 cases in question.”

According to Mack Crawford, the outgoing Director of GPDSC and incoming replacement for one of the two defrocked Superior Court Judges, hired former president Cavan because “I felt like it needed to be someone who wasn’t associated with the circuit.” In other words, he wanted someone independent. Ms. McDonald does not report whether Cavan got his money up front. Other lawyers retained by GPDSC have found that the agency doesn’t always pay up or arbitrarily cuts the bill.

It is quite the development.

So, just to make sure I understand this, it might be a good idea to parse it out. GPDSC, an agency that lacks sufficient funding to provide lawyers to many Georgians, an agency that was just sued for letting indigent appellants languish in jail without a lawyer, and an agency that refuses to pay appointed death penalty defenders, has hired the former president of the Georgia Bar as its attorney. Its own attorney is now going to bill some hours to the agency to determine whether several years worth of cases that one of its own public defenders handled should be re-opened. If they are to be re-opened, GPDSC’s “independent” counsel will say so, and GPDSC will then be responsible for paying to represent these defendants again. Oh, and if GPDSC’s lawyer finds out that cases were compromised by its public defender, it will self-report and open itself to civil exposure in malpractice and maybe a civil rights suit — perhaps even a class action. And, as a coincidental aside, the director that hired Mr. Cavan is an incoming Superior Court Judge in the Judicial Circuit where the investigation will take place.

And this, Mr. Crawford, explains, is an independent investigation. So, if I hire a lawyer to perform a task, have I retained someone who is independent of me? I thought that I was the legal representative of my clients for all these years.

What is Mr. Cavan’s assignment as the agency’s new lawyer? It is “to look at the situation and report back to the chairman of the [Standards] council as to how or what if the council needs to take any action of any kind.”

I know that only the government can gamble legally in Georgia. But does anyone want to place a friendly wager about what the answer to that question will be?


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