Category Archives: Atlanta News

“Cadillac Defense” or Benz Prosecution

Yesterday, the AJC had a story on the legal defense bill of Brian Nichols, the man who wreaked havoc in downtown Atlanta after escaping from custody and killing a judge among other officials, and was ultimately sentenced to life in prison rather than death.  According to the article, the bill is upward of $3 million, and growing.  But it was the statement of Mike Mears, who is described by the AJC as “a veteran death penalty lawyer who initially oversaw payments to the defense” that has the community, including the Georgia criminal defense bar, of which I am a member, riled up.

Here is what Mears said:

“It was a Cadillac defense,” said Mears, who was director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council at the time. “They had a judge sitting on the bench who I would describe as a … dream judge. He was a judge who was willing to give them whatever they wanted without too many restrictions.”

I won’t go into details but the general sentiment among the criminal defense bar here was (1) shock and anger at Mears and (2) praise for Judge Fuller.  I have never practiced nor do I know Judge Fuller, so I cannot speak to the latter.  As to Mears’ comments, I can see how someone, especially those of us who spend the bulk of their professional and perhaps personal lives defending individuals like Nichols, would take exception and voice disapproval.  However, I am rather dubious of the quotation snagged and reported by the AJC, and would not be surprised if it was taken out of context (the usual charge, I know, but still, it merits an explanation).

As for the notion of a Cadillac defense being somehow detrimental to the well-being of the public and our system of justice, let me just say that anyone charged with having committed a criminal offense is entitled to a fair trial, which, in criminal defense parlance, means the vigorous defense of the client.  I can only venture to guess that many of those criticizing the cost o Nichols’ defense would demand an equally spirited defense if faced with the same predicament.  Moreover, you can bet that the prosecution won’t think twice before spending your hard-earned taxpayer dollars in trying to secure a conviction.  By sanctioning  that approach but denying the accused the same resources, which, it should be noted, already happens in perhaps the bulk of criminal matters, we only breed greater distrust of our criminal justice process, which, in turn, leads to tragedies of Nichols-ian magnitude.

Rags to Riches: Judge Allows 1st Amendment Claim by Prison Newspaper to Go Forward

This story received scant media attention.  Here is what the AP had to say:

A federal judge says a lawsuit alleging unconstitutional censorship at the Fulton County jail can go to trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. on Monday denied motions for summary judgment from both sides of the lawsuit filed in October 2007 by a monthly publication on criminal justice issues.

Prison Legal News claimed the jail had a policy prohibiting prisoners from receiving books, magazines or newspapers other than religious publications.

Pannell found the same policy unconstitutional in 2002, but when former Sheriff Myron Freeman took office in 2005 he retained it. The publication says material sent to Fulton County prisoners was rejected or destroyed. The mail policy was dropped after PLN filed suit.

I had to do a double-take when I read that the sheriff retained the policy despite its having been ruled unconstitutional.  But, then again, why should I be surprised?  Back in the day, slaves were beaten and/or tortured by their masters if they were caught reading.  Not that I’m equating slavery with incarceration.  But one has to think that similar motivations and intentions are at work here in denying prisoners access to certain publications which prison officials may deem suspicious and subversive.

The Daily Dispatch has a story on prison newspapers here.

Judge Pannell’s opinion on the Prison Legal News matter can be access by clicking the following link:

07CV2618-Prison Legal News

Who’s Your Daddy? Invisible Man, of course.

The AJC has an interesting and disturbing story about Frank Hatley who was ordered to serve time for failing to pay child support for a son that was not his.

Here’s how the story begins:

Frank Hatley has languished in a South Georgia jail for more than a year.

The reason? He failed to reimburse the state for all the public assistance his “son” received over the past two decades.

The problem? Hatley is not the biological father — and a special assistant state attorney general and a judge knew it but jailed Hatley anyway.

This is one of the few situations where the involvement of a lawyer actually helped.  According to the story, only after a sheriff spoke to an attorney on Mr. Hatley’s behalf, did this story come to light.  And, let’s admit it, airing the story in the court of public opinion is often if not more important than trying it in a court of law.   After all, Mr. Hatley cycled through several attorneys, some of whom actually aided him in material aspects of the case, but nevertheless failed to resolve the critical issue of why he remained in jail despite not having done anything illegal.  This story was also picked up over at Simple Justice, here.

Today, however, Mr. Hatley was finally released from jail, with the aid of his new attorney, Sarah Gerahty from the Southern Center for Human Rights.  Mr. Hatley’s sentiment post-release?

“Out of it all, I just feel like justice should be served for me in this case.  I shouldn’t have to keep being punished for a child that is not mine.”

Thoughts on Independence Day 2009

peachtree-roadrace-2009As is the tradition on July 4th in Atlanta, runners – some 55,000 of them – gathered early this morning for the running of the annual Peachtree Road Race.  My girlfriend and I had a nice view of it from our apartment, and we cheered on the runners as they zoomed toward the finish line.  It was inspiring not only to see the cheering masses urging the runners on but also the runners themselves responding to the cheers by quickening their pace and pumping their fists.

Rare is the time when one sees an informally large  and diverse group of individuals from the community supporting the same cause, as was the case this morning along the streets of Atlanta.  Even in the post-Obama era, we are defined more by our differences with one another than our similarities, whether in terms of political ideology, culture, or religion.  That, of course, is not an entirely bad thing; indeed, such diversity is what makes the United States the envy of other nations.  Yet if that envy is to be deserved, we, as a community – one that stretches beyond the next county line, but to the limits of the country – must band together and take on the problems that are now plaguing the nation, such as a limitless debt, astronomical health care costs, and mass incarceration.  We can start by admitting that America is not the benevolent and seemingly invincible power that it once was, or, has continually proclaimed itself to be, and that what entitlement we have to so-called superpower status is due as much to our exploitation of others and luck as it is to our ingenuity and industriousness.  We should seriously question whether our representatives in government truly reflect our values and interests, and if not, why we continue to tolerate such a situation.  And do this not in an intellectual but human capacity.  Go to an upcoming meeting of the city council and listen to what’s being debated (or not) and what positions your local council member is taking.  I did this recently for one of the first times in my life as a member of a local public safety organization and came away from the experience a bit less disillusioned that I had been about the functionality of our political process.  Will your concerns always be heard by our many tin-eared government officials?  No.  But one can almost be sure that the alternative of apathy and delusion will lead to much harsher and dangerous results.  (See 9/11, neoliberalism, and our current financial crisis.)