Death case defendant sues for lack of lawyers
A murder defendant who says it is “unconscionable” for him to have been denied legal representation for eight months is suing the head of the state’s public defender system.
“This is surely an unprecedented deprivation of counsel in modern times,” said the lawsuit, filed Wednesday for Jamie Ryan Weis by four prominent Atlanta lawyers.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Weis for the Feb. 2, 2006, killing of Catherine King in her Pike County home.
Since April, Weis has been sitting in jail awaiting trial without lawyers to represent him. The lawsuit was filed after trial judge Johnnie Caldwell scheduled a Jan. 5 hearing on the case.
“It’s frustrating,” Pike County District Attorney Scott Ballard said. “Everybody wants the defendant to be well represented. We’ll be ready to prosecute just as soon as they’re ready.”
The suit was filed in Fulton County Superior Court against Mack Crawford, director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, and Gerry Word, acting head of the capital defender’s office.
Both Crawford and Word said they had yet to see the complaint and declined comment Wednesday afternoon.
Weis’ case has highlighted the budgetary problems plaguing the state’s public defender system.
Weis’ two appointed lawyers, Bob Citronberg and Tom West, were removed from the case in November 2007 when the cash-strapped defender system did not have the money to pay them.
Two local public defenders were ordered to take over the case.
But the two defenders objected, saying they already had crushing caseloads and had neither the time nor the resources to defend a capital case.
At a court hearing in April, an agreement was reached to return Citronberg and West to the case, provided that Crawford sign a contract allowing them to be paid. But that has yet to occur.
Crawford should have signed the contract long ago, the suit said.
“He should not have delayed the reinstatement of counsel for eight days; the delay of eight months is unconscionable.”
Crawford, the lawsuit said, “has simply refused even to speak with attorneys Citronberg and West about representation of [Weis]. Instead, he has engaged in contradictory, evasive, confusing and unresponsive behavior that has left [Weis] without legal representation in a capital case for eight months.”
Esther Lardent, head of the Pro Bono Institute in Washington, called it “really troubling” that the defender council has been unable to provide Weis a lawyer.
“As time goes by, witnesses disappear, evidence gets stale,” she said. “The ability of the defendant to get a fair trial is impaired. The ability of the prosecution to present its case is impaired. The whole idea of what is supposed to be happening in the justice system is compromised.”
Citronberg and West have worked together on a number of capital cases, obtaining life sentences in all of them. In October, West, paired with a state-salaried capital defender, helped obtain the first life sentence in a death-penalty trial in Douglas County in more than a decade.
Weis’ suit seeks a court order reinstating Citronberg and West as his lawyers.
It was filed on Weis’ behalf by lawyers Stephen Bright, Sarah Geraghty, Ed Garland and Don Samuel.
Separately, the lawyers filed a motion Wednesday in Pike County objecting to Monday’s court hearing because Weis has no criminal defense lawyers.
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