Budget cut may cripple public defenders

February 19, 2008

ATLANTA (AP) -- A key Senate committee slash the budget of Georgia's public defenders Tuesday to just a fraction of what they had sought to stay afloat.

The midyear budget that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee contained just $513,000 for public defenders to get them through the June 30th end of the fiscal year. Governor Perdue had recommended 3.6 million dollars.

The move continues a tug-of-war over dollars between the legislative and judicial branches that has been exacerbated by the high-profile case of Brian Nichols, which has ground to standstill because of a dispute over funding for his defense.

While none of the additional state cash would go to the trial of accused Atlanta courthouse gunman, the case has become a lightning rod and emboldened some who believe the state's indigent defense lawyers -- funded by court fees -- are driving up costs unnecessarily.

The whole Senate is expected to vote on the midyear budget on Thursday. The chamber will then need to reconcile the spending plan with the House version before sending it to Perdue for his signature. Money for the public defenders and for school programs could be replaced as part of those negotiations.

Lawmakers will then take up the budget for fiscal year 2009.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press.

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