Public defender jobs on the chopping block

Court officials are now working on a solution to make sure the transition is as seamless as possible.
/ Jessica Fairley

In a few months the Dougherty County Public Defenders' Office will close as a cost saving measure.

Starting July 1st Dougherty County will no longer have public defenders on their payroll. It's been decided that two already vacated public defender positions and two administrative jobs will go away.

"It will be experienced private attorneys who will have a relationship with the county to provide indigent defense services," says Leisa Johnson, Dougherty County Circuit Public Defender.

By using contract lawyers, the county will save on medical, dental and other benefits associated with those on the payroll.

Court officials are now working on a solution to make sure the transition is as seamless as possible.

"Today's meeting was to consider the potential options and considerations for how we're going to address those changes and how to fund those changes," said Victoria Darrisaw, Dougherty County State Court Judge.

Judge Darrisaw says the money saved by doing away with public defenders could pay for more contract lawyers. She says since state court officials have started conversations about how they will operate under the new system, no indigent defender has gone without representation and this will continue.

"They will have representation. Every person who is falling into that category has representation and we will continue that," said Judge Victoria Darrisaw.

Officials say they'll have to make sure that each person who claims indigent status actually cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

"It's a very serious situation because when county funds are used to fund indigent defense, that means somebody's paying and that's the taxpayers," said Leisa Johnson, "So the court wants to insure that people who apply for the services are eligible."

Dougherty County's Public Defenders' Office has already begun the transition by hiring several contract workers. Officials say the next step is to talk with county leaders to find out how much money will be allotted for more contract positions.

Stay connected to as stories develop and the FOX 31 Newscast at 10 PM. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter to join in on the conversation and connect with FOX 31!