Fulton County gets new public defender after 35-year vet retires

Fulton County has a new public defender.

The county announced this week that Maurice Kenner is the new circuit public defender for the Atlanta Judicial Circuit.

Georgia is split into ten districts containing several circuits and counties. The Atlanta Circuit, which is the Fifth Judicial Administrative District, is home to so many people it contains only Fulton County.

The state-run agency represents defendants who qualify as indigent — defined by the federal poverty standard as not having enough money to hire a private attorney to represent them, said Georgia Public Defender Council spokesman Thomas O’Connor.

He said that public defenders statewide handles 85 to 90 percent of criminal cases statewide every year, adding that the circuit in Fulton is usually the busiest.

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O’Connor said Kenner’s base salary set by the state is $107,636 — but county commissioners usually chose to augment the salary with a supplement.

Kenner ran a private practice for 17 years before joining the agency in 2010.

He takes over as the county’s judicial system faces 206,000 cases. The backlog worsened by courts shutting down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The work of a public defender is constantly evolving to meet the needs of those we serve. I look forward to working with the citizens of Fulton County to ensure that everyone receives the necessary representation within our courts,” Kenner said in a county news release.

The office’s budget is about $11 million, according to the Fulton government website, with 137 full-time county positions and 20 full-time state positions.

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Kenner’s predecessor — Vernon S. Pitts, Jr. — told county commissioners during a December meeting that when he took the position in 1985 there were 21 staff, including him.

He retired Dec. 31.

Pitts reflected on his service in his retirement letter: “After leading the Fulton County/Atlanta Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office for 35 years and seeing many of the younger lawyers that were trained and worked in this office now becoming judges, legislators, and administrators I know that we have accomplished many of our goals. Now that they are sending their children to work and learn in our office, I know that it is my time to move into the next chapter in my life.”

The Macon native was a founding member of the DeKalb Lawyer’s Association, according to a proclamation in his honor read by Fulton commissioners at a December meeting. The proclamation added that he is looking forward to working on his six-acre farm.