Bright applies to be public defender

Stephen Bright, a nationally recognized champion of indigent defense, is applying to head a South Georgia public defender office.

The Cordele Circuit Public Defender Office serves four counties, with a staff of three lawyers who handle 1,700 cases a year. Bright, senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, is among a group of lawyers who filed suit against the Cordele office in January, alleging it fails to provide meaningful representation for adult defendants and allows juvenile defendants to face their charges without any representation at all.

On Monday, these same lawyers filed a motion seeking to stop the ongoing hiring process to fill the Cordele circuit defender job, calling it a “sham.”

The motion, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, said that the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council already filled the Cordele circuit defender job with an interim director, Burt Baker, who defended death-penalty cases. Baker switched jobs with Tim Eidson, who was recently removed from the circuit defender job.

In that motion, Bright disclosed he has applied to succeed Eidson as the Cordele circuit defender. A local selection committee set a deadline for applications for today.

The court filing said Bright is seeking the job “because of the compelling need and the lack of opportunity for others to apply.” He added, “The process should still be a fair, open and honest one so that any qualified person can apply.”

“We are demanding an open hiring process that will produce the most qualified attorney to lead the Cordele Public Defender’s Office and ensure that people accused of crimes receive the zealous representation that the Constitution requires,” said Atteeyah Hollie, a Southern Center for Human Rights attorney. “You won’t turn up the best-qualified person or have a diverse candidate pool, unless the position is widely advertised and adequate time to apply is provided.”

Bright, 65, is a former public defender in Washington and has successfully argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He is a visiting lecturer at Yale Law School and has taught law school courses and the University of Georgia, Emory, Harvard and other schools. Over the past several years, he has specialized in representing inmates on death row in Georgia and Alabama.