Public defender system hit with lawsuit

A former Middle Georgia public defender has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit that alleges breakdowns at all levels of the state’s indigent defense system.

The lawsuit, filed Monday, said that public defenders in the Towaliga Judicial Circuit were forced to work in unsanitary and dilapadated offices and carry crushing case loads. The plaintiff, Jim Kight, who worked as a defender in the circuit for eight years, was fired in retaliation last year after he complained about the conditions, the suit said.

“The government punished Jim for doing exactly what we expect our public defenders to do — for exposing unfairness in our criminal justice system,” Atlanta lawyer Michael Caplan, one of Kight’s attorneys, said.

The state’s whistle-blower law protects public employees who take a stand and expose unlawful conduct by our government, Caplan said. “Jim Kight had the courage to do just that — to speak out about severe problems in the public defender office in Forsyth, Georgia — including overworked public defenders, excessive caseloads and a lack of adequate resources.”

Other attorneys representing Kight include Emmet Bondurant, who served as the first chairman of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, which oversees the statewide system.

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