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Yarbrough: Nichols case goes three years, with no trial yet

POSTED: March 15, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Excuse me for bringing up a sore subject again, but it has been almost three years since someone who looked an awful lot like Brian Nichols overpowered a deputy at the Fulton County courthouse in March 2005, took her gun and the lives of four innocent people -- a superior court judge, a court reporter, a deputy sheriff and, later, a federal agent -- before surrendering.

There were plenty of eyewitnesses to the rampage and not much doubt about what happened. Given these facts, you would think that three years later justice would have been meted out and the families of the victims could get on with their lives. If so, you would think wrong, or you aren't a lawyer.

The last I heard, the Brian Nichols trial is scheduled to begin sometime just before the end of time or when his defense attorneys receive funding equivalent to the gross national product of Europe, whichever comes first.

The Nichols case isn't about justice. It is a game of legal "gotcha."

Consider for starters that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard issued a 54-count indictment against Nichols and has identified 478 potential witnesses. That is patently ridiculous. Indict Nichols for four murders, subpoena those witnesses who were there that day and get on with it.

My friends in the legal community - and I do have a few - tell me that Howard is guilty of political grandstanding. The DA seems less interested in bringing the case to trial than in making the defense and the presiding judge look bad and himself look good. So far, give him an "A-Plus" on that misguided effort.

And then there are Nichols' attorneys, who are being paid by the Georgia Public Defense Standards Council. So far, they have spent nearly $2 million on behalf of their client and have nothing to show for it but some neat press clippings. In spite of that, Presiding Judge Hilton Fuller wants somebody, anybody, to give the Nichols defense team more money.

Fuller has postponed the trial four times because Nichols' lawyers say they have run out of money. The judge says it is the job of the Georgia Public Defense Standards Council to give them more. The council says it is the legislature's job. After all, they created this legal Edsel. The legislature says the whole crowd is smoking rope.

One of those pushing for the legislature to feed this turkey is Gainesville attorney and former state representative Wycliffe Orr. Orr opined recently in the Atlanta newspaper: "No telling how many band uniforms, athletic field lights and other porcine projects have been funded with dollars intended for the Nichols trial and other public defender cases."

I'm sure taxpayers in Hall County as well as around the state are clamoring at the chance to give up porcine community projects in order to hand over their tax dollars to the porcine Nichols defense team.
Orr also waves the Constitution over our heads, referring to a defendant's right to a speedy trial. I love jerking our lawmakers' chains as much as the next guy, but I don't think the past three years of do-nothing deliberations in the Nichols case is the fault of the legislature.

I agree with plain-talking former U.S. Attorney and Congressman Bob Barr, who said in the same Atlanta newspaper, "There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution, in federal law, in Georgia law, or in common sense that requires an unlimited expenditure of taxpayer dollars as a prerequisite to adequate assistance of counsel. This is pure and simple, made-up law."

Amen, brother, except that in this particular case you couldn't find common sense with a bloodhound.
The people of Georgia are fast losing confidence in our legal system because of frivolous lawsuits, cases tossed out on technicalities, an interminable appeals process, a lack of concern for the families of the victims and patronizing comments from lawyers who say we should willingly accept all of the above because they tell us to. The Nichols case is a disgrace and embarrassment to the legal profession. Everybody involved should be shame-faced.

But then, when have you ever seen a shame-faced lawyer? I rest my case.

Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published Jan. 19, 2008. 



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