Defendants in Flowery Branch Municipal Court may soon be able to get legal advice on the spot, helping cases get disposed of quicker.
City Council gave its first OK Thursday night to a new city law calling for the appointment of a public defender for the court’s two monthly sessions — one for arraignment and the other for trials.
“Typically, the attorney who was acting as our public defender previous to this (law) would have been (in court) only on trial night,” City Attorney Ron Bennett told the council.
Municipal Court Judge Michelle Rohan “indicated to us that sometimes, when people come on arraignment night, they have questions that could lead to prompt disposal of their ticket, which means the prompt payment of their fine,” Bennett said.
“Legal ethics do not allow the solicitor to answer those kinds of questions. Judicial ethics do not let the judge act as either party’s lawyer.”
Rohan was “beginning to see that perhaps there are some cases that could have been disposed of quickly and at less expense to the city if there had been someone available to answer (defendants’) questions,” Bennett said.
Prompting the move was an inquiry by Interim Mayor Mike Miller into how the court was handling indigent defense, he said.
One of the first opinions that Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote after she became a U.S. Supreme Court justice “espoused the rule that if there’s any threat of imprisonment, there has to be a public provision for indigent defense,” Bennett said.
“So even in a court like municipal court, where it’s misdemeanors and more minor offenses, after that decision it became clear to the states and local governments that you had to provide for indigent defense.”
The city law, which is set for final approval in August, calls for the city to pay the public defender $666 per month.
In other business, the council approved a resolution that ends city practice of charging all businesses operating on city sewer $180 per year to cover the costs of inspecting and testing grease traps.
Now, the city will impose the fee only on sewer customers that operate a grease trap.
The city has 219 businesses on sewer and 44 of them have grease traps. Visual inspection and lab testing will take place no more than quarterly for the 44 customers, with each lab test costing $165, City Manager Bill Andrew said in a report to council.
Also, the council gave its first approval to an alcoholic beverages law allowing for open containers at city-sanctioned events and accepted a $2,500 check from former Councilman Craig Lutz to help defray the cost of a special election to replace him.
Lutz is seeking the Republican nomination Tuesday for the Post 1 seat on the Hall County Board of Commissioners. He faces fellow challenger Robert “Kim” Senter and incumbent Bobby Banks.