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As a volunteer member of the governing board of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, let me thank The Times for its excellent "Our Views" editorial column on Sunday, June 7, supporting the need for adequate public funding to provide lawyers for people charged with crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. Your principled call for support of our constitutional guarantees to all citizens, regardless of the size of their pocketbook, is greatly appreciated.
Please allow me, however, to correct a small part of your editorial. While you are certainly correct that the Brian Nichols case exposed the public defender system to great criticism, some of it justified, your comment that his lawyers were "intent on raiding the state’s till" was off the mark.
I know these lawyers. They went for many months, if not longer, entirely unpaid, and cut their bills substantially to get the case finally funded and tried. In short, they did their jobs, investing countless hours over several years, often at great sacrifice. No one ever "got well," much less rich, by defending indigent defense cases, no matter how serious the charges.
And reference to the "state’s till" is itself in error. Maybe the biggest misconception about the public defender system in Georgia is that state of Georgia tax money helps pay for that system. It does not. County tax dollars pay for some 60 percent of the system’s costs, but zero state of Georgia tax money is invested in the public defender system. Instead, somewhere between $40 million and $45 million per year is raised in a fund that collects civil and criminal case fees, fines and forfeitures, created especially for the public defender system.
And the state does not appropriate all of that money for the system, instead skimming off several million dollars per year for the state’s general fund, while the public defender system lays off staff and lacks money to move cases promptly to trial.
But again, thank you for your editorial supporting our state and federal constitutions. The public defender system needs all the help and support it can get.
Joblessness weighs big on teens’ futureThe June 6th article "Teens now competing with laid-off adults to find work," acknowledged the high unemployment rate for teens, but failed to mention the negative long-term problems these skyrocketing unemployment rates cause for teens.
A study out of Stanford University found that those who as youths experienced especially long periods of unemployment were particularly prone to negative long-term effects on future wages and employment. And research from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that unemployment for teens continues to adversely affect earnings for as long as 10 years!
Not having a summer job takes more than just money away from teens. Those who are priced out of the job market by high minimum wages are also deprived of the invisible curriculum that comes from learning how to report to a supervisor, show up on time and work with others as part of a team. State and federal lawmakers should recognize that feel-good wage hikes hurt vulnerable workers like teens, and they will feel the negative impact for years to come.
Kristen Lopez Eastlick
Senior economic analyst, Employment Policies Institute, Washington, DC