Public Defender Faints at Council Meeting after Willis Interrogation
(APN) ATLANTA — Rosalie Joy, Interim Director of the Office of the Public Defender of the City of Atlanta, fainted while being questioned by Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large) at a meeting of the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee of the City Council, on Tuesday, May 01, 2012.
Willis falsely accused her of not answering his question, of being deceptive, and of inappropriately inserting her opinion into her response.
Willis’s original question to Joy, although he later posed it a few times in several substantively different variations, apparently becoming confused as to what his own question was–even while accusing Joy of not answering his question–was “When was the last time we looked at how to do business truly differently?”
By that, Willis later explained, he meant that he was interested in possibly eliminating the Office of the Public Defender and replacing it with a privatization model, where the City would contract with private attorneys to provide legal defense for indigent people accused of municipal crimes.
Willis was basically asking Joy to defend the existence of her office.
“I’m happy you asked that question and I’m happy to report to you that I’ve thought about that as well,” Joy replied to Willis.
Joy said that one way her office has responded to increasing case loads–that have resulted in part from the City of Atlanta hiring one hundred new police officers–is by partnering with law firms and law schools to provide interns.
Previously, Joy explained that the Office of the Public Defender over the last four years had had its budget cut from about four million dollars to about 1.4 million dollars, and its staff cut from 51 employees to seventeen employees during the same time period.
During that time, Joy said that her office’s caseload had already doubled.
This year, she was asking for an additional 325,000 dollars.
Willis was not satisfied with the answer, so he re-posed the question.
Joy replied that whether provided through an Office of the Public Defender or through some other way, that the City has a constitutional responsibility to provide legal representation for indigent persons.
“Have we thought about how we can do it differently? My answer, respectfully, is yes, I have thought about that. That’s why we have a robust intern system and that’s why the Court actually charges fifty dollars for an application fee for anyone who has a demonstrated ability to pay it,” Joy said.
Joy also pointed out that, “Other jurisdictions have separate offices that may not be called Public Defender Offices, they’re Administrative offices where they maintain a list of private attorneys they can call upon whenever there’s a need for a case to be represented by a free lawyer.”
“I will tell you, I’ve looked very closely at it and you will not find, I haven’t found a system like that… they’re not doing it for cheaper than a million dollars. The unique thing the City of Atlanta has… you have a group of people who are managing cases not on a per-case fee basis. Where you have a system where you have private counsel coming in… they’re getting paid on a per-case basis,” Joy said.
“I’m gonna push back just a little bit… What you’re telling me is not that you’ve thought about how to do it differently, in my opinion what you’ve told me is that you’ve figured out how to meet your caseload,” Willis said.
Then, Councilman Ivory Young (District 3) raised a question regarding whether if someone’s case was bound from the Municipal Court of the City of Atlanta over to Fulton County for lack of a public defender, whether any fees or fines assessed in the case would be allocated to the City, or whether the County would receive the fees.
“Would the Public Defender’s Office or the City of Atlanta Municipal Court be reimbursed for any of that preliminary work we did prior to bindover, and the answer is no. If a case is adjudicated in Fulton County, Fulton County will reap the benefit of any fine imposed,” Joy said.
Young also asked whether the City would violate the rights provided when reading someone their Miranda rights by not providing representation to those who cannot afford private representation. Councilwoman Cleta Winslow (District 4) asked a similar question, to which Joy answered yes.
“We’ve taken some great liberties in how we describe how the system works,” Willis said.
“This idea that somehow we’re somehow violating Miranda rights… this went way, this got kind of crazy, I thought you’d at least help Mr. Young out, but in reality you kind of helped him keep going,” Willis said.
“This idea that it would cost more is a ruse,” Willis said. “And I have no problem with us having a Public Defender. But at the point when we start mischaracterizing in some respects what’s going on, I have a problem,” Willis said.
“Because now, we’re sitting here acting like all of a sudden when people get arrested in the City of Atlanta, we’d be violating the Constitution and that’s just not true, there are ways to address it to not deal with it. I’m not suggesting that that’s what we do, but I think when you characterize it as such, it is a misrepresentation to this Council and at best, what I asked for, was I asked the question, have we thought about other ways to do it?” Willis said.
Willis’s accusation that Joy deceived the Council is simply not correct. Mr. Young had asked whether, if someone had to bind over to Fulton County for lack of legal representation, whether the County would receive any fees; and that is the question Joy answered.
When Winslow asked whether someone’s Constitutional rights would be violated if the City did not provide a Public Defender, Joy even explicitly stated that the City could provide either a Public Defender or a private attorney. “And I think that’s what Councilman Willis is alluding to,” she said.
Yet, Willis falsely accused her of deception.
“And I thought a responsible leader in the Public Defenders’ Office would say, guess what we’ll go do a white paper… But when we’re having a policy discussion it is not appropriate I think to get in the middle of what’s best and why it should be that way. You tell us what the facts are, that’s what I believe needs to happen, and right now I feel it has been mischaracterized to some level to my colleagues, and I believe in an inappropriate way. So I have to admit that I’m somewhat frustrated in how it was allowed to sort of just spiral out of control in terms of what’s going on, because that’s not what happens,” Willis said.
However, Willis was criticizing Joy for providing her opinion even though he had basically asked her for it. His original question to her–have you thought about doing things differently–implies the question of what her analysis actually was.
“All I asked for was a good question, and to answer Mr. Young’s question, you didn’t have to say…” Willis said, pausing to laugh.
“Councilman Willis, if I may,” Joy attempted to respond.
“I still have the floor so no you can’t,” Willis said.
“I’m sorry. I apologize for interrupting,” Joy said.
“What I asked for is, are there other models that exist? The simple answer is yes there are. Is there a way it could be done without people’s rights being violated? The answer is yes there is. Is there a way other municipalities in the State of Georgia do it? The answer is absolutely,” Willis said.
Here, Willis–in accusing Joy of not answering his question–apparently lost track of what his question was. “Have you thought of other ways to do it” had morphed into “are there other models that exist; is there a way it could be done without people’s right’s being violated; and is there a way other municipalities in the State of Georgia do it?”
“And then question then can be, is this the best way to do it, and that calls for your opinion and you can give it all day long… but those weren’t the questions, you gave the answer long before we ever got there. And so, it becomes fundamentally a problem, because then as a policymaker you’ve inserted your opinion in what I need in terms of factual information, Willis said.
“At the point I believe there’s misinformation out there I fundamentally have a problem with it because your job is not to misinform this body,” Willis said.
When Willis relinquished the floor, Joy began to ask whether she could respond, “Could I …?”
Chairman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large), however, began to introduce Chief Judge Crystal Gaines, not providing Joy an opportunity to respond.
By then, Joy appeared to be physically hanging on to the podium and her legs began to appear to buckle. Shortly after Young began speaking again, Joy fell on the floor. Bond then recessed the meeting.