TIFTON -- Troup County's chief public defender was recently hired by Tift County to head the Tifton Judicial Circuit's first state-funded public defender office. John R. Mobley II, will report for duty July 1, and the office is scheduled to begin operation January 1, 2005.

Mobley earned his law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1995 and his bachelor of Business Administration, International Business from the University of Georgia in 1992.

He serves as president of the Georgia Public Defenders Association and is a member of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the State Bar of Georgia and the Troup County Bar Association.

Mobley said he looks forward to getting to work here.

"The one thing I really like about Tifton is the size of the circuit and the size of the caseload," Mobley said.

Mobley said he felt welcomed to the community at a reception held for him in the Charles E. Kent Administrative Building last week.

In addition to the Troup County position, Mobley has been a private practice attorney in Columbus and a public defender in both LaGrange and Columbus. He served as a witness for the Chief Justice's Commission on Indigent Defense in October 2001.

HB 770, passed by the legislature last year, created the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, an independent agency within the judicial branch of state government. The council will grant funds to counties based on the previous year's expenditures until January 2005 when the 49 circuit public defender systems are implemented.

Proponents of HB 770 said the new system will ensure that every judicial circuit in Georgia provides adequate legal representation to defendants too poor to hire a lawyer. Some counties and circuits have been criticized for inadequate indigent defense. Opponents of the bill say the program will cost taxpayers an estimated $57.7 million the first year with no estimate of the cost five years from now.

Mobley said he didn't believe the Tifton Judicial Circuit -- which includes Tift, Irwin, Turner and Worth counties -- had been one of those identified as providing poor indigent defense. None of the state's multi-county circuits can opt out of the program, even if they get good reports.

"Unfortunately, the driving force behind the bill is uniformity," Mobley said.

Mobley said the bill only provides for superior court and juvenile court funding.

The state will provide Mobley's salary and the salaries of an assistant public defender, an investigator and two clerical positions. The counties in the circuit have to supplement the staff salaries.

The bill specifies how many cases state-funded public defenders can assume. The county would have to provide attorneys to handles the overload. Attorneys Patti Veazey, Lon Kemeness and David Bryan are under contract with the county to provide indigent defense through January 1, 2005.

Rep. Austin Scott said he voted against the bill because "we have no idea what that is going to cost."

"Whatever costs are not paid for at the state level will fall back on local property owners," Scott said. "There were some systems where a county was not providing adequate defense. This county was doing a good job."

Scott said he "doesn't see any benefit to it in the judicial circuit" he serves.

"Nobody at the Capitol could tell you how much it would cost next year or five years from now," Scott said.

A stalemate surrounding the funding of the indigent defense bill was one of the issues that forced Gov. Sonny Perdue to call for a special session. The sticking point in the $16 billion budget was the $57 million for the new program and whether Perdue or the judicial branch of government would control the funding for the program.

Mobley said he understood that the judicial branch was given ultimate control of the funding and that the amount of money spent on the program would be capped at the amount of money the program generated through fines and forfeitures.

"The governor has a right of review where he can review and express an opinion, but I don't think he ended up having veto power," Mobley said.



To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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