- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A settlement reached this week will improve legal representation for poor children and adults in a south Georgia judicial circuit, lawyers who filed a lawsuit on their behalf said.

Lawyers with the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit in January 2014 against the four-county Cordele Judicial Circuit and other defendants. Among the problems they cited were juvenile defendants often appearing without a lawyer or represented by lawyers who met with them only briefly, public defenders unable to spend more than a few minutes per adult case, and chronic underfunding and understaffing.

The Southern Center says the agreement with the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, its director, the Cordele Circuit public defender and the circuit’s four county governments was filed Monday. If it is approved by a Fulton County Superior Court judge, it will go into effect July 1 and will run for three years.

According to the Southern Center, the remedies proposed in the settlement include the following:

- Children will be represented by a lawyer specializing in juvenile law and childhood and adolescent development.

- People arrested in the circuit will see a lawyer within days.

- The circuit public defender’s office will go from two assistant public defenders to four and from one investigator to two.

- Every public defender will attend annual training to keep abreast of developments in criminal and juvenile defense.

“This is a substantial achievement for poor children and adults accused of crimes and for the circuit public defender office,” Southern Center senior counsel and President Stephen Bright said in a news release. “It is a significant step toward children and adults being treated as individuals and receiving the representation that is required by the Constitution for fair and just outcomes.”

The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division filed a statement of interest in the case last month urging a judge to ensure that the due process rights of juveniles are protected in the Cordele Judicial Circuit.

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia Michael Moore helped mediate the settlement after the DOJ filing, the Southern Center said.

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