Column: District 29A bar nominates two for public defender post

The District 29A bar met on Tuesday this week to nominate two names for Judge Tommy Davis’ appointment to the newly created Public Defendant office. The two names to be submitted by the legal members of the bar for consideration are attorney Brian Oglesby and judge Laura Powell. An unannounced third name will be submitted by the Indigent Defense Services (IDS) commission for appointment.

The newly created Public Defender office that mirrors the staffing of the District Attorney’s office is expected to be up and running by Dec. 1, 2018. No deadline was given to Judge Davis to name a public defender (PD) ; however, the appointment should be made with consideration of the lead time to hire defense attorneys and assemble office space. The county is mandated to provide equivalent office space despite the lack of funding given by the legislature to do so.

Many have questioned the nomination of Judge Laura Powell who filed for re-election to her current position as district court judge on June 18. She is running as an unopposed Republican for her own seat on the bench. From her Facebook post:

Laura Powell is feeling thankful.
June 18 ·
I filed for re-election today. The election is November 6. Hoping to continue the work I have done for the last 13 years.

Having been on the bench in district court for 13 years and performing no criminal defense work during that time, Judge Davis will have to consider whether criminal defense qualifications trump political ties and friendships. Both Powell and Davis switched political affiliations to the Republican Party recently. If Davis appoints Powell, who many consider to be an excellent judge, Davis may jeopardize his re-election in 2020. Many will see that as a nod to friendship and the old buddies network and counter to the “Fight corruption – clean out the courthouse” mentality.

If Powell is selected as public defender, then there must be a replacement for her seat on the the ballot. In effect, that could give an appointment to a judgeship to a political party committee recommendation.  Powell who worked for over a decade with Assistant District Attorney David Norris in District Court may find Norris an easy recommendation. However, Norris since working for District Attorney Ted Bell over the last 4 years, is a $100000 lawyer who carries no caseload. Norris has not been in Superior Court as a prosecutor for serious crimes or in district court. Norris’ lack of management experience, little to no criminal trial experience,  and caustic attitude to what he calls “welfare lawyers” may leave Judge Davis the responsibility of creating a mess and will cost him his judgeship.

Oglesby has been in the courtroom, both Superior and District courts, working regularly. He mentors many of the young inexperienced lawyers on the proceedings of the court. Oglesby has always been generous and non-political in explaining trials, motions, and rulings to the media as well.

Then there is the dark horse nomination of the state Indigent Defense Services commission. IDS provides an outside perspective and weight on their nomination should be cause for Judge Davis’ reflection.

The public defender selection is critical for this county where the GOP good ole boys network has continued the county corruption for decades. As voters, we have an obligation to hire the best or in this case be the judge of how this appointment is made.