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Fee Cap Crippling Defense, Lawyer Says

Posted Sep 19, 2007 9:12 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lawyers for alleged Atlanta courthouse gunman Brian Nichols told a judge that disputes over their state-paid legal fees are crippling the defense team.

Lead defense lawyer Henderson Hill said the state intends to pay only about a third the estimated fees and costs of the defense, according to the Fulton County Daily Report. He said his team and his law firm are awaiting payment for $132,000 in fees and expenses.

"Our circumstances are dire," said Hill. "It has crippled our ability to be ready for trial."

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council says a new state law that took effect in July caps attorney fees at $95 an hour, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Hill noted that Judge Hilton Fuller Jr. had appointed Hill and an associate to represent Nichols in 2005 at hourly rates of $175 and $125 respectively. A third defense lawyer has agreed to the salary cut and a fourth is working for free.

So far $1.7 million has been spent on the defense of Nichols, accused of killing a judge and three others in a 2005 shooting rampage at the Fulton County courthouse.

Hill presented evidence of the defense tab in other high-profile cases:

--$5.3 million to defend Olympic Park bomber Eric Robert Rudolph.

--$13.7 million to defend Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

--$8 million to defend McVeigh accomplice Terry Nichols in his federal trial.


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