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Released Opinion

April 15, 2013

This morning, the Supreme Court released opinions in 10 cases, one of which is within the scope of our coverage. Below is a summary of the opinion and issues involved. The Court also hears oral argument beginning at 10:00 this morning in several cases.

S10U1679 In re: Formal Advisory Opinion 10-1

On June 15, 2010, Formal Advisory Opinion No. 10-1 was filed with the Supreme Court. The advisory opinion applies Rule 1.10 of the Rules of Professional Conduct to public defender officers, which would prohibit public defender offices in the same circuit from representing co-defendants when a single lawyer would have a conflict of interest.

On July 5, 2010, the Public Defender Standards Council petitioned the Supreme Court to review the advisory opinion, which the Supreme Court agreed to do. The Council requests the Court disapprove the advisory opinion.

The case was heard at oral argument on January 10, 2012.

On April 15, 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously approved Formal Advisory Opinion 10-1, reaching the same conclusion as the State Bar Formal Advisory Opinion Board. In a per curiam decision, the Court explained that a “legal service organization” is included in the definition of a “firm” to which conflicts are imputed under Rule 1.10(a). Thus, it is an impermissible conflict of interest is imputed to all the public defenders in the public defender office of that circuit. But the Court did not find that there is an automatic disqualification of a circuit public defender office under that interpretation. Rule 1.10(a) only applies after a conflict of interest has been found. Thus, the Court explained, “It is only when it is decided that a public defender has an impermissible conflict in representing multiple defendants that the conflict is imputed to the other attorneys in that public defender’s office,” while recognizing that this may happen regularly. Finally, the Court recognized the “real costs on Georgia’s indigent defense system” from its decision  but found the problem of adequate funding cannot be solved by “compromising the promise” of effective representation of poor defendants.

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