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Accused killer sues to get a lawyer

/ Source: The Associated Press

A Georgia man charged with killing a woman has been without an attorney for eight months, according to a lawsuit claiming the state's public defender system has failed to adequately represent him.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Jamie Ryan Weis underscores budget problems at the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. Two private attorneys assigned to represent Weis were removed because the council didn't have the money to pay them, and two public defenders objected because they said they had heavy case loads and not enough resources.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Weis, who is charged in the Feb. 2, 2006, death of Catherine King in her Pike County home in central Georgia.

The lawsuit was filed on Weis' behalf by four prominent Atlanta lawyers.

"This is surely an unprecedented deprivation of counsel in modern times," the lawsuit said.

Weis's appointed lawyers, Bob Citronberg and Tom West, were removed from the case when the council did not have the money to pay them.

An agreement was reached in April for Citronberg and West to return to the case if Mack Crawford, director of the defender system, signed a contract allowing them to be paid.

"He should not have delayed the reinstatement of counsel for eight days," the lawsuit said. "The delay of eight months is unconscionable."

Crawford and Gerry Word, the acting head of the capital defender's office who also is named in the suit, did not immediately return telephone messages Friday. They told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday they had not seen the suit and did not want to comment.

Scott Ballard, the district attorney in Pike County, called the case frustrating.

"Everybody wants the defendant to be well represented. We'll be ready to prosecute just as soon as they're ready," Ballard said.

The lawsuit seeks a court order reinstating Citronberg and West.

Georgia's public defender system has been plagued with funding problems. Lawyers for Brian G. Nichols, who killed an Atlanta judge and three others in a 2005 courthouse shooting spree, ran up a nearly $2 million defense bill. Lawmakers furious at the bill have used the trial as a rallying cry to cut funding to Georgia's public defender system.

Nichols was sentenced last month to life in prison.