People accused of crimes in Georgetown County who cannot afford an attorney now have a new team of public defenders to represent them in court.
The shakeup in the local public defender’s office took place last week as the team of attorneys who did the job part-time were replaced by two full-time attorneys by Orrie West, head of the 15th Circuit Public Defenders System.
Until the change was made, the public defenders in Georgetown County were attorneys Reuben Goude, Stewart Axelrod and Eric Fox.
The two full-time public defenders are Ron Hazzard and Wyn Bessent.
Until 2005, each county in the state provided its own public defenders. After that, public defender circuits were created to match the judicial circuits in the state.
Locally, the 15th Circuit includes Georgetown and Horry counties.
The public defenders were under contract to do the job part-time while also continuing their private practices.
When West took over as the circuit’s director, she placed attorney Richard Colvin in the courthouse full time to work with the assignment of cases.
Colvin retired this month and Hazzard has assumed his duties.
Goude, who had been a public defender in Georgetown County since 1985, said he has enjoyed the work but understands the benefits of having people serving full time.
“Since all they do is public defender work, they will be there all the time,” Goude said, adding he will continue his private practice. “I liked doing the work. I like the court personnel. I like staying on top of criminal law.”
West said she decided to make the change for two reasons. It will be more cost-effective and will benefit people who need the service.
“The clients will have more access to their attorneys since all they are doing is public defender cases,” West said. “They will have more opportunities to sit down and talk to their lawyers.”
The public defenders are funded by money from both the county and state, although the amount received from the county has not increased in more than a decade, West said.
Goude said one problem with having the two full-time attorneys is when there are cases with more than two defendants. That is because attorneys who work in the same office cannot represent more than one defendant in a case.
When such cases arise, outside representation will be required.
By Scott Harper
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