"Attorney: Judges can't rule objectively on funding in death penalty cases," is the Ocala Star-Banner report by Vishal Persaud. Here's an extended excerpt:
An attorney handling two Marion County death penalty cases filed motions to attempt to disqualify the court and have it strike down a Florida statute he believes is unconstitutional.
Defense attorney Terence Lenamon of Miami, who was able to spare Joshua Fulgham the death penalty in April, is making efforts to do the same for James Edward Bannister and Michael Lamar Woods.
In the motions, Lenamon claims that recent changes by the state Legislature to section 27.5304 of the Florida statutes, which sets the payment for private court-appointed counsel, makes it a conflict of interest for judges presiding in cases of indigent defendants.
“When it comes to the death penalty, there’s no short order of them trying to shortcut in allowing resources for these kinds of cases where they’re seeking the ultimate penalty,” Lenamon said.
He noted that judges must approve all expenses in the cases, from the cost of a private attorney for an indigent defendant — set at $15,000 for capital cases — to the other costs of preparing the case.
Lenamon said those costs could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the state Legislature has put aside just $3 million in a special judicial account designated for those costs.
He argued that $3 million wouldn’t be enough to help pay for the multitude of death penalty cases involving indigent defendants across the state.
Once that money in the special account is gone, judges must then decide whether to use general funds that also pay for judges salaries, staff, etc. Lenamon said that puts the judges in a tough position and creates a conflict of interest.
“It’s their staff, their budget, versus what’s right for the defendant,” he said.
For that reason, he claims the statute is unconstitutional and urges judges across the state to strike down the law.
Lenamon said he has filed the motions in about seven death penalty cases he’s handling across the state.
The two judges hearing the death penalty cases in Marion County have denied Lenamon’s motions to disqualify the court. They have not ruled on the constitutionality of the statute.