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The Court of Appeals of Georgia has ruled that a Fannin County, Ga., attorney’s constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated despite his 57-month wait in his DUI case. Judge M. Yvette Miller, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, acknowledged that a speedy, impartial trial was hard to organize when the defendant was a local defense attorney and the defendant’s lawyer is a former district attorney married to one of only two Superior Court judges in the Appalachian Judicial District. By the time local prosecutors and judges finished their recusals, nobody in the county was left to handle the 2000 DUI case of Blue Ridge, Ga., attorney James Lloyd Bass. “The case was a difficult one to bring to trial,” Miller wrote Monday. The panel upheld a denial of Bass’ motion to dismiss his DUI charges made by Senior Judge Arthur W. Fudger, who was appointed to handle the case. Presiding Judge G. Alan Blackburn and Judge Debra H. Bernes concurred with Miller in the case, Bass v. State, No. A05A1453. Miller wrote that the defense and prosecution bore equal responsibility for the long wait. She rejected the contention by Bass’ attorneys — supported by a retired district attorney’s testimony — that the delay was not unique in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit. Misdemeanor defendants were commonly forced to wait seven or eight years for a DUI trial because prosecutors were busy with higher-priority felony cases, according to Bass’ appeals brief. Aside from a long wait, Miller said, Bass couldn’t prove the other elements of a Sixth Amendment violation: He didn’t demand a speedy trial until four years after his arrest; he couldn’t show the delay hindered his defense; and he didn’t suffer undue concern or anxiety. “We’re disappointed, and we respectfully disagree” with the court’s ruling, Bass said on Tuesday. He requested that further comment come from his trial attorney, former Fannin County District Attorney George W. Weaver, who could not be reached for comment. Fay I. McCormack of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia, the district attorney appointed to the case, could not be reached for comment. Bass was arrested for driving under the influence in March 2000. In October 2000, he requested a jury trial. Bass hired Weaver, who also is the husband of Judge Brenda S. Weaver, chief judge on the two-judge Appalachian Judicial Circuit. Bass’ case was assigned to Weaver’s counterpart, Judge Roger E. Bradley. Bradley later recused himself, citing a need to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Both Bass and his attorney practiced regularly before both judges, according to the state’s appeals brief. Bass’ case came up on calendar call at least three times before 2003 but never went to trial, according to the decision. The prosecution did not want to try Bass while he was serving as defense counsel in another trial. The state was ready for trial in Bass’ case in June 2002, but the defense requested a continuance. While Fannin County District Attorney Roger Queen recovered from an injury in April 2003, the acting county prosecutor declared a conflict of interest in the case. Because of an “oversight,” a year and a half passed with no attempt to appoint a special prosecutor, Queen wrote in a September 2004 letter to the counsel of Attorney General Thurbert Baker. The outside judge and prosecutor, Fudger and McCormack, finally were appointed to the case last fall. Queen, who retired last year, was called to testify in Superior Court about long delays for misdemeanor trials in the Appalachian Circuit. According to the appellant’s brief, Queen said that misdemeanors “are put on the back burner” and that the backlog included DUI cases dating to 1996 or 1997.

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