Atlanta Municipal Court Atlanta Municipal Court building (Photo: John Disney/ ALM)

 

With his term of office nearing a close, Mayor Kasim Reed has replaced the lawyer who headed up the Municipal Public Defender Office since 2010, tapping PD managing attorney Kenneth Days III to take over.

The decision to oust interim PD Rosalie Joy comes after several lawyers and civil rights organizations expressed alarm at what they described as a campaign by some municipal court judges to fire Joy.

The move also comes on the heels of a letter from the Southern Center for Human Rights challenging the court’s cash-bond system, including assertions Joy was targeted for retaliation after her office filed a petition demanding the release of 10 defendants denied access to bond hearings.

Reed press secretary Jenna Garland said Days’ appointment takes effect on Monday, Nov. 20. He was among three finalist nominated by the Atlanta Judicial Commission, including Joy and John Tapia, also an assistant Atlanta PD.

In a statement announcing the appointment, Reed hailed Days’ involvement with numerous community initiatives, saying he was “confident he will continue to serve his clients with the highest levels of integrity, efficacy and professionalism.”

Days said in the statement that his tenure “has been the most meaningful of my life and career.”

“I take my responsibility to the public and to our clients seriously, and believe the Office of the Public Defender can and must play a vital role in protecting low-income individuals,” Days said.

The announcement said Days has served as managing attorney for the PD’s office since joining it in 2008 and was previously with Days & West. He joined the State Bar of Georgia in 1996.

Joy, who has been with PD’s office for 28 years, became interim PD in 2010 when Reed tapped then-PD Candace Byrd to be his chief of staff.

In October, representatives from the ACLU of Georgia, Southern Center for Human Rights, Gideon’s Promise, Georgia Alliance for Justice, Atlanta NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and others rallied at the Municipal Court in Joy’s support.

According to documents the Daily Report obtained through an Open Records Act request, Joy was called on the carpet during a December judges meeting and faced a variety of complaints concerning her assignment of lawyers to courtrooms and the competence of some of those lawyers.

A May report Joy compiled in response found no support for the allegations or any complaints of ineffective assistance of counsel, whether from the bar, clients or the bench.

In a contemporaneous letter to Byrd, Joy noted that she apparently crossed one judge by filing an appeal for a client who was found guilty but whose sentence was suspended.

While the appeal was pending, “the trial judge asked me ‘what the hell’ was my staff doing” appealing the case. A superior court judge found judicial error, and the conviction was reversed.

Ten defendants were released after her office filed a habeas petition involved clients who arrested without a warrant and denied a first appearance hearing.

“Within a few hours of that filing the judge who refused to see our clients released them from jail,” Joy’s letter said.

“Later that evening I received a message to call the law department. I spoke to an assistant attorney who was very upset and accused me of subjecting the City to liability, despite the fact that the judge’s refusal to conduct a first appearance hearing created the liability,” it said.

The letter said “several trustworthy and respected individuals connected to city government” had told Joy that “judges had signed a letter to Mayor Reed to have me removed from my position.”

The Daily Report has previously asked Reed’s office and Chief Judge Calvin Graves about the existence of the letter. Graves has never responded, but Garland said Tuesday that no such letter has been received by the mayor’s office.

Jon Rapping, Gideon’s Promise president and a law professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School and Harvard Law School, said he hoped incoming PD Days would not face the same sort of judicial pressure Joy has alleged.

“Ms. Joy’s removal appears to be retaliation for her challenging unconstitutional practices,” said Rapping via email. “That some judges may have unethically interfered with the independence of the public defender is of grave concern for poor people in Atlanta trapped in [the] Municipal Court’s system.

“There are a growing number of community and legal organizations committed to working to ensure Mr. Days does not face similar pressure as he continues to mobilize his office to challenge these abusive practices,” he said.