Media seeks release of papers in Nichols case

ATLANTA - A court should immediately release the state public defender office's written response to a request to hold it in contempt for cutting off funding to accused courthouse shooter Brian Nichols' legal team, a media lawyer argued Friday.

Attorney Thomas Clyde said in a motion on behalf of The Associated Press and several other news organizations that no one has given any legal reason for sealing the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council's response.

Clyde also cited ""the compelling public interest in this matter' and the ""strong presumption of public access to all court records' in arguing for the release of the council's response.

There was no immediate ruling on the motion.

The council voted Oct. 18 to defy Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller's order to continue to provide funding for Nichols' legal fees and expenses. Its written response addressing the issue was subsequently sealed.

Nichols' lawyers have asked the court to consider holding the council in contempt, and a hearing is set for Nov. 5. Fuller recused himself from that hearing, which will be presided over by Rockdale County Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation. Fuller will still preside over the murder trial, which is on hold indefinitely because of defense funding problems.

The state public defender office has said it can't continue to pay the costs for Nichols' defense and carry out its duty in roughly 80 other capital cases in the state.

The office has said that because of the amount of money already spent on Nichols' defense so far - $1.8 million as of the end of June - there isn't enough money for other cases. As a result, it cut off funding to Nichols' defense on July 1.

The Legislature has refused to step in, and on Thursday, House Speaker Glenn Richardson said he is creating a committee to review Fuller's decisions in the Nichols case, particularly on defense funding issues.