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September 11, 2008

Public defenders passionate about work

Public defender Betsey Flack said she doesn’t mind the workload and what some in the legal profession may consider the position’s low pay.

To Flack, protecting people’s legal rights is critical.

“Ensuring that they are treated fairly is what I see as my job,” the North Carolina native said. “When it comes to people’s liberties, I don’t think there is anything more important or more serious.”

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, which oversees the state’s public defenders, recommends attorneys have a caseload of 150 felonies or 300 misdemeanors in a year’s time. Flack handles misdemeanor cases in Superior Court and felony and misdemeanor cases in Juvenile Court. Since she started work on Aug. 1, 2007, she has closed 336 cases and currently has 120 open.

Flack, 26, said she wanted to be a lawyer from a young age. She joined the public defender office after graduating from Mercer Law School.

“I have always been drawn to public service in general,” she said. “Our clients are a sector of the community that often needs an advocate.”

Flack’s colleague, Ben Goldberg, who started on the same day as Flack, agrees. He interned with the Atlanta-based Georgia Innocence Project while in college and at Georgia State University’s law school. The Project reviews the convictions of prisoners to see if they should be freed because of new DNA evidence.

Goldberg said one man, who spent 15 or 16 years in prison for a rape Goldberg did not believe he committed, will never leave his mind.

“The Georgia Innocence Project only takes cases that have DNA evidence,” said Goldberg. “We couldn’t take his case but we got him released on parole. I am totally convinced the guy is innocent.”

At the public defender office, Goldberg assists with appeals.

“The class of people we represent are historically underrepresented,” he said. “In this society, money can buy you a different type of justice than if you are poor. The inequity of that is what drives me.”

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