Appeals Court Upholds Salary Win for Fulton Public Defenders

June 17, 2015

Alyson M. Palmer, Daily Report

A. Lee Parks
A. Lee Parks. Photo by John Disney/Daily Report.

The Georgia Court of Appeals has affirmed a ruling in favor of 64 current and former Fulton County public defenders who claim they’ve been underpaid.

The June 11 decision upholds the decision of Fulton Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe, who concluded the county illegally paid public defenders less than identically classified attorneys in the Office of the County Attorney. According to a release by the public defenders’ law firm, Parks Chesin & Walbert, the amount of back pay owed to the public defenders likely exceeds $8 million—and is growing.

Joined by Judges Anne Elizabeth Barnes and William Ray II, Judge Carla Wong McMillian said that although the county may be correct that differences among the function and budgets of the legal departments warranted different pay scales, the county must—but did not—follow the personnel regulations.

Lee Parks, lead counsel for the public defenders, said in the release that the appeals court decision means “Fulton County can no longer ignore its legal obligation to comply with its own civil system that guarantees equal pay for equal work. … We hope the county will see the ‘writing on the wall’ and end what is now a decade of litigation.”

Last year, Fulton County paid about $4.8 million to resolve similar claims by current and former staff attorneys for the Fulton State and Superior Courts, after losing its appeal in that case. Parks Chesin also represents attorneys for the county solicitor’s office, juvenile court and district attorney’s office on similar pending claims against the county.

Interim County Attorney Jerolyn Ferrari could not be reached for comment.

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