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Attorneys in death penalty case spar over funding
Judges decision expected this week

Forsyth County’s district attorney argued Friday that the lawyers who represent one of three defendants in a death penalty case that dates to 2006 have themselves to blame for not getting paid.

Penny Penn made the claim in a hearing before Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson.

The hearing was scheduled after attorneys for Marcin Sosniak filed a motion asking to have the case dismissed. Dickinson said he’d issue a written decision on the matter this week.

The trial for Sosniak, who has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges in connection with a March 19, 2006, massacre has been delayed three times since December.

The attack claimed the lives of four people and injured three others at a farmhouse off Ronald Reagan Boulevard.

Dickinson denied a request Oct. 6 by Sosniak’s appointed attorneys, Charles Haldi and Bill Finch, to continue the case. Jury selection in the trial had been scheduled to begin Oct. 10.

The day after their request was rejected, they filed a motion contending their client’s constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated because the case had taken so long to get to that point.

Furthermore, they contend the state has not paid them for Sosniak’s defense, which has prevented the case from going forward.

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council is responsible for paying attorneys who represent indigent defendants in capital cases.

The council suffered a financial crisis in 2008. And in 2009, attorneys statewide began asking to withdraw from cases because of the council’s inability to pay them.

Frank Ortegon and Jason McGhee, who also are charged in connection with the farmhouse attack and face the death penalty, are being tried separately.

Like Sosniak, they are represented by appointed attorneys. Penn said the state plans to try Sosniak’s case first.

Friday, she argued that Haldi and Finch hadn’t received any money, short of $2,400 they got after they submitted an invoice to pay an expert last fall, because they hadn’t sent any documentation to the state showing what they needed.

"The defense continues to make the argument that they have been unable to go forward because of a lack of funding," Penn said. "I don’t know how it is that you are supposed to get paid if you don’t ask for it."

Haldi said Friday that the notion that it’s the defense’s fault the attorneys hadn’t received any money was "lunacy," adding that it’s the state’s mandated duty to give them funding.

He noted that Griffin Circuit Superior Court Judge Mack Crawford, who was director of the council until October 2010, had testified in Forsyth County about the council’s lack of funding. Crawford did so after Ortegon’s attorneys filed complaints they had not been getting paid.

"I suppose we could’ve filed motions alleging we weren’t getting paid," Haldi said. "We shut up and took it. We worked the case. We didn’t delay it."

Haldi went on to say that since last year he and Finch had told "everybody" they needed money.

"The state of Georgia by and through [Penn’s] office is trying to kill my client," Haldi said. "Every avenue the law allows us we are going to utilize to make sure that Marcin Sosniak does not have happen what they want."

Penn also argued that the matter has been delayed from going to trial twice at the defense’s request.

Although it is not legally required, she noted a demand for a speedy trial had not been filed on Sosniak’s behalf. She said the last thing Sosniak wants is to go trial.

"The bottom line judge is we got played," Penn said. "The court got played, the state got played. Sadly and most important is the victims, their families and the citizens of this community got played."