Attorneys for one of three suspects facing the death penalty for a 2006 farmhouse massacre say the state has yet to pay them for their work on the case.
The news concerned Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley, who called it a "constitutional crisis," and could delay the legal proceedings.
Attorney Jeff Purvis, who represents Frank Ortegon, told Bagley in court Thursday that he and another attorney have not been paid for more than a year's worth of work on the case.
Ortegon, Jason McGhee and Marcin Sosniak face 20 charges each in connection with the March 19, 2006, shooting deaths of four people, including three teenagers, at a farmhouse on Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
The men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Forsyth County District Attorney Penny Penn is seeking the death penalty against all three men, each of whom must be tried separately.
Purvis, who is Ortegon's appointed attorney, said Thursday that once Penn sought the death penalty, the county's indigent defense office was relieved of its responsibility to pay for counsel.
But he said it's not clear if payment should come from the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council or the Georgia Capital Defenders office.
Purvis said he hasn't seen a dime for the bill he submitted. The work, which spans from October 2007 to October 2008, totals about $9,300.
"What it all boils down to judge is there's just no money at all," Purvis said. "At this point I think due process rights are being violated. The right to counsel is affected ... I think it's time we pull the plug on this thing until the money is figured out."
Purvis had filed a motion to stay the proceedings, which would halt the case.
While Penn agreed that Purvis should be paid, she voiced concern that stalling the case could affect her ability to pursue the death penalty.
"I just don't have any optimism that this is going to be resolved any time soon," she said.
Purvis said he is "just asking to slow things down until this funding matter gets straightened out."
Bagley denied the motion, but agreed to delay indefinitely hearings scheduled for March 2 and 3 in the case until the payment issue is resolved.
He scheduled a hearing to resolve the payment issue for March 2.
Bagley said the state has apparently failed to "step up to the plate and fund the defense" for the case.
He said the appropriate entities, including the governor, will be notified of the hearing.
"It's my responsibility as the trial judge to make sure Mr. Ortegon's constitutional rights are observed," Bagley said.
Purvis said he will notify the court if he does receive payment before the scheduled hearing.