Less than a year after his appointment to Governor Sonny Perdue’s Public Defender Standards Council, Dawson County Commissioner Mike Berg has agreed to chair the board.
“It’s an honor to represent the county as chair of a state committee,” he said Monday.
Berg was selected to chair the council, which was created about four years ago and oversees public defender operations in all but six of the state’s judicial circuits, during Friday’s meeting in Atlanta.
In his first order of business as chairman, the council approved additional cuts that the governor announced last month must be made by state agencies to make up for declining revenue.
“That’s 4, 6, or 8 percent in addition to the 5 percent cuts the state already asked for earlier this year,” Berg said.
Council members approved the adjustments, but were quick to say the cuts could compromise defendants’ rights to speedy trials and adequate legal representation.
“We’ll start right off the bat trying to convince the legislature and the governor that some public defender offices can’t operate with some of the cuts suggested,” Berg said. “Some circuits have to reduce by furloughs of 30-40 days, and that’s very difficult.”
Nicky Vaughn, a public defender for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, said Berg’s appointment is a plus for the circuit and state as a whole.
“Mike’s leadership of the council will, hopefully, open conversations with the legislature and governor’s offices with regards to the needs of the local public defenders,” she said.
“It’s an honor personally, but also it’s visibilty for the county, and gets us looking at expenses that flow back to the county,” Berg said.
Berg, 62, is one of only four representatives on the 15-member council that is not in the legal field. Each member is appointed by either the Governor, Lt. Governor or the Speaker of the House.
“Prior to the council, there was no process to the system, with outrageous fines and no legislation. The council gives a balance that is used across the state,” said Berg, who was appointed to the council last September after previously working on reform to the state’s Indigent Defense program.