Judge Koester Recommends Change in Public Defender

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Published on June 18 2013 3:24 pm
Last Updated on July 14 2013 4:07 pm
Written by Greg Sapp

Effingham County Resident Circuit Judge Kimberly Koester has recommended a change in the office of Effingham County Public Defender.

Judge Koester, responding by phone from Shelby County where she's presiding over a trial, said she won't discuss why she's recommending a replacement for Lupita Thompson as Public Defender "without Ms. Thompson's knowledge and acquiescence."

The judge explained that in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, the resident circuit judge for each county recommends who should serve as public defender as part of their admininstrative duties.  She said the nine resident circuit judges and the three at-large circuit judges then vote, with a candidate needing to receive a majority of the judges' votes to serve in the office.  Judge Koester said Chief Judge Gene Schwarm is waiting on responses from all 12 judges before who holds the office is finalized.  She declined to identify who is being considered for the office until the vote is concluded.

Judge Koester said each public defender serves on an annual basis, and said, "This is not the first time that this has been an issue."  While the judge declined to discuss her reasons for recommending a change, she said it was based on all factors; the salary involved, the responsibilities of the job, and "my responsibilities as resident circuit judge."

Thompson has served as Public Defender for 17 years.  Retired judge James Harvey spoke on her behalf to the Effingham County Board on Monday, asking why this was happening.  In his remarks, Harvey said it was his understanding that Thompson received a cell phone call from Judge Koester Friday that she would not be retained.  The conversation came following the funeral for the daughter of Thompson's assistant in the Public Defender's office.  Judge Koester said she hadn't contacted Thompson the day before because of the approaching funeral.

Judge Koester asked to clarify the circumstances of the phone call, saying she was phoning to set up an appointment to meet with Thompson on Monday.  She said Thompson asked her to let her know during the phone conversation what was the decision, so Koester did.

We'll continue to follow this story.