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Court slaps down Crist and Legislature for money-saving measure

Judge Kevin Davey on Thursday week struck down as unconstitutional a new system of public defenders to handle conflict cases that can't be handled by elected public defenders. The GOP-controlled Legislature during the 2007 session created a system of regional conflict counsels as a way to cut down on the costs of hiring private outside attorneys.

But the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sued and Davey ruled that the Legislature exceeded its authority by requiring the new offices and that Gov. Charlie Crist exceeded his by appointing the five special public defenders. The court also quashed the appointments of the five attorneys who were tasked with setting up law offices.

Davey wrote that the Legislature had attempted to amend the constitution ``by legislative fiat.''

"From the beginning of this process our primary concern has been to ensure that Florida citizens accused of committing crimes received a vigorous defense from competent lawyers armed with the necessary resources to protect their constitutional rights,'' said association president A. Russell Smith.

The office of Attorney General Bill McCollum on Friday filed a notice of appeal with the 1st District Court of Appeal.