Washington, DC (November 5, 2003) -- On October 31, at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ 2003 Fall Meeting in New Orleans, criminal defense attorney, former Georgia state senator, and lifelong civil rights activist Gary Parker received the prestigious Champion of Indigent Defense award. Awarded once a year, the Champion of Indigent Defense award recognizes a group or individual for outstanding efforts in making positive changes to a local, county, state or national indigent defense system, through legislation, litigation, or other methods.
Parker received the award not only for his lifelong commitment to ensuring that indigent defendants receive adequate representation, but also for his recent efforts in the passage of legislation in the Georgia state legislature that will overhaul the state’s indigent defense system. A graduate of Howard University School of Law, Parker began his practice representing the poor in 1980, as a Reginald Heber Community Lawyer Fellow with the Georgia Legal Services office in Columbus. He then went into private practice in Columbus, which included representing individuals facing the death penalty. At the time, the judicial circuit that included Columbus sent more people to death row than any other jurisdiction in Georgia. However, partly due to Parker’s diligent efforts over the next 20 years, the torrent of capital cases was reduced to a trickle. Parker has represented more than a dozen capital defendants, over 80 percent on a pro bono basis. In 2003, Parker crowned his more than 25-year effort to ensure that poor criminal defendants receive competent legal counsel by using his political savvy as a driving force to convince the Georgia General Assembly to pass the 2003 Georgia Indigent Defense Act. Through years of dedicated efforts across the spectrum of the criminal justice system in Georgia, Parker paved the road for this level of legislative reform, demonstrating his worthiness as this year’s recipient of the Champion of Indigent Defense award.
Upon accepting the award, Parker called on all members of the bar to take appropriate action to see that indigent defendants receive effective assistance of counsel. Regarding the responsibility of the defense bar in the representation of the indigent accused, Parker noted, “Defense lawyers need to stand up and say ''enough is enough'' and step up and defend poor folks.” He continued, “Defense lawyers have a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that everyone who needs a lawyer has a lawyer." Parker concluded that whether through individual representation of indigent clients, pro bono work, or a donation of time and resources, all lawyers share the responsibility of ensuring that the quality of representation of those accused of crimes does not depend on the amount of money one has.
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