Head of State Public Defender Agency Named Judge in Coweta

The head of Georgia’s indigent criminal defense system is set to become the newest Superior Court judge in the Coweta Circuit.

W. Travis Sakrison, who has been executive director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council since 2010, will fill a seat created last year by the General Assembly, Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said Friday.

The council issued a news statement shortly after, touting Sakrison’s accomplishments at the helm: “He will be leaving GPDSC with a more accountable, efficient and stronger public defender system, a successfully reorganized agency, and a state-appropriated budget that has increased by 30 percent.”

Last year at the General Assembly, Sakrison successfully advocated for a budget of about $43 million for the current fiscal year ending on June 30, which was several million dollars above what the state had collected through indigent defense funds. Sakrison chalked up the raise to better communication between the council and lawmakers.

And in April, Deal granted Sakrison’s request for additional funds to hire outside counsel in conflict-of-interest cases, providing the GPDSC with an additional $4 million.

Last summer, Sakrison came under fire for his choice of interim circuit public defender in Cordele. The Southern Center for Human Rights in court filings called the interim appointment of Burt Baker a sham and petitioned Fulton County Superior Court Judge Todd Markle to force the GPDSC to extend its application deadline for the position. The Southern Center named Sakrison, the GPDSC and Deal among myriad defendants in a suit alleging inadequate representation by public defenders in the Cordele Circuit.

Deal, who in 2010 selected Sakrison to run the restructured GPDSC, picked him for the newly created judgeship over veteran district attorney Peter Skandalakis, Troup County Solicitor General Nina Markette Baker and Melissa Griffis, a partner at Rosenzweig, Jones, Horne & Griffis and general counsel for the Coweta County Water and Sewage Authority.

Earlier in his career, Sakrison was a top assistant district attorney in DeKalb and Fulton counties. He earned his law degree from Oklahoma City University and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in 1999.

Deal, by statute, will have to name a new GPDSC executive director, but his office has not yet set a timeline for doing so.

Deal’s office also announced on Friday new judges to the Northern and Waycross circuits.

Solo practitioner R. Chris Phelps will fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Judge John Bailey Jr. from the Northern Circuit’s Superior Court.

Phelps earned his law degree from the University of Georgia and has been licensed to practice law since 1976.

Other candidates recommended by Deal’s Judicial Nominating Commission included solo practitioner Bill Daughtry Jr. and Elbert County State Court Judge John Stephen Jenkins Sr.

Charlton County State Court Judge J. Kelly Brooks will fill a seat on the Waycross Superior Court bench also created by legislation last year.

Brooks, who is also a partner at Adams & Brooks, earned his law degree from UGA and was admitted to the bar in 1990.

Other candidates short-listed by the JNC were William “Sam” Edgar and Andrew Spivey, both solo practitioners.

Reported by the Fulton County Daily Report