A law firm representing a Brunswick attorney sent letters to the American Civil Liberties Union and The News this week disputing allegations put forward in a federal lawsuit and alleging defamatory acts.
In a motion to file an amended complaint June 26, the ACLU — on behalf of Margery Mock, Eric Ogden, Robert Cox Jr. and others — alleged that Reid Zeh, while working as a public defender in Glynn County State Court, requested money for representation of Cox that that was unnecessary.
“During one of Mr. Cox’s misdemeanor cases in early 2015, he was referred to defendant attorney Zeh after his mother, Barbara Hamilton, paid a deposit to a bondsman to bail Mr. Cox out,” according to the motion. “After getting out of custody, Mr. Cox met with defendant Zeh. Zeh informed Cox that he would only assist with his public defender case if paid $2,500. Ms. Hamilton, Cox’s mother, paid Zeh the $2,500, not realizing Zeh was already paid by Glynn County to provide public defense services to persons like her son.”
In affidavits filed as exhibits with the amended complaint, Cox alleges, “Mr. Zeh indicated that he would charge me an additional $2,500 to represent me as my public defender. For this money, Mr. Zeh said he would take care of my case.” Cox also said in his statement that Zeh was able to get the case dismissed.
Hamilton made similar allegations in her affidavit, claiming a $2,500 payment was required. “Robert could not afford to pay Mr. Zeh, so I did,” she stated in the document.
The allegation against Zeh comes as part of a larger case against him, Glynn County, Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump and Glynn County Magistrate Judge Alex Atwood regarding a cash bond system the ACLU contends is unconstitutionally discriminatory. The amended complaint also seeks to add State Court Judge Bart Altman as a defendant.
Attorney Brent Savage wrote in his letters to the ACLU and The News, “You allege that Mr. Zeh required a $2,500 payment to represent Mr. Cox for a misdemeanor charge. On the contrary, Mr. Zeh was retained by Mr. Cox and his mother to represent Mr. Cox with a felony case in the Superior Court of Glynn County. Such representation falls outside the scope of Mr. Zeh’s duties as the Glynn County State Court public defender.
“At no time with regards to that case did Mr. Cox ever seek Mr. Zeh’s services as a court-appointed attorney. Eventually, Mr. Zeh was able to get Mr. Cox’s case dismissed.”
The letters, dated July 5, requested a correction and retraction in writing for the alleged defamatory statements — the demand of the ACLU regards a blog post on its website — and states that “a civil action for defamation will not be filed if you correct and retract all of the slanderous statements in writing and send me confirmation of the same within seven days of your receipt of this letter.”
While the letters refer to slander, the alleged defamatory actions were written, not spoken, which would make them allegedly libelous, in this context.
For The News, the deadline for response would be July 16. The ACLU did not respond to a request for comment.
Information reported by The News was based on the amended complaint filing, which is a public court record, and was properly attributed.
Meanwhile, in the federal lawsuit, attorneys Richard Strickland, Bradley Watkins and Emily Hancock filed a motion Monday to withdraw as counsel for Zeh as they continue to represent the other defendants. According to the motion, the amended complaint motion revealed a “potential for a conflict to arise between defendants” in the suit.
An email included in the filing states the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia-Interlocal Risk Management Agency retained the Savannah firm of Oliver Maner to take over Zeh’s representation in the case.