Glynn County, Georgia’s Crooked Public Defender

UPDATE (7/24/2018): This post has was updated on July 24, 2018, to reflect slight modifications in the proposed pleading in the case.

As the public defender for Glynn County, Georgia, Reid Zeh is entrusted with advocating for the most vulnerable members of his community when they come up against the criminal justice system.  Rather than do his job, however, Zeh routinely ignores his clients or worse — extorts them to enrich himself.

That’s what happened when Robert Cox and his 75-year-old mother, Barbara Hamilton, came to Zeh for legal assistance after Cox was charged with a misdemeanor. Instead of looking out for his client’s interests, Zeh took advantage of the family by charging them $2,500 for services that should have been free-of-charge.

Zeh is paid a flat fee by Glynn County to represent people who can’t otherwise afford legal representation in their criminal cases. Hamilton and her son didn’t know that Zeh could not legally or ethically require payment from them. Nor did they know that the county was paying Zeh to provide public defense services. 

Pushing Cox and his family to pay fees they didn’t need to was effectively the last time Zeh took an interest in Cox’s cases. In the last two years, Cox spent over 170 days in jail because he could not afford bail on various misdemeanor charges such as trespassing and misdemeanor theft and not once did Zeh visit him or help him request a bail amount he could afford. Zeh only met with Cox to process a guilty plea, but he was a ghost during Cox’s long periods of pretrial incarceration and first appearance in court.

That’s why this week we’re seeking permission from the court to add Cox and Hamilton to our lawsuit against Zeh for his role in perpetuating Glynn County’s wealth-based incarceration system and for failing to provide legal assistance to his clients who cannot afford a private attorney. 

Zeh’s behavior towards Cox and his mother is consistent with the experiences of the original two clients in our lawsuit, Margery Mock and Eric Ogden. Mock and Ogden were held in the Glynn County jail in March on misdemeanor criminal trespassing charges because they could not afford to pay bail amounts that were automatically set over their freedom.

Like Cox before them, both Mock and Ogden required representation by Zeh because they can’t afford a private criminal defense attorney. Zeh did not meet with either of them or seek modifications to their bail that might have allowed them to walk free pending trial.  It was not until the ACLU sued Zeh, Glynn County, and other officials on Mock and Ogden’s behalf that they were released from their wealth-based incarceration.

Zeh has had his own experiences with the Glynn County criminal justice system, but, tellingly, those have looked profoundly different than the painful, drawn-out, and costly ordeals he puts his own clients through.

On March 5, 2018, for example, Zeh was arrested on a charge of assault. Instead of languishing in a jail cell, though, he was able to afford bail and hire a lawyer. Then, just last week, Zeh was stopped by police after reports of property damage from a drunk driver. The police indicate that they found him driving under the influence after he allegedly ran into a woman’s front porch.

Rather than arresting him, the police issued him a citation and told him to not drive anymore that night.  But he was later arrested when, later that same night, the police reported seeing him driving erratically after an apparent altercation with a woman. His bail was set at $1,690 on both charges, which he immediately paid.

While Zeh was able to buy his freedom immediately, our clients sat in jail for days, worrying about their families, financial stability, and personal security. Unlike Zeh, our clients suffered this fate because they did not have money to pay bail or hire a private attorney to help them. 

Everyone accused of a crime, including Zeh, should be presumed innocent and have a fair chance to be heard in court. But in Glynn County, you only get a chance to have your story heard if you have the money to pay bail and hire a private lawyer. If not, you’re out of luck, because your public defender is more interested in taking your money than he is in advocating for you. We’re suing to hold people like Zeh and other local officials accountable, so everyone gets a fair chance to have their day in court.

If you’ve had a similar experience with the misdemeanor public defense system in Glynn County and would like to share more of your story, please reach out to info@acluga.org

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Anonymous

I’ve had dealings with him as well but it was around the time he first became a lawyer he represented me in a possession of drugs case. He was paid 1500 to request a bond and after I was released on bond, he tried to get another 2000 out of me stating he could get my charges dropped immediately. When really the state was dropping my charges, a good officer on the police force told me that and Reid was mad he couldn’t get any more money so the car that was taken from me during the time of the crime by the state he made sure I lost it by not responding to whatever add they run in the paper. He has been a crook since he became a lawyer because that was back in 2004. Sad but karma is not a joke so hopefully he gets what he deserves soon!

Anonymous

Unbelievable! It is a for-profit system. I had a friend in jail and I was completely disgusted with how much it cost for them to have anything, a phone call was outlandish that I had to pay for email setup was extroidinant, to be on any kind of call list they wanted to know everything about me, and the expense for them inside for everyday things was ridiculous! It's all run by third-party companies that all their goal is is to make money with JPay

Anonymous

Totally agree, he did absolutely nothing for me

Anonymous

All he's good for is taking your $'s

Paul Rushing

Before he became the public defender he threatened to sue me and have me arrested for a blog post. This guy has been is an asshat...

Anonymous

I am one that he ignored as well. Numerous calls were never returned. Several visits to his office in which I gave information about my case to his assistant was never followed up with. Day of court he was arrogant as ever... I was treated like a nuissance.

Anonymous

I paid this man $2,500 to represent me. I did everything required of me and then some. I did not feel the same with how I was represented and the level of involvement on his part. I wished I had conducted more research before hiring him. I would never recommend him to anyone seeking legal advice.

Anonymous

Must have been his crooked fee.

Anonymous

As a member of the Georgia Bar, I am embarrassed. Please take action immediately with at least a suspension, if not a disbarment.

Anonymous

So does Glynn County only have ONE public defender? I do not know this man, nor do I justify any unethical practices, but he probably has way too many cases to devote the time needed on each one. It's probably the same issue with every other public defender's office out there. Also, Public Defender Services are not free. A person should not be charged any fees prior to being provided representation. But once their case is adjudicated the attorneys fees are expected to be reimbursed to the county.

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