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

No time when you stay drunk.

Anonymous

He is a liar and a rat. Lock him up and throw away the key.

Mike

He was my defender in traffic court. I said I was pleading not guilty. He stood back and let me defend myself. Then prosecutor E. Jerrel Ramsey told Judge Altman that I had also been stopped 75 in a 55 with no proof of insurance which was an outright lie. I asked for his help in addressing the lie but it fell on deaf ears.

Anonymous

He was my son's PD and never spoke a word in court just stood there... he is an insult to the justice system and an embarrassment to our county!

Anonymous

Glad to see the ACLU is aware of this. GLYNN County is a mess overall. This is just one piece of the insanity down there.

Anonymous

He killed her and her lover, then himself. I live where it happened

Anonymous

Lmao. This is NOT the ever so crooked Sasser you speak of lol. He’s exactly where he belongs; burning for eternity.

Kimberly Moore

I’m not sure where tf y’all are from or where y’all getting y’all’s info BUT, YOU DO NOT REQUEST A PUBLIC DEFENDER THEY ARE APPOINTED TO YOU BY THE JUSTICE SYSTEM. IF YOU REQUESTED HIM THEN YOU MUST PAY FOR HIS SERVICES. HE IS PRIVATE IN HIS OWN OFFICE NOT IN THE OFFICE BUILDING WITH THE PUBLIC DEFENDERS. IN ADDITION, do you feel entitled bc PUBLIC DEFENDERS NEVER COME SEE YOU UNTIL JUST BEFORE GOING IN FRONT OF THE JUDGE. Therefore, this should be a class action suite against the entire Glynn County Public Defenders office bc as I see it, at this moment; is that y’all are being discrimitive & picking on one person. Just like the judicial system; y’all help whom y’all want while stepping on the backs of those who really need to be charged...

Kimberly Moore

Oh! And he sure did get my ass off. I mean, I had to do some community service and pay a fine of course but that’s what happens when you commit a crime; you do some type of probation and or community service. Why are you all crying for? Like, y’all want him to get charges dropped but what crime will you pay for? Y’all a trip.

Mike Brennan

I worked across from this guy for a year as a prosecutor and he public defender. One day after listening to one of his dribbling golf stories he would tell the judge I turned to him and said: “You know what, your a putz”.
Few people I have ever known talked more and did less than this dickhead.

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