Public Defenders

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An Arizona lawyer who was punched by his indigent client in court last year is going public with the incident because he feels he was treated poorly afterward by the office of public defenders that hired him.

Vladimir Gagic, a contract attorney for Maricopa County Public Defense Services, had been assigned to represent Lamont Payne, who was accused of biting a prison guard trying to remove him from his cell in 2016, ABC 15 Arizona reports.

Payne had a history of courtroom disruptions and firing his lawyers, according to ABC 15. It appeared no different during jury selection for Payne’s trial.

At one point Payne tapped on the desk to get his lawyer’s attention, without success. At another point he raised his hand and complained that he had been giving his lawyer questions for potential jurors, but the lawyer didn’t speak up.

The judge warned Payne he would be removed if he continued to have outbursts, but Payne kept on talking. The judge ordered Payne removed from the courtroom.

Payne then turned and punched Gagic in the face. Payne was quickly restrained by deputies.

Gagic said he was suspended from his contract with public defense services a couple of months later. He said he was also asked to return $1,000 he was paid for representing Payne, but he was able to negotiate payment for the hours had had spent preparing for trial.

Public defense services said in a statement to ABC 15 that Gagic’s contract was placed on temporary hold “after multiple complaints about his lack of communication with clients, another attorney and PDS.”

Gagic didn’t believe the explanation. “What message are they giving to all the attorneys? That we are disposable, even less than disposable to that office,” he told ABC 15.

Gagic also spoke with KTVK-TV in an interview noted by Fox News. Payne said he has never experienced anything like this in nearly 20 years of practice, and he has filed assault charges.

Hat tip to @associatesmind.