ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : Action Seeks to Secure Funds for Defense in Overton Trial
In a sign of how severely the county’s bankruptcy is impacting the courts, a defense attorney Friday sought a judge’s order forcing the county to set aside money for expert witnesses and investigators in a high-profile murder case.
Attorney George A. Peters Jr. said unless the county meets its commitment to fund defense costs in the case that has already had a drawn-out, troubling past, he will ask a judge to dismiss or suspend murder charges against Richard K. Overton.
“I can’t do anything without my experts and investigators, and they are not going to fly out here on their own dime or go to work on this case without a promise that they will be paid,” Peters said.
Peters said he expected county marshals to serve the order on the office of the auditor-controller and the county administrative office. Capt. Don Spears of the Marshal’s Department said he could not confirm whether the order was being served.
Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard, assistant presiding judge, said that the county is required by state and federal law to cover defense costs for those too poor to hire their own attorney. But Millard said he is confident the situation will work itself out as soon as possible.
“It is my honest belief we will be able to work together to get back to the normal flow of paying these costs,” Millard said.
Overton, 66, has pleaded not guilty to charges he poisoned his wife, Janet, a popular trustee at the Capistrano Unified School District who died in January, 1988. Overton’s first trial ended in a mistrial when his original defense attorney required in-patient treatment for severe depression, causing a lengthy delay in the midst of trial.
Pretrial motions in the case are scheduled to begin Feb. 6 in Orange County Superior Court. Overton remains in the Central Orange County Men’s Jail.
Peters stressed that although he is owed “substantial” sums of money for his own work, the court order only seeks to reimburse others working on the complex case. Peters declined to release a copy of the order until it is served.
Since declaring bankruptcy Dec. 6, the county has halted some spending items, such as defense costs, as it seeks to regain financial stability. The county has since ordered the Orange County public defender’s office to absorb a larger caseload to save the millions the county has spent each year appointing private attorneys to handle cases of indigent defendants.