Legislators are unhappy that the state’s public defenders office has hired a 51-year-old judge who retired after his second drunken driving arrest. Judge James Weaver of Muscatine sought and got early retirement in December — and a pension of nearly 60-thousand dollars. Weaver is diagnosed as an alcoholic who suffers from mood disorders and depression; drug tests indicate he’s also used marijuana. Tom Becker, the chief of the Iowa Public Defenders office, has signed a contract that will pay Weaver to represent poor clients who’re charged with a crime if a judge in the Muscatine area appoints Weaver to a case. Senator Tom Courtney of Burlington says that’s a crock. Courtney says Weaver couldn’t be hired to work in a fast food restaurant, yet he’s on the list of lawyers who may be hired to be a state public defender. “What we’re saying to the indigent people of this state is that we don’t care about them, that it doesn’t matter, that we’ll put second-rate attorneys to represent them,” Courtney says. “I think it’s terrible…I think it’s wrong to take someone who’s obviously a second-class judge…who couldn’t (continue to serve as a judge) because he’s a drunk.” Tom Becker, the state public defender, says he doesn’t have the legal authority to deny a state contract to Weaver because Weaver has a valid license to practice law in Iowa. Becker says Weaver is disabled and he got early retirement because he’s disabiled — an alcoholic who suffers from depression. Becker believes Weaver can do the job. “As far as I’m aware yes, but the proof of that pudding is going to be in the eating,” Becker says. “He’s at least as competent as someone right out of law school.” Weaver was a judge for 23-and-a-half years. Representative Joe Hutter, a retired Bettendorf cop, sayspoor Iowans who’re accused of a crime would be shortchanged if Weaver was appointed as their lawyer. “When these people are facing some jail time or whatever, they deserve the best, and I cannot see why someone like this could even be considered while he’s still under psychiatric care,” Hutter says. Weaver should have cleaned up his act after his first drunken driving arrest, according to Hutter. Hutter says former cops he knew were given one chance after a drunk driving arrest, but when they were arrested a second time for Operating While Intoxicated, they were fired. Hutter’s also steamed that Weaver will be getting paid about 70 dollars an hour by the state if he works on a case for a poor client, in addition to his pension of nealy 60-thousand dollars, “He’s coming back and will be on the state payroll again,” Hutter says. The scales of justice aren’t really balanced in this case, according to Hutter.
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