A public defender will continue to represent Patrick Ray Wooten, the former Walker County court officer accused of murdering his son.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Moeller argued during a hearing last month that Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Public Defender David Dunn should be disqualified from the case. Moeller pointed out that an attorney in Dunn's office previously represented the victim, Patrick Lance Wooten.
But Superior Court Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr. ruled against Moeller this morning. Van Pelt has not yet signed an order outlining his reasoning.
The basis of Moeller's argument during the April 11 hearing in Walker County Superior Court was confidentiality. He said Jad Johnson, a public defender who represented Lance Wooten for three months in 2014, may have taken notes during his meeting with the client. In theory, Dunn and Johnson could use the notes to tarnish Lance Wooten's character. (Johnson testified he could not remember the details of the hearing.)
"Victims — even dead victims — have statutory and constitutional rights," Moeller said at the time. " You can't use what you learned from representing Lance Wooten to represent the person who killed him."
If Van Pelt ruled Moeller's way, Dunn argued, that standard would be "a dagger in the heart of the public defender system." His office represents Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties. Often, he said, he represents a defendant in one case who becomes the victim in another case he works.
He added that he could only evidence that makes Lance Wooten look bad if it's in the public record.
"I would challenge the state to show any way, any circumstances, that we could use [the confidential information]," Dunn said last month. "We couldn't. It's irrelevant. It's simply impossible."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Pat Wooten in May 2017 after he shot and killed his son in his Chickamauga home in the 1000 block of Hood Avenue. Dunn has filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing his client acted in self defense.
Lance Wooten, 30 at the time of his death, had been arrested by police in North Georgia on battery charges seven times in three years. He was also arrested for violating a family protective order once. His victims included his wife, his mother and his father, including an arrest weeks before his arrest.
With previous experience at the Rossville Police Department and Hutcheson Medical Center, Pat Wooten joined the Walker County Sheriff's Office in January 2010. He worked as a court officer and detention officer. Sheriff Steve Wilson placed him on administrative leave without pay after his arrest two years ago. Wilson fired him in January when a grand jury indicted him on a charge of malice murder on Jan. 28.
Moeller can appeal Van Pelt's ruling. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.