LAFAYETTE, Ga. — A prosecutor argued Thursday that Public Defender David Dunn should not be able to represent Patrick Ray Wooten, a former Walker County court officer accused of murdering his son.
Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Michael Moeller said every member of the public defender's office should be disqualified because Dunn's employee previously represented the victim, Patrick Lance Wooten. Moeller argued Dunn's action betrays the trust of Lance Wooten, even though he has been dead for almost two years.
"Victims — even dead victims — have statutory and constitutional rights," Moeller said. " You can't use what you learned from representing Lance Wooten to represent the person who killed him."
Dunn said Moeller's expectations are impossibly high. As a public defender's office representing Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties, Dunn and his employees often represent defendants who are later entangled in other cases — as victims or witnesses. If this were grounds for disqualification, he said, "this would be a dagger in the heart of the public defender system."
To prepare for a court case, Moeller said, one of Dunn's employees may have taken notes of conversations they had with Lance Wooten. Some of that information may have hurt his reputation. Moeller said it should be confidential, even after Lance Wooten's death. In theory, he argued, Dunn could use that information to his client's advantage now.
But Dunn argued he couldn't present past information attacking Lance Wooten during a trial unless it was already a public record. His employee's conversation from several years ago would not be a factor.
"I would challenge the state to show any way, any circumstances, that we could use [the confidential information]," Dunn said. "We couldn't. It's irrelevant. It's simply impossible."
The entire argument was theoretical Thursday. Neither side brought up actual information that Dunn's office may have once received from Lance Wooten. The judge on Thursday's hearing, Ralph Van Pelt, did not issue a ruling and said he will review both sides' arguments.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Pat Wooten on a charge of malice murder on May 6, 2017, after he shot and killed Lance Wooten in their home in the 1000 block of Hood Avenue in Chickamauga. Dunn has filed a motion for immunity in the case, arguing that his client acted in self defense.
Lance Wooten, who was 30 at the time of his death, has a long rap sheet filled with domestic violence arrests in Walker County. Since 2014, court records show, police charged him with battery seven times and violation of a family violence protection order once. His victims included his wife, his mother and his father.
Pat Wooten, 59, told police his son attacked him twice earlier in the year before the shooting. Lance Wooten's wife, Denita Wooten, testified during Thursday's hearing that he argued with her on the phone about 15 minutes before his death. She said Lance Wooten was upset because his mother gave his daughter an outfit he didn't want her to wear.
Moeller called Chief Assistant Public Defender Jad Johnson as a witness Thursday. He argued every local public defender should be disqualified because Johnson represented Lance Wooten for three months in 2014, after an attack on his wife. Denita Wooten testified that she met with Johnson for about 30 minutes in relation to the case.
Johnson testified he could not remember the meeting. He also was fuzzy on details about his stint as Lance Wooten's attorney. Arguments between Moeller and Johnson and Dunn became contentious, with Moeller yelling at the witness.
Toward the end of his questioning, Moeller asked Johnson, Are you familiar with the Know-Nothing Political Party?"
"I am going to object to utter relevance," Dunn shouted, springing from his seat.
Van Pelt shook his head and began to chuckle. Before he said anything, Moeller told the judge, "I have no further questions" and sat down.
If Van Pelt disqualifies Dunn's office, the Georgia Public Defender Council in Atlanta will appoint a lawyer to represent Pat Wooten.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.