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Nichols case judge won't file response to DA's lawsuit

ATLANTA - The judge overseeing the murder trial of accused courthouse shooter Brian Nichols told the state Supreme Court on Wednesday that, unless instructed to do so, he will not file a response to a prosecutor's lawsuit questioning whether he should remain on the case.

Superior Court Judge Hilton Fuller said in a letter to the high court that his decision is in keeping with his obligation to remain impartial in the trial.

Two Atlanta attorneys are providing informal legal advice to Fuller. The state Attorney General's Office has said it can't represent Fuller because of a conflict of interest.

The lawsuit, filed against Fuller last week by District Attorney Paul Howard, asks the high court to lift the indefinite suspension of Nichols' murder trial, direct the trial court to refrain from exceeding its jurisdiction and to clarify whether Fuller has effectively recused himself from presiding over the trial because of decisions he has made.

The filing also asks that Fuller be ordered to compel the state public defender's office to provide counsel from their staff attorneys for Nichols. Doing so would replace Nichols' four current lawyers who are outside attorneys appointed to represent the indigent defendant.

Nichols' attorneys have not responded to the lawsuit.

Also Wednesday, Fuller scheduled a conference with the lawyers in the case on Friday to discuss how the lawsuit could affect the timing of the trial's resumption, which has been delayed because of defense funding woes.

Fuller has been the target of fierce criticism from state political leaders and even from a fellow judge over his handling of the Nichols case.

State House Speaker Glenn Richardson recently announced the creation of a committee to investigate Fuller's 'poor handling of public funds' and later suggested the House consider impeaching Fuller.

But several other judges and legal experts in recent days have publicly come to Fuller's defense, saying the lawsuit and Richardson's action could affect judicial independence.

The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council has said that because of the amount of money already spent on Nichols' defense so far - $1.8 million as of the end of June, according to the council - there isn't enough money for other cases.

The council has told Fuller it can't afford to pay the defense any more money.

Nichols is accused of going on a deadly shooting spree that began at the Fulton County Courthouse on March 11, 2005. Four people died in the shooting rampage: Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes, court reporter Julie Ann Brandau, Sheriff's Deputy Hoyt Teasley and federal agent David Wilhelm.

Nichols surrendered to authorities in suburban Atlanta the next day after allegedly taking a woman hostage.