Thursday, April 19, 2007

Keeping One's Word

As promised, Judge Hunter has ordered the release and halted the prosecution of 42 indigent defendants because they have, effectively, no legal representation. (The Court of Appeal has stayed, or postponed, that ruling until it can review the case.) Given enormous, and unconscionable, caseloads, the Public Defender simply does not have the resources to represent every new indigent defendant. At root, Judge Hunter blames the State for its failure to adequately fund the the public defense system. The Office of the Public Defender states that it requires $2.1 million to hire enough lawyers.

A State legislator intends to introduce legislation to shore up the State's funding for public defense. The fact that we have a shortfall, however, is truly remarkable, particularly given that the amount needed is so modest (by comparison, the City recently awarded garbage hauling contracts worth more than $33 million), and the State has an enormous budget surplus (close to $1 billion). Of course, public defense is not everyone's top priority. As a State Representative observed, the public tends to view public defense as a "perk" for criminals, rather than a constitutional obligation. I guess everyone has forgotten Gideon's promise.

1 comment:

BeenThere said...

You should remember that the testimony is actually that there should be 2.1 million additional dollars. Given that the current funding is actually higher than in the years preceding Katrina, it is doubtful that legislators will actually fund the system as a whole and Orleans in particular as they should.
Also worth remembering is that Danny Martiny's bill is an accountability bill, not a funding bill. It can only be hoped that this legislature will not take the federal path of unfunded mandates.