Waiting List in Louisiana Leaves Poor Without Legal Representation
Susanne Posel (OC) : The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have filed a lawsuit in the Federal District Court in New Orleans, Louisiana, accusing the public defender’s office (PDO) of creating a “waiting list” for poor residents who have been arrested.
This left many to spend long stents in jail without access to legal representation.
According to the suit, “chronic underfunding” of the PDO caused this situation; along with the fact that this program is paid for by fees accrued from traffic citations.
Plaintiffs Darwin Yarls Jr., Leroy Shaw Jr. and Douglas Brown say that because they did not have an attorney available, there was no one to challenge the court on arrests, bail conditions, negotiate with prosecutors, or investigate the charges.
The ACLU alleges that because of a $1 million deficit in fiscal funding, the PDO conducted a hiring freeze. Subsequently, a “significant number of attorneys” left the program; leaving the remaining lawyers with exorbitant caseloads “well above” American Bar Association (ABA) standards.
James Dixon, state public defender, pointed out that the real problem is “the unreliable stream of money from parking tickets” which is used to pay for the PDO.
Four years ago, the Louisiana state legislature “agreed to increase the fee that the offices receive from parking tickets and other violations to $45 from $35”; however this coincided with a severe drop in tickets given out, beginning in 2009.
The lawsuit asserted: ““Louisiana’s structure dictates that the funding available to a public defender is inherently unreliable. As a result, public defenders have continually faced funding emergencies like the one in Orleans Parish. These crises have in turn forced offices into extreme measures like refusing clients.”
Susanne Posel, Occupy Corporatism