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Tuesday, February 14, 2006

New Orleans Judge Halts Prosecutions of Indigent Defendants

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — "A New Orleans judge last Friday halted prosecutions involving suspects with publicly appointed lawyers in his courtroom and ordered two state legislative leaders to appear before him later this month to talk about funding for the city's overburdened indigent defender office. It was unclear exactly how many cases would be affected by Judge Arthur Hunter's order, which covers only his section in the 12-section New Orleans criminal court system. His order came after a full morning of testimony about the sad shape of the public defender office, which was already in trouble before Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, and which, according to testimony, is in much worse shape now...

[B]efore Katrina, the office had 42 lawyers, six investigators and six office workers with a $2.2 million annual budget, 75 percent of which was financed thru traffic court fines. Now, the office has six lawyers, one investigator and one office staffer, a personnel problem complicated by the fact that people being held on criminal charges before the storm were sent to lockups around the state after Katrina hit, temporarily closing the New Orleans jail. In many cases, the lawyers they don't know who their clients are because they are scattered over the state." More. . . [Mark Godsey]

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