Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Nine New Orleans criminal court judges have ordered the board overseeing the city's indigent defense system to hire more full-time public defenders. The order, issued on Monday by judges with the Criminal District Court, said mismanagement of the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender Program has effectively denied poor defendants their 6th Amendment right to proper legal representation. Under the order, the public defenders office must hire an additional attorney for each section of court by December 1. Currently, there is just one attorney in each of the 12 courtrooms. The office also must give the judges a list of all capital cases and the attorneys assigned to those cases.
While most consider the court order a postive, several judges have been critical of a decision to make the program's lawyers work full time instead of maintaining a side-line practice. Critics argue that the sudden switch to full-time lawyers pushed out a handful of veteran attorneys at a time when they were needed. Critics also question why the indigent defense board has hired prominent, out-of-state lawyers, including Yale CrimProf Ronald Sullivan Jr., former head of Washington D.C.'s public defender office, to redesign the office, train and recruit new public defenders, when in-state lawyers would have cost less.
Many counter the criticism with the old saying, "it's a much-needed, long-term investment." Story from KATC.com. . . [Michele Berry]