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Public Defender’s Office Sued for Refusing Cases
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Photo credit: David Playford/FreeImages

Summary: The Orleans Public Defender’s Office is being sued by the ACLU for refusing cases. 

The Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office in New Orleans is feeling the pain of being poor. It’s so underfunded that they have had to refuse cases or put people on waiting lists, and those refusals have led to a federal lawsuit against them.


WWL TV reports that Orleans Chief Defender Derwyn Burton said his staff of 47 attorneys are defending more than 20,000 cases per year on a state budget that continues to shrink. Because of the lack of funds, the office had a hiring freeze, but the cases kept pouring in. On January 12, the overworked office started turning away new defendants.

“It is sometimes more harmful to take on a case that you don’t have the competency and resources to handle then it is to not take it on at all,” Bunton told WWL TV.

Those refusals have spurned the American for Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana to take action. They filed a federal lawsuit on Thursday. They pointed out that three New Orleans men inside the local prison asked for a state-appointed attorney, but were not given one so they’re still suck in jail.

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Marjorie Esman of ACLU Louisiana says the men are being denied their constitution right. She says the lawsuit sheds light on Louisiana’s big problem — there are numerous charges per capita but not enough lawyers. Plus, Louisiana is a poor state so few people can afford private attorneys.

Bunton acknowledges the hardships that the accused criminals face. Without counsel, they could end up spending days, weeks or months in jail. In the video below, he details the struggle of running an underfunded office.

The ACLU lawsuit further states that by the end of the year, 31 of the 42 other defender offices in Louisiana will suffer with debt because of inadequate state funding.

Source: WWLTV

Photo credit: David Playford/FreeImages



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