OPD Honors Jones Walker Partners Mark Cunningham and Mike Magner with 2017 Clyde Merritt Award

2017 Clyde Merritt Award Mike Magner Taryn Blume Derwyn Bunton Mark Cunningham

OPD recently honored Jones Walker partners Mark Cunningham and Mike Magner for their dogged and zealous pro bono representation of former OPD investigator Taryn Blume. The award recognizes extraordinary commitment and fight for public defense in New Orleans, and both Mark and Mike have long been supporters of OPD.

“The zealous representation by Mark and Mike has allowed me to move forward with my life. Their dedication to not only my case, but our entire office, truly demonstrates their commitment to OPD, our clients, and the work we’re doing for justice,” said Taryn Blume during the award presentation.

Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton once again presented the awards during the Ben Levick Sullivan Investigator Fellowship fundraiser. The fellowship, now in its third year, has proven to be a success and an integral part in fulfilling OPD’s mission to provide zealous, client-centered representation. The fellowship was established in the memory of Ben Sullivan and his incredible passion and dedication for public defense. Ben devoted himself to those in need, sought the truth and endlessly fought for justice.

Established in 2012 to honor one of the stalwart advocates for public defense, Clyde Merritt, the Clyde Merritt Award recognizes commitment and fight for the cause of public defense in New Orleans.

60 Minutes: Inside NOLA public defenders' decision to refuse felony cases

"Here, we have a criminal justice system, stories of innocence throughout and profound. And we still haven't had the urgency that I think we need to reform it so that we don't destroy lives. Because make no mistake, we're destroying lives. And we will no longer be complicit in that kind of injustice."

- OPD Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton, talks to 60 Minutes' Anderson Cooper about the injustices of our criminal justice system and the chronic underfunding of public defense in Louisiana. Watch the full segment here.

 60 minutes

ACLU Lawsuit a Chance for Reform

logo hi resLouisiana’s user-pay criminal justice system is inadequate, unstable and unreliable. Given the failings of our system, the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on January 14, 2016 comes as no surprise. The resource struggles of the Orleans Public Defenders Office (OPD) are evidence of how the user-pay system fails to protect poor citizens in our courts and fails to guarantee fairness in our criminal justice system.

Any kindergartner looking at our criminal justice system – particularly our system of public defense – can see it is unfair. While this lawsuit is not necessarily welcomed, OPD welcomes reform. It is our hope this lawsuit leads to lasting reform and a more fair, more just criminal justice system. We welcome the opportunity to have a real, engaged discussion on public defense funding reform moving forward.

Read more on the lawsuit at The New Orleans Advocate

Joseph Allen is lucky he could afford a lawyer to prove his innocence

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By Innocence Project of New Orleans' Director Emily Maw

What if Joseph Allen and his family had been too poor to hire a lawyer? What if, like almost 85 percent of New Orleanians who have a family member charged with a crime, they had to rely on the Orleans Public Defenders to represent Mr. Allen?

He was charged with 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder on Nov. 27 because police believed he was one of the Bunny Friend Park shooters. He was completely innocent, his lawyer quickly proved that, and he walked free last week. But because our public defenders are woefully underfunded and under-resourced, if he had relied on the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD), that staff would probably have been unable to do the investigation needed to prove his innocence. He would have been wrongly convicted and likely sentenced to spend the rest of his life in Angola.

Read more at nola.com.

OPD to Begin Refusing Cases

logo hi resOPD announced this morning the office will begin refusing case assignments due to chronic underfunding. OPD’s staff is now too under-resourced and overburdened to provide constitutional and ethical representations to many defendants in Orleans Parish. The office expects to begin refusing case assignments in mid-January 2016.

“Our workload has now reached unmanageable levels resulting in a constitutional crisis,” said Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton. “As Chief Defender, I can no longer ethically assign cases to attorneys with excessive caseloads or those that lack the requisite experience and training to represent the most serious offenses.”

Read more...

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