Community-Oriented Defense in Practice in New Orleans

Sounds good, but what does it really mean?

Community. Derived from the Latin word communis meaning "common, public, general, shared by all or many." So what is this community-oriented defense practice we consistently talk about and why is it crucial to the work we do at Tulane and Broad?

When OPD began in 2007, our vision was to create a community-oriented defender office built upon the zealous defense of the poor and indigent while acknowledging the strengths of clients, families and communities. What we found was this only happens with a staff of dedicated, passionate and capable attorneys, investigators, client advocates, social workers, administrators and more.

Guided by the Brennan Center for Justice's Ten Principles of Community-Oriented Defense, we are the line of defense for thousands in the New Orleans criminal justice system. We are the voice for those without one. We are the champions for people, their rights and their futures. Our work extends beyond the courtroom. We strive for rehabilitation and re-entry programs rather than incarceration, we advocate for our clients' needs in jail and out, and we connect our clients to community-based social services to help them become happy and successful members of our community.

Principle 1: Create a Client-Centered Practice

This has been our primary focus and the driving force behind our mission. Representation begins at arrest, often long before arraignment. Attorneys and investigators begin immediate case preparation, while advocates work with clients on bond and indigency determinations, medical needs, language translation, and by and large helping clients continue their lives while their case proceeds.

Principle 2: Meet Clients' Needs & Principle 8: Pursue a Multidisciplinary Approach

These two principles work hand in hand in our practice. Sure attorneys get the glory, but to really succeed it takes all divisions working together to meet our clients' needs in the courtroom and out.

Advocates, social workers, investigators and attorneys have accomplished everything from securing proper medical care in a qualified nursing home – including prosthetic legs! – for a client whose health was quickly deteriorating in jail, to tracking down a witness who cracked the case securing the client's release and leading to a much-needed job opportunity, to ensuring a beloved dog is rightfully returned to his owner. So far this year, our Client Services Division has served nearly 500 clients and provided close to 900 services. And it's only July.

Principle 3: Partner with the Community

Our advocacy would not be possible without our community partners. We work with social service providers to get our clients the treatment and support needed to address underlying issues. One example, by joining forces with the Greater New Orleans Drug Demand Reduction Coalition to target drug abuse and addiction at the root cause, we can keep those in need, out of the criminal justice system and thereby reducing recidivism.

Principle 4: Fix Systemic Problems

New Orleans is unfortunately awash with systemic problems obstructing a fully just criminal justice system. Increasing access to proper medical and mental health treatment in jail, eliminating overdetention, and reducing pre-trial incarceration are just a few of the issues we work tirelessly to right.

Principle 6: Collaborate

We collaborate with grass-roots activists, faith-based supporters, community and civic partners and stakeholders to ensure a fair and just, open and honest criminal justice system is accessible to all. Together with other criminal justice stakeholders in the New Orleans PreTrial Services Working Group, we are working to reduce the vast number of individuals detained pretrial, many simply because they can't afford bond, thus reducing the need for a larger jail.

Principle 9: Seek Necessary Support

While lack of funding remains a critical hindrance for most public defender systems, we recently took the issue head on. Through an Open Society Foundation grant, we are spearheading a reform campaign for stable, predictable, reliable and adequate funding throughout Louisiana.

To meet all these benchmarks and better meet our clients' needs, we aim to relate on a human level and provide honest, thoughtful and caring representation. At the heart of client-centered representation is the belief that, armed with all the facts, knowledge and a personal relationship with our clients, we can guide our clients through the often overwhelming and confusing criminal justice system. We support and encourage our clients, often long after the case is over, and cheer their successes. This is the foundation of our community-oriented defense model and the backbone to our practice. "Common...shared by all or many." Community. Our community.

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Orleans Public Defenders
2601 Tulane Avenue
Suite 700
New Orleans, LA 70119
    Tel: (504) 821-8101
    Fax: (504) 821-5285