Budget Shortfalls and Furloughs to Close OPD

New Orleans – The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) announced the implementation of anticipated furloughs for all staff due to continued funding shortages. Today, criminal justice stakeholders were provided notice of the actual furlough days and subsequent closure of the OPD offices for 10 days beginning February 2016. No public defenders will be available in any court. Additionally, OPD will not staff first appearances in any courts. While the timeframe was not nearly as severe as feared, the 10 days will cause substantial delays within the criminal justice system.

“We did not make this decision lightly and we regret the problems this will undoubtedly cause for our clients and our community," said Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton, “but we simply don’t have enough money to operate at full capacity. We have been warning decision makers about the potential fallout for some time now. No one should be surprised.”

 

Unfortunately, the immediate effect of the furloughs will be additional and unnecessary delays for our clients and the community. Cases will move slower, and in some cases, will result in longer jail stays. These additional jail days will (conservatively) cost the city an estimated $113,000 for the 10 days.

The designated furlough days are as follows: 2/12/16, 2/29/16, 3/7/16, 3/21/16, 4/4/16, 4/18/16, 5/2/16, 5/16/16, 6/6/16 and 6/20/16.

Should enough funding become available to eliminate the need for the furloughs, OPD staff will return to full court coverage and we will immediately notify stakeholders.

OPD alerted criminal justice stakeholders earlier this year about the shortfall and the impending ramifications for our criminal justice system if no solution was reached, including serious delays in courts and potential constitutional crises. OPD implemented hiring freezes and has cut services to the bare minimum to stave off further fallout.

OPD remains critically under-resourced, and far below parity in funding when compared to other criminal justice entities – despite representing nearly 85% of all defendants in Orleans Parish. Inadequate, unstable and unreliable funding and resources continue to compromise OPD’s ability to provide mandated legal services, brings higher costs in our criminal justice system, delays justice, and ultimately puts public safety at risk.

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