- Published on 11 December 2015
OPD 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.”
The announcement was presented to Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter at status hearing following the November 20, 2015 hearing and testimony on the office’s ability to provide constitutionally-mandated representation due to the continued funding crisis and service restrictions. Ethics and criminal defense practices experts testified that, in light of current caseloads, OPD cannot provide constitutional, ethical representation to its clients and attorneys regularly violate multiple Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct.
OPD expects to begin declining representation in certain felony cases in Criminal District Court at First Appearance, as well as defendants who are billed at large without arrest. The inability to accept appointment will continue until caseloads decrease to acceptable levels or until additional funding allows OPD to list its hiring freeze to hire additional attorneys.
The New Orleans City Council allotted an additional $250,000 to OPD earlier this month with the 2016 budget, bringing the total funding increase to $400,000 and forgoing the need for furloughs that would have shut down the office for 10 days in the coming months. However, the office still remains $600,000 short of budget projections and all other service restrictions remain in place.
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, OPD’s budget remains half the size of the district attorney’s, with just one-sixth the city appropriation. 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.