Traffic Court Still Owes Public Defenders

Re: "Report slams judges for use of cars," A-1, Nov. 2. It is not up to us to say whether the decision of New Orleans Traffic Court judges to pay for personal use of city vehicles from the Judicial Expense Fund was illegal or just poor judgment, but we do know this: The court owes the Orleans Public Defenders office between $2.5 million and $6.7 million that is critical to the public safety of the New Orleans community.

Every public dollar counts. Last week, the mayor recommended a 33 percent cut to the city's appropriation to the defenders office, suggesting that its crisis was a "state problem." But funding public defense, as devised by the Louisiana Legislature, is a shared responsibility between state and local sources. The inspector general investigation shows that Traffic Court elected to pay for personal perks before remitting funds to the office, as the law requires. Traffic Court now says there is no money left. That's not the state's problem.

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OPD Fights for Full City Appropriation

OPD made its case before City Council Wednesday, November 7 for our full appropriation in the Mayor's 2013 budget.  Mayor Landrieu is proposing a $400,000 cut - 32% of our previous appropriation - far less than proposed cuts to the District Attorney and other criminal justice entities. 

The job of the Public Defender is crucial to the success of the criminal justice system.  You can only prosecute as fast as you can defend.  OPD provides defense for 85% of the clients at Tulane and Broad.  That $400,000 goes a long way to ensure those services stay in tact. 

What does it all mean? 

Browse through our presentation and read our clarifications from the hearing

Mayor Landrieu Commits to Reduced Appropriation for OPD in 2013 Budget

Mayor Landrieu continued his commitment to the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD), though the $800,000 recommended allocation does not ensure that OPD will be able to provide defense services to all eligible defendants in the coming year. When OPD cannot operate at capacity, the entire criminal justice system experiences delays in the administration for justice for victims, defendants and the public.

For the better part of 2012, inadequate funding forced OPD to make significant staff cuts, and required the unpaid contributions of the private bar and internal client waitlists in order to handle all cases appointed to OPD. Services were restored last month, but the office remains on the brink of service restriction. The Mayor’s
recommended allocation of $800,000 is only two-thirds of the city’s commitment last year.

“We are certainly grateful to the mayor for including OPD in his budget, but this funding does not meet the service demand. With only $800,000, our office will struggle to keep up,” said Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton. “Public safety depends on an efficient, reliable court system that secures convictions for the guilty and protects the rights of innocent people. This can only happen when OPD is funded on par with the other entities.”

Read more in our Press Release

Public Defenders Need Dependable Revenue

The independent evaluation of the Orleans Public Defenders released last week applauds many of our office's best-practices, while also providing recommendations to improve the management of the service restriction that was caused by insufficient funding for public defense.

OPD takes seriously the report findings and, with Louisiana Public Defender Board, is already at work to make improvements ensuring indigent defendants in Orleans Parish are represented by an office with the resources to effectively provide the constitutional right to counsel.

The stability of public defense services is directly related to the stability of funding. We depend on monthly remittances from almost a dozen different sources and have absolutely no fund balance to cover any interruption in those remittances. As a result, there is an omnipresent risk of service restriction. No amount of preparation or communication can address this issue until OPD enjoys stable, sufficient funding and is relieved of its month-by-month financial existence.

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Volunteer Fellows Expand Holistic Defense Reach

OPD is pleased to welcome fellows from Louisiana Delta Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program, and Jesuit Volunteer Corps. The fellows provide vital services in various branches of the office and are a crucial part to the success of OPD’s holistic defense practices.

Kim Diemer, Louisiana Delta Service Corps fellow, is a 2012 graduate from Tulane University with a degree in Gender and Sexuality Studies. She previously interned with Client Services, and jumped at the chance to return to OPD, this time advocating for qualifying clients under the new Louisiana Act 402.

Mairead Kennelly is a Jesuit Volunteer Corps fellow also working with Client Services advocating for clients in all aspects of their case. Originally from Rye, NY, Mairea graduated last May from Boston College where she studied English and Sociology.



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