Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Public Defending in New Orleans Still Rough Going

Being a public defender in New Orleans since Katrina has been, to put it mildly, hell. There are nowhere close to enough attorneys to represent all their clients. And I don't mean not enough to meet ABA guidelines. No public defender office I know of has that. They are really struggling. And that is just the beginning. There are a people locked up who are completely lost in the system, people are waiting months and months in jail for a trial on misdemeanor charges, without ever seeing a lawyer. It is a disaster. Some judges have threatened to throw out large numbers of cases of people sitting in jail because there is no one to represent them. And yet, there are many diligent public defenders doing what they can to bring some sense of fair representation to the indigent. So, it doesn't help matters when a judge gets so pissed off that no public defender is in his courtroom when he's ready to go that he marches over to the PD's office, drags the trial chief to his courtroom, finds him in contempt, and sentences him to 36 days in jail. Not surprisingly, an appeals court stepped in after a few hours and stayed the order. But, seriously, I can completely understand that the judge's frustration might be boiling over, but throwing one of the people who is actually trying to do something about it in jail doesn't help matters. I doubt that makes more people want to come work there. "Come be a public defender in New Orleans, where your caseload is so overwhelming that you get thrown in jail for not being in four places at once!"

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