New Orleans’s “down but not out criminal court, rumbled back to life” yesterday, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It welcomed jurors back for the first time in nine months as judges began the massive task of dealing with thousands of cases left unresolved after Hurricane Katrina. The first post-Katrina jury trial involved a 30-year-old man in a stolen car case. A jury of six came up deadlocked after two hours of deliberations.
“Business is back,” said defense attorney John Fuller, recently appointed to the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender’s board of directors. The all-volunteer outfit was completely replaced post-Katrina to sift through the broken system, which has left thousands of poor defendants waiting on a court-appointed attorney. “We have a city with one third of the population we used to have and we’ve got the criminal justice system, the sheriff’s department and the DA gasping for air to try to maintain the size of their fiefdoms,” said defense attorney Gary Wainwright. The first post-Katrina capital case is set for tomorrow. With the courthouse still under repair and its neighboring jail turned upside down by the flooding, the building now keeps strict hours for security reasons. At least one of the 12 sections of court has 1,000 open cases alone.