Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti Jr. has launched an investigation of the state’s troubled indigent defense system, citing New Orleans’ plight since Hurricane Katrina, the Los Angeles Times reports. Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. has halted all publicly defended prosecutions in his section of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. The director of indigent defense in Orleans Parish, Tilden Greenbaum III, cut his staff from 42 lawyers to six because of hurricane-related funding constraints. Traffic fines provide 75% of the office’s $2.2-million annual budget, but those evaporated after the storm.
Hunter said yesterday that if the state did not provide more funding soon, he would have to release indigents who had gone months without representation. The judge called on the three government branches to “resolve this constitutional crisis within the criminal justice system in New Orleans” New Orleans defense lawyer Richard Teissier, a “special master” in the case, estimated that as many as 4,500 people had been “sitting in jail for up to six months and haven’t seen a lawyer during that time.” The executive counsel of the Louisiana Public Defenders Association, G. Paul Marx, questioned whether the attorney general’s office had the authority to investigate the state’s indigent defense system.