More than 4,000 people arrested in Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina are awaiting trial, and more than half of them are in jail, reports USA Today. Most are poor, but Orleans Parish does not have enough public defenders to provide them with their constitutionally protected right to a lawyer. “This is our own Guantanamo on the bayou,” says Neal Walker, a defense lawyer who has helped gain the release of about 1,500 people. The flooded state courthouse remains closed. The 12 criminal court judges share two borrowed courtrooms in the federal courthouse, which are available four days a week. There have been no jury trials since Katrina hit, and none is scheduled. The district attorney’s office, operating out of a defunct bar, has lost so many staff members that District Attorney Eddie Jordan doesn’t know how many defendants are still in jail or what accusations they face.
The public defender’s office, once staffed by 42 lawyers, is down to six. As a result, many defendants still in jail have never talked to a lawyer. “Even Saddam Hussein has lawyers,” says Rick Teissier, a New Orleans defense lawyer appointed by Hunter as a “special master” to assess the situation for the court.