“Justice is simply unavailable” for poor criminal defendants in New Orleans, says a Justice Department report that calls for a major overhaul of the public defender system. The report, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, says the city needs 70 full-time public defenders, more than six times the number of part-time defenders it has now, and a $10-million infusion of cash. New Orleans had 39 public defenders before Hurricane Katrina last August, all but eight of whom were laid off because of a funding crisis precipitated by the storm.
“No effort should be made nor money spent on recreating the [pre-Katrina] public defender philosophy and focus,” the report says. Instead, the entire system of indigent representation needs to be changed and the people running it should be replaced, the report says. It was written by Nicholas Chiarkis, Wisconsin chief public defender, Randolph N. Stone, who runs the clinical criminal law program at the University of Chicago, and D. Alan Henry, a consultant and former executive director of the Pretrial Services Resource Center in Washington, D.C. The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance commissioned the report.