On the heels of a warning from a New Orleans criminal court judge that he will begin freeing defendants whose cases have stalled since Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin and the key officials of the beleaguered justice system on Monday unveiled steps to ease the backlog, including drafting volunteer prosecutors and public defenders. The measures also include plans to fully reopen the criminal courthouse by mid-September and a new centralized system to serve court subpoenas to police officers faster, therefore increasing their court attendance, reports the city’s Times-Picayune.
The officials – including District Attorney Eddie Jordan, Police Chief Warren Riley, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Chief Public Defender Tilden Greenbaum and Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson – struck a rare note of unity, putting aside long-standing frictions to address a continuing crisis that has left about 6,000 criminal cases unresolved. The move came three days after Judge Arthur Hunter said he would begin cutting loose pre-trial detainees on a case-by-case basis beginning Aug. 29, Katrina's anniversary, arguing that defendants' Constitutional rights have grown more pressing than the emergency facing the courts. Criminologists and other observers have also cited the crippled judicial system as a factor that aggravates the city's violent crime wave, since only a minority of offenders are tried and convicted.