Calling the New Orleans program for defending indigent clients “a mockery” of a criminal justice system, a judge has ordered 42 defendants released and their prosecutions halted, report eh Los Angeles Times. Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. charged that the financially strapped and overburdened program had failed to adequately represent poor defendants. Hunter said he would no longer appoint the public defender to represent poor people in his courtroom.
A few of the defendants are accused of violent crimes such as armed robbery and sexual battery, but most face drug charges. The judge said the district attorney’s office should evaluate every indigent defendant’s case in a timely fashion to determine whether victims, witnesses, and physical evidence existed to go forward with a hearing or trial. The judge faulted the state legislature for insufficiently funding the legal defense program and allowing “this legal hell to exist, fester and finally boil over.”