ACLU sues Louisiana over lack of public defenders

By on February 19, 2016

Calling it a ‘constitutional crisis,’ the American Civil Liberties Union and its Louisiana chapter filed a class action lawsuit against the state’s public defenders office because of the shortage of public defenders for clients.

“Louisiana’s policy of funding public defenders has been problematic for quite some time because the system essentially is funded on the backs of the people who use it,” Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana chapter, said during an interview with RT.

“What that means is if there a lot of traffic tickets written, there is more money into the system. If there are fewer tickets written there is less money into the system. Essentially, it is an unstable revenue source and it also means the poor people pay more heavily.”

According to New Orleans Times-Picayune, 66 percent of funding for public defenders offices comes from local sources, and every court conviction generates $45.

Esman said public defender funding has reached a crisis point in the state, which has an across-the-board budget shortfall of $900 million. Various public defenders offices have shut down or refuse to take on new cases “because the money has run out.” Lawmakers have been called into a special session to address the budget crisis.

On Wednesday, the Plaquemines Parish defenders office closed its doors because they could not make payroll. The decision came two days after state lawmakers voted to cut $472,000 in funding for state public defenders. Four more offices could face the same future as Plaquemines.

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