EBR Public Defender in crisis
BATON ROUGE - The East Baton Rouge Public Defenders Office could be out of money by the end of June and may be forced to layoff attorneys. The results would be a delay in trials for defendants and a release of prisoners awaiting their day in court.
Louisiana provides funding for most of the 42 district defender offices. However, capital punishment cases tie up a good portion of the funding.
The state spends about $10 million dollars a year defending individuals for death penalty cases. The money comes out of the public defender budget, so the funds never makes it to the local level.
To make up the difference, public defenders are required to self-fund their offices through court costs and fees related to traffic tickets. However, the local revenue fluctuates month-to-month and in most cases is considered unreliable.
"Louisiana has always been a state that based the funding of its indigent defense system on court costs," said EBR public defender, Michael A. Mitchell, "and court costs is an unstable, volatile way to fund a constitutional office."
The state Public Defender Board says Louisiana is the only state that requires its public defenders to depend on fees for funding.
"It just all boils down to funding, it just does," said State Public Defeder, James Dixon, "we're not adequately funded and we need to be, or we're going to have a crisis." Dixon says if the state doesn't start funding its public defenders, then several districts will be forced to cut back on the number of clients they represent.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, every state is required to provide defense attorneys for individuals unable to afford them on their own, so if the state is unable to do so, then it could be vulnerable to federal lawsuits.