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State supreme court justice: Public defender system going broke

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BATON ROUGE - The head of the Louisiana Supreme Court told lawmakers the court is concerned about financing for the public defender system for the poor.

Chief Justice Bernette Johnson says public defenders in 33 of the state's 42 judicial districts have restricted services, and half of the offices are predicted to be insolvent within months.

Johnson says about 85 percent of all criminal defendants in Louisiana are represented by public defenders. She says the state is constitutionally obligated to provide adequate representation.

The chief justice's comments came Tuesday in the court's annual update on the judiciary to the House and Senate.

Louisiana's indigent defense system is paid with state financing, traffic tickets and court fees. Johnson says traffic ticket revenue is falling and the state budget for public defenders has been slashed.

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