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Landry picks board members, leader for Louisiana's new statewide public defender system

3 months 4 weeks 14 hours ago Thursday, March 21 2024 Mar 21, 2024 March 21, 2024 10:54 AM March 21, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE — Gov. Jeff Landry said Thursday that he wants current state public defender Rémy Starns to run Louisiana's new public defenders office, and he also named four members of a new, nine-member Public Defender Oversight Board that must affirm the appointment.

At Landry's behest, lawmakers this year changed the way Louisiana governed its public defenders. A previous 11-member board established in 2007 allocated funds to various districts and selected public defenders, and of late had criticized for its lack of resources and transparency.

The new system has a governor-appointed public defense chief with a two-year term.

Landry's appointments to the oversight board are retired judges Paul deMahy; Phyllis Keaty; Freddie Pitcher, Jr.; and Peter Thomson. The Louisiana Illuminator reported that the Louisiana Supreme Court, which gets two board seats, appointed retired Judge Frank Thaxton to serve in one of their positions. House Speaker Phillip DeVillier has selected retired Judge Gerard Caswell to fill the last slot.

The other three slots are currently vacant, with the board's first meeting to discuss Landry's selection for state public defender set for Friday at 10 a.m.

While the bill creating the new system was being discussed by legislators, Starns said the public deserved to know more about how the agency works.

"The proposed reforms in SB8 introduce new and important accountability and transparency into the Louisiana public defense system which are important to grow confidence in a public defense structure that represents over 142,000 people every year in Louisiana," Starns said.

Last month, critics said they feared the new system would place too much power in the hands of the governor and state public defender, who would control a vast portion of the criminal justice system. Under the new law, the state public defender could dictate funding, choose district defenders and decide which attorneys work under contract or as employees. 

"SB8 requires the person charged with ensuring the constitutional right to counsel for the majority of Louisianans to serve at the pleasure of the same state that is prosecuting them," Meghan Garvey, the immediate past president of the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said in a statement.

SB8 ultimately passed, creating the new system.

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