May 01, 2016

Louisiana Public Defense

The ABA sent letters recently to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne urging them to ensure that the state’s public defense system is sufficiently funded “so that attorneys may meet their constitutional and ethical obligations.” In a March 30 letter to Edwards, ABA President Paulette Brown recognized Louisiana’s $1.6 billion budget shortfall, but she emphasized that “public defense is one service that cannot be cut.” A proposal to reduce the public defense budget by nearly 62 percent would “exacerbate the current workload problem, threatening mass constitutional and ethical violations, as well as likely incurring wrongful convictions and mass incarceration,” she wrote. To avoid ethical, constitutional and statutory violations, the Louisiana Public Defense Board recently announced implementation of statewide service reductions pursuant to the ABA Eight Guidelines of Public Defense Related to Excessive Workloads and state protocol. In a  May 8 letter to Dardenne, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman also urged the state to maintain the Louisiana Public Defenders work on behalf of indigent parents in child welfare cases and children in Families in Need Services (FINS) and delinquency proceedings. Susman pointed out that the ABA Center on Children and the Law has worked closely with the Louisiana Supreme Court to improve representation of indigent parents and their children, and the state has emerged as a national leader in the child welfare legal field. “Inadequate funding of the Louisiana Public Defender Board or the local offices that results in de-prioritization or elimination of specialized representation will dismantle years of reform and negatively impact children and families. High-quality representation results in children remaining with their families safely and measurable positive outcomes for children such as decreased teen pregnancy, juvenile arrests, and homelessness,” he said.

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