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New study spotlights extremely heavy workloads in Louisiana’s public defender system

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New study spotlights extremely heavy workloads in Louisiana’s public defender system

By Irma Romero

CHICAGO, Feb. 17, 2017 — The American Bar Association and the Louisiana-based accounting and consulting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville released findings Friday of a joint study of workloads of state public defenders in Louisiana.

The principal findings of the study are: 

·        Louisiana’s public defense system currently employs 363 full-time-equivalent public defenders. Based on the workload standards developed through the Delphi Method, 1,769 FTE public defenders are required to provide reasonably effective assistance of counsel pursuant to prevailing professional norms in Louisiana, resulting in a deficit of 1,406 FTE attorneys.

·        Louisiana’s public defense system now only has capacity to handle 21 percent of the annual workload in compliance with workload standards developed through the Delphi Method.

The Delphi Method is a reliable and structured research method developed by the Rand Corporation in the 1960s, which has been employed across a diverse array of industries, including the legal system, to produce professional consensus opinions. 

“This study demonstrates beyond question that Louisiana public defenders are daily put in grave jeopardy of violating their professional responsibility to provide competent counsel,” ABA President Linda A. Klein said. “When this occurs, ABA policy and well-established legal principles support public defenders in assertively seeking relief from excessive workloads. Courts, in turn, should provide relief when excessive caseloads threaten to lead to representation lacking in quality or to the breach of professional obligations. To do otherwise, not only harms individual defendants but our entire justice system.” 

This is the ABA’s fifth public defender workload study in three years. The first, “The Missouri Project,” was done in February 2014 in conjunction with RubinBrown, one of the nation’s leading accounting and professional consulting firms. Additional studies are underway in Colorado, Tennessee and Rhode Island, and several others are planned. 

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright extended the right to counsel to felony cases in state criminal courts and, subsequently, the Supreme Court extended the right to counsel to misdemeanor cases ending with the defendant being imprisoned. The ABA believes these studies, besides suggesting that excessive public defender workloads are endemic, call into serious question the accuracy of the phrase “equal justice under law” engraved on the front of the building of the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The study was funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and can be found here.

Postlethwaite & Netterville, APAC (P&N) helps businesses and individuals across the country shape clearer paths forward. Backed by 65+ years of experience, P&N is one of the largest CPA and consulting firms in the Gulf Coast region and the only top 100 U.S. firm based in Louisiana. Learn more at www.pncpa.com.

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