Last Modified: Sunday, July 29, 2012 8:30 PM
The Calcasieu Parish Public Defenders Office will terminate the contracts of four conflict attorneys, leaving it two, because of a $240,000 budget deficit, a Thursday news release from the Louisiana Public Defender Board said.
The local office had initially anticipated a $420,000 deficit, the news release said, but that was reduced by Act 578, which raised court fees from $35 to $45.
The bill was signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal in June.
Frank Neuner, chairman of the Louisiana Public Defender Board, said had the bill passed as originally proposed, with a $20 increase, the Calcasieu office would have been able to balance its budget without cuts.
The Public Defenders Office will withdraw from an estimated 400 felony conflict cases, the news release said. Those cases will be reassigned to private attorneys who will work without compensation.
Jay Dixon, head of the Calcasieu Public Defenders Office, said a study found that cases involving charges such as murder, armed robbery, sex offenses and kidnapping are often done by single perpetrators, and there are no conflicts. Those types of cases which do involve conflicts will be assigned to the two remaining attorneys, and the other cases, on charges such as theft, burglary or forgery, will be assigned to private attorneys.
“What we realized is those are the kind of cases the bar can pick up, and we will keep the serious cases that really need a lot of work,” Dixon said.
The Public Defenders Office is also ending the contract of a misdemeanor attorney, whose cases will be doled around the department, Dixon said.
Dixon, as well as the news release, said the office has been working to counter the budget shortage. The department has switched buildings, which has saved about $80,000 in rent, Dixon said.
The office has also had freezes on hiring, salary and technology upgrades, the news release said, and staffers have had to pay their own bar dues.
Neuner said Orleans Parish has already been forced to restrict services, and he expects another 10 to 12 districts to do the same.
Ninety-five percent of fees raised through court costs are from traffic tickets, Neuner said.
He said that in Calcasieu, the Public Defenders Office is funded 60 percent through court costs and 40 percent through state appropriations, while other parishes fund their public defender offices 100 percent.
“That’s just the way the Legislature set it up a few years ago, and it’s frankly not a very good system,” Neuner said.
“We would prefer to have the state just appropriate the money, but the budget has been very flat the last three years.”
He said one way to increase revenues is to increase fees for certain users of the Public Defenders Office — such as those too poor to hire private attorneys but have jobs. Neuner suggests those could be charged more than the $45 in court costs. He said it’s being done in other parishes and judges have begun to order the same in Calcasieu.
Dixon said most of the responses he has received from local private attorneys who will have to accept criminal cases have been positive. He said three of the four attorneys being let go have offered to take double the pro bono cases they will be assigned as private attorneys.
“We’re asking professionals to do something without pay, which would not sit well in any profession,” Dixon said. “That is something I don’t take lightly, it concerns me greatly.”
Posted By: the public On: 7/28/2012
Title: defended who?
They shoulda been working for free bc they really didn't defend anyone...FREE CHECK at the expence of someones freedom