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State funds help local PDO budget

Last Modified: Saturday, June 15, 2013 7:55 PM

By Johnathan Manning / American Press

An injection of $116,000 from the Louisiana Public Defender Board earlier this year will help the Calcasieu Parish Public Defenders Office balance its budget for the fiscal year that ends in June, an official said.

The money helped offset a 14 percent drop in revenues from court costs, said Jay Dixon, head of the Calcasieu PDO. He said he expected the increase in court costs from $35 to $45 to generate 20 percent more funding.

For reasons he said he cannot explain, the opposite occurred.

“We had enough money to make it through the year,” he said. “The bottom line is this: We had anticipated an increase in funds locally, because of the increased revenue from local tickets. In fact, we had our worst year in 10 years from Lake Charles City Court and Sulphur court.”

The PDO, which Dixon said represents 90 percent to 95 percent of all defendants in 14th Judicial District Court, received $760,000 from the Louisiana Public Defender Board, with the rest of its budget coming from local sources.

Traffic tickets account for most of those local funds.

Several moves helped the PDO balance its budget, Dixon said; it had $300,000 left over from previous years, and it ended the contract of five conflict attorneys.

The reduction in attorneys helped it operate on a budget about $300,000 to $400,000 short of what Dixon said he needs to operate fully effectively.

“We cut our budget to the bone,” he said.

That resulted in 888 cases being doled out to members of the private bar to be handled for free.

“We would have stopped accepting cases had it not been for the private bar. Of that I have no doubt,” he said.

Dixon said his office also began seeking the $40 PDO application fee defendants must pay. He said that resulted in an increase of $30,000 to $40,000.

Dixon said the judges have been “much more diligent” in determining whether defendants are qualified for indigent defense or are partially indigent. The Police Jury also cut the PDO’s rent in half.

“There’s no one thing that’s going to keep us afloat,” Dixon said. “It’s going to be a little money here and a little money there.”

The PDO now turns its attention to the upcoming fiscal year.

Dixon said his biggest fear is that the PDO will run out of money and have to stop accepting cases, but after a hard-fought year of balancing the budget, he said he is “hopeful” that the PDO will do so once again.

“We’re hoping ticket revenues go up. We have a budget in, and it takes a lot of variables. We just don’t know,” Dixon said. “We track our budget weekly now. We have a pretty tight rein on what our expenditures are and were, so we should know well before a crisis comes that it’s coming and work to avert it.”

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