Last Modified: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 6:12 PM
A bill signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal should provide some funding relief for indigent defender offices around the state.
HB 325 by state Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, raises court fees from $35 to $45, with the extra $10 dedicated to help pay for attorneys for defendants who cannot afford one. Originally, Arnold’s bill had sought a $20 increase, but it was amended to the $10 increase by the state Senate.
The court fee is assessed on all defendants who plead guilty or no contest or are convicted on criminal charges, pay traffic fines or forfeit bonds.
The money will go to the public defenders’ offices in the jurisdictions in which it was assessed.
Jay Dixon, who heads the Calcasieu Parish Public Defenders Office, said he’s hoping the fine increase will generate about $200,000 in additional money for his office.
“We had a $400,000 shortfall before that,” he said.
Dixon said to save money the office has been moved, attorneys have been laid off, salaries have been frozen, bar dues, except for the state bar, have stopped being paid and travel for continuing education has been discontinued.
“We’re cutting everywhere we can,” he said. “It’s not just us. We’re not the only public defender’s office that is laying people off.”
He said cuts in state funds were anticipated for this year, and he expects funding to be worse next year.
The state provides about $33 million to fund indigent defense offices around the state. The $10 increase in court costs is expected to generate about $7 million.
In 2009, the state provided $27.8 million for PDOs around the state. That was woefully shy of the $46 million requested by Jean Faria of the Louisiana Public Defender Board.
Unfortunately, funding cuts are not mirrored by case loads. In fact, Dixon said, that number is increasing in Calcasieu Parish, where the average indigent defender’s case load tops 400, or more than double the recommended average.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit aimed at reforming how the state funds public defenders remains active. The suit, originally filed in 14th Judicial District Court in 2004, was moved in 2007 to 19th Judicial District Court.
The suit alleges that defendants who are unable to post bonds languish too long in prison, which denies them their constitutional right to speedy trials, and that case overloads brings into question their receiving an adequate defense.
The court cost increase is a step in the right direction, but it falls short of rectifying the problem.
This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Dennis Spears, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.
Posted By: Theodore J. On: 6/21/2012
Why can't you simply publish the whole truth about the matter? The fact here, as it's always been, it's all about the "innocent paying for the guilty". You're going to raise the fees so muderers, child molesters, drug dealers, habitual DWI offenders...and the like get a better chance for legal representation? Or so the legal system can have more Public Defenders?
Here's one for you; how about imposing something that truly places the penalties where they should be--against the criminals. How about trending the records and cases of all those people who have repeatedly committed crimes...and repeatedly required a Pulbic Defender to represent them, and maybe then the system can determine where all the money actually goes.
This is HOGWASH!