Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton has announced that his office could soon stop accepting rape and murder cases due to budget cuts. An article by Laura Maggi in the Times-Picayune outlines the situation.
The New Orleans City Council has voted to eliminate a $500,000 appropriation to the Public Defenders Office in the 2010 budget. Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, the budget committee chairwoman, argues that it was made clear the appropriation was a one-time event.
Frank Neuner, chairman of the Louisiana Public Defender Board, responds, “The system will not work unless we have adequate funding, ” and he is “disappointed” that the city could not find some general fund dollars for the public defenders. However, the United States and Louisiana Constitutions make clear that providing free legal representation to indigent defendants is a state financial responsibility. The city argues they have been generous and have tried to find additional money to give the Public Defenders Office, such as $5 from each ticket issued by New Orleans’ new red-light cameras. Bunton counters by saying his office has yet to recieve any of that money. He has previously stated that the office might have to close if they do not get this money.
According to the piece by Maggi, the public defenders provide attorneys for cases in traffic and municipal courts. Based on this, it would make more sense to cut cases in those courts instead of threatening to stop taking murder and rape cases. Bunton comments, “At some point, if defense attorneys aren’t found for defendants locked up on murder and rape charges, they will have to be released from custody.”
This shows that Bunton is doing nothing more than playing politics. Surely he can agree that it is more critical that murder and rape suspects are not free to wander the streets while his public defenders are busy in traffic court.
It should be noted that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office also took a $500,000 budget cut from the city.