NOLA Courts Shutting Down

From Scout:

The criminal justice system in New Orleans has in effect shut down….

The New Orleans criminal justice system, severely crippled by Katrina, inched perilously close to a complete shutdown Friday when a district judge suspended all cases in his section assigned to the cash-starved and attorney-depleted public defender’s office, setting a legal precedent that probably would affect the entire criminal court.

Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter ruled that the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender Program can no longer adequately represent poor defendants in his section. The other 11 New Orleans judges are expected to follow, potentially affecting thousands of cases, officials said.

“For all practical purposes, the public defender program no longer exists,” Hunter told a hubbub-filled federal courtroom being used by the court on a rotating basis until its Tulane and Broad headquarters can reopen.

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“Crisis is not a big enough word to describe the situation,” [chief judge] Johnson said. “The public defender situation was bad before Katrina. Now it’s a full-blown disaster.”

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“We’re going on six months since Katrina and the city and state have done nothing to help New Orleans,” Hunter said. “All that’s changed is the water is gone.”

4500 defendants are now left in limbo. 80% of these defendants rely on the public defenders office which has only 7 attorneys left from a pre-Katrina staff of 42. All investigators and staff have been laid off.