Public defenders speak out on state’s budget crisis

Photo Credit: KLFY

BATON ROUGE, La. (KLFY) – Public defense attorneys from Lafayette, East Baton Rouge St. Tammany, and Orleans parishes gathered on the steps of the Paul Hebert Law Center at LSU to stand up and speak out for the thousands of Louisiana citizens who rely on their defense.

The 15th Judicial District Public Defenders office is facing More than $500,000 in cuts. The shortfalls have caused the entire office to restrict services.

“It’s also led to layoffs and firings 35 out of 52 lawyers in our office. It  left us with a skeleton crew trying to do the work of far too many,” Caitlin Graham, Asistant Public Defender in the 15th Judicial District, told KLFY’s Dalfred Jones.

Several of the lawyers at Tuesday’s rally carried posters with the number of cases they’ve worked since they’ve been employed with the Public Defenders Office.

District Defender, Paul Marx says, as his district has cut down to about a fourth of their staff, case loads could reach unimaginable numbers.

“We are a part of a system required by the Constitution. We have to have a reasonable work and of the idea that we can continue to do work, four times the reasonable amount is just something that the law has developed to a point where it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Marx presented a letter to the Louisiana Public Defender Board Tuesday, outlining the severity cuts have had to the 15th judicial district.

Although he isn’t expecting immediate results, Marx says he’s been in contact with Lafayette City Judge Kaliste Saloom Jr., and the judge is working on a grant to supply funds for the public defenders office.

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