Landon Broussard’s death penalty trial this summer could be delayed due to the ill-financed public defender’s office, which canceled the contract of Broussard’s lead counsel then accepted the resignation of his second attorney.
More clarity on Broussard’s first-degree murder trial in the November 2012 killing of his girlfriend’s little boy is expected later this month at a hearing before state District Judge Laurie Hulin.
G. Paul Marx, who heads up the 15th Judicial District’s Indigent Defenders Office in Lafayette, said last week he might play a role in Broussard’s defense. Criminal defense attorneys must be credentialed to represent defendants facing the death penalty.
“I think I’m going to have to be involved,” Marx said Friday.
Broussard’s lead attorney, Clay LeJeune, of Crowley, was one of 26 attorneys whose contracts were canceled in February after state funding to the 15th Judicial District’s Indigent Defenders Office was slashed.
Broussard’s second attorney, Elliott Brown, resigned earlier this month to take a job in Baton Rouge. Brown worked for Marx in the Indigent Defenders Office, which in February either laid off or accepted the resignations of nine attorneys and two social workers.
LeJeune, Brown and Assistant District Attorney William Babin were scheduled to argue pretrial motions at a March hearing. Last year, LeJeune filed 48 motions on Broussard’s behalf before his trial that was scheduled to begin July 25. Some of the filings were to be considered at the hearing, which had been scheduled for March 23 and 24. Now it’s unclear what, if anything, will be decided at the hearing.
LeJeune said he would drop by the courtroom on March 23.
“I’ll make an appearance, but it’ll be with no muscle,” he said.
LeJeune and Brown were appointed to represent Broussard in the weeks after the now-24-year-old was arrested in the death of Julian Madera, the 3-year-son of Broussard’s girlfriend, Laura Smith. Julian was pronounced dead after Broussard carried the boy’s lifeless, naked body into Broussard’s grandmother’s home on Kaliste Saloom Road on Nov. 29, 2014.
Detectives said in police reports that Julian had suffered prolonged beatings: One of his ears was torn and his body was covered with bruises from beatings that occurred over time. A later examination and DNA profile linked Broussard to the boy’s death. Broussard was charged with one count of raping the boy, a charge that Babin and the District Attorney’s Office temporarily dismissed pending the murder trial.
Smith was convicted of cruelty to a juvenile for letting her son get abused. She is serving a five-year sentence and is expected to testify at Broussard’s trial.
Babin, the prosecutor, said last week that in light of the public defenders office’s financial struggles and LeJeune and Brown pulling away from the case, he can’t predict the immediate future of Broussard’s criminal case.
He said he’ll bring his stuffed satchel containing case files to the hearing March 23, where “We shall see what we shall see.”
What’s happening in the Broussard case is just one of the most visible consequences of a broke public defenders office, which now is without the resources to provide an attorney for every poor person accused of a crime.
Marx said there are almost 1,600 defendants in the 15th Judicial District — which includes Lafayette, Acadia and Vermilion parishes — who need attorneys experienced in criminal defense. Marx said he’s had attorneys who normally practice the civil side of law volunteer to do criminal defense work.
Marx said while he appreciates those lawyers volunteering, rules prevent them from representing defendants accused of crimes. He also said 15th District judges do not plan to pluck attorneys from the rolls of lawyers in the three parishes, which at one time was how indigent defendants were appointed counsel.
“The Louisiana Bar Association last year passed a resolution noting that criminal defense requires a more than casual knowledge of law and practice,” Marx said in a statement this month. “The obligations of counsel are no less for clients who cannot afford their own attorney, so I do not want to ask lawyers or clients to bear the failure of our funding by risking licensure as attorneys or a person’s right to counsel.”