Budget problems at the Public Defenders Office for the Acadiana region have forced the postponement of Landon Broussard’s death penalty trial that was scheduled for July.
A hearing Wednesday in 15th District Judge Laurie Hulin’s court initially was to settle pretrial issues in advance of a July 25 trial for Broussard, who is accused in the fatal beating of his former girlfriend’s 3-year-old son.
Instead, Hulin set Broussard’s next hearing for Aug. 15 and didn’t schedule a trial date. By August, Hulin said, the 15th Judicial District Public Defenders Office should know how much funding the state will make available.
In the meantime, the case will remain in neutral.
Broussard, 24, is accused of killing his former girlfriend’s young son with prolonged beatings over months until the child died in November 2012. The 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty.
Assistant District Attorney William Babin on Wednesday objected to the trial delay. Babin also conceded that there was nothing that could be done about it immediately.
In February, public defenders offices across Louisiana started laying off attorneys and canceling the contracts of private-practice lawyers who represent defendants for an hourly fee. The layoffs came after the Louisiana Public Defender Board, which sets guidelines and doles out state money to the local offices, ran short of funds.
The other funding sources for public defenders — proceeds from traffic tickets, along with court fines and penalties — also have been falling over the years.
The 15th Judicial District Public Defenders Office, which provides legal counsel to poor defendants in Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion parishes, started trimming its attorney rolls in February.
As of this week, the local defenders office had 15 full-time attorneys and just a few contract attorneys, compared with 26 contract attorneys and close to 30 who worked directly for the office, said G. Paul Marx, who heads the office.
Two attorneys who were affected represented Broussard. Elliott Brown, who worked directly for the Public Defenders Office, took a job in Baton Rouge in early March and no longer represents Broussard.
The contract for Broussard’s lead attorney, Clay LeJeune, was canceled. However, LeJeune said Wednesday that he’ll remain Broussard’s attorney of record, though he won’t do any heavy legal lifting.
“I intend to stay enrolled in this case until the finances of the Public Defenders Office is secure,” LeJeune said.
The budget that Gov. John Bel Edwards submitted to lawmakers in the current legislative session would allocate just $12 million to the state Public Defender Board, a 66 percent drop from $33 million in the past.
“If that figure ($12 million) doesn’t change, then we’re all going to be in pretty bad shape,” Marx said.
Follow Billy Gunn on Twitter, @BillyGunnAcad.