East Baton Rouge Parish’s chief public defender testified Monday he anticipates receiving $400,000 more than last year from the state — funding that should put back on track the on-again, off-again prosecution of alleged members and associates of the Big Money Block Boyz.
The additional funds will allow the local defender to reinstate contracts with four attorneys, three of whom represent defendants alleged to be part of the Big Money Block Boyz, described by authorities as a violent Gardere-area street gang.
Mike Mitchell, who directs the 19th Judicial District Public Defenders Office, had suspended those contracts in mid-April due to what he termed as a budget crisis.
A retired Orleans Parish judge put the brakes on the Big Money Block Boyz prosecution in late March after officials with Mitchell’s office and the Louisiana Public Defender Board argued there was no money to pay the court-appointed lawyers. The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office late last month asked a state appeals court to reverse ad hoc Judge Jerome Winsberg’s ruling.
Prosecutors also asked Winsberg to reconsider his decision, and it was during Monday’s hearing on their request that Mitchell testified the $1.8 million he hopes to receive from the LPDB for the upcoming fiscal year is $400,000 above last year’s state appropriation and will allow him to rehire the four lawyers whose contracts he suspended two months ago.
Three of those attorneys — Carson Marcantel, Bo Rougeou and Robert Tucker — each represent a defendant in the Block Boyz case. Mitchell’s office also represents one of the remaining 13 defendants.
Marcantel, whose client in the case is Kydris Womack, and Rougeou, who is defending Timothy Prater, attended Monday’s hearing and were asked afterward if they intend to remain on contract with the local public defender office.
“Right now I’m on the fence,” said Rougeou, whose motion to withdraw from the case was denied Monday by Winsberg in light of Mitchell’s testimony.
“I’ve gone two months without a paycheck,” Marcantel added. “If things don’t change long-term, I’m re-examining my relationship.”
Mitchell said outside the courtroom he hopes to reinstate the panel of what’s called “conflict attorneys” by the end of July.
Prosecutors have questioned the LPDB’s fiscal priorities, arguing the board has been spending roughly a third of its $33 million in state funding on nonprofit groups to handle a dwindling number of capital murder cases while local public defender offices, like Mitchell’s, pinch pennies to make ends meet.
“There are adequate resources,” Dana Cummings, the Block Boyz case prosecutor, argued in court Monday. “They (the LPDB) choose to allocate those resources elsewhere.”
Jay Dixon, the state public defender, testified that all local public defender districts will see an increase in state funding this coming fiscal year due to an LPDB vote and state legislation that 65 percent of the board’s state funding go to the local district offices.
Four of the original 19 defendants in the Block Boyz racketeering case have pleaded guilty. Charges against two others were dismissed.
In addition to racketeering, charges in the case include attempted second-degree murder, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and drug and gun offenses.
Winsberg is presiding over the case because state District Judge Trudy White recused herself. While she was still handling the case, White ordered the state to set aside $3 million to pay for lawyers she appointed to represent seven of the original defendants. The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, in reversing her, called that amount exorbitant.