Regarding: “Criminal justice watchdog reports progress in resolving cases at Orleans Parish courthouse,” published July 3:
A recent Metropolitan Crime Commission report hailed the progress in moving felony cases through the system more efficiently but sees room for improvement. While we at Orleans Public Defenders think the analysis and the ranking of judges’ dockets does not take into account a number of factors (such as multiple-defendant racketeering cases, which can take weeks to try), one thing is certain: Without a fully funded public defender office, there cannot be efficient — or fair — justice.
OPD represents approximately 85 percent of all defendants in Criminal District Court. Because of state budget cuts and an unstable, unreliable and inadequate user-pay system dependent on fines and fees, OPD expects, without further assistance, almost a $1 million budgetary shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1. Without additional funding, the coming months will see waitlists for defendants, layoffs of personnel and officewide furloughs, significantly decreasing our ability to ensure justice is given to the citizens of New Orleans.
Even before the current budget cuts, OPD received less than half the funding of the District Attorney’s Office. When the DA’s Office budget is coupled with other law enforcement agencies that assist in prosecution, OPD remains significantly under-resourced.
We can all agree everyone — rich and poor alike — deserves a full defense. Without a fully funded public defender office, the entire criminal justice system cannot be fair and just and it certainly cannot be efficient. If we are committed to the continued gains in case processing times, then we must all come together to support a fully funded public defender office. Justice in New Orleans depends on it.
chief district defender, Orleans Public Defenders