The Louisiana Public Defender System is in a crisis. Due to budget cuts and an unstable and unsustainable “user-pay” system that depends upon ticket revenue, and fines and fees levied against defendants to fund two-thirds of public defender’s budgets, the system is near collapse.
The Plaquemines Parish Public Defender Office has already been forced to close its doors due to budget cuts. Several other parishes, including Lafayette, Orleans, Winn, Ascension, Assumption, and St. James parishes have all entered into a restriction of services. This means that individuals who are charged with a crime but cannot afford to hire an attorney will be put on a wait-list until an attorney can be provided to them. The practical effect of these wait-lists are that people accused of crimes will languish for an unknown amount of time without an advocate by their side. They made be forced to sit in jail, presumptively innocent of any wrongdoing, without even being able to speak to an attorney or have their voices heard.
Lafayette, Louisiana, located in the 15th Judicial District, is not unique in its funding crisis. It is, however, unique in its office culture, its impact on its community, and its capacity to effect change in the way public defense has historically been practiced. The 15th JDC, comprised of Lafayette, Acadia, and Vermilion parishes, is home to some of the most dedicated and hard-working public defenders in the state. These lawyers, hailing from New York, California, Massachusetts, Texas, Wisconsin, and several who have always called Louisiana home, have come to Lafayette to put the idea of vigorous, client-centered representation into practice. They believe that the strength of your defense should not be contingent on the amount that you can pay. They believe in the dignity and humanity of the individuals that they serve. They believe in the promise of justice, equity, and fairness that is made to each and every one of us.
They have come to Lafayette and created an office and a way of practice that is infinitely worth saving. However, due to budget cuts and improper funding, the 15th JDC Public Defender has been forced to fire 35 out of 52 attorneys. All remaining attorneys took a 20% salary cut. The wait-list consists of hundreds of men and women, and that number will soon reach the thousands. The office is hanging on by a thread, and the fate of the thousands of men, women, and children that these public defenders proudly swore to represent hang in the balance.
Please help us bring these issues to the forefront of the State Legislature’s budget discussions. We are each of us constitutionally guaranteed the right to have a lawyer by our side when facing criminal charges. Louisianans are being deprived of that right by the thousands.
Please sign this petition. Please stand with us to protect your rights and the rights of your friends, family, and neighbors. Use your voice so that we might continue to use ours on behalf of the men, women, and children that we humbly and proudly represent.
Yours in Solidarity,
The Public Defenders of the 15th Judicial District