Click on a report title to read its summary and to access the report itself.
Observations and Findings
Summary: The Report on the Evaluation of the Office of the Orleans Public Defenders was requested after OPD was forced to restrict its public defense services due to insufficient funds. In January, OPD suspended representation of conflict clients and clients requiring assigned capital counsel, and remains in service restriction. Conflict clients are placed on a waitlist or are represented by pro bono lawyers when possible. LPDB requested this evaluation in order to assess OPD’s operations and seek recommendations to improve analysis, communication, and supervision for OPD, and other public defender offices that are facing financial crisis. While the report specifically evaluates the system in Orleans, it has application in offices across the state. Due to an insufficient state budget and only a modest increase in the special court costs that comprise the majority of public defense funding, LPDB expects at least 10 district public defender offices to implement service restrictions this fiscal year.
Click here to read the Report on the Evaluation of the Office of the Orleans Public Defenders
A report of LaPorte CPAs and Business Advisors
Summary: Auditors evaluated two months of Traffic Court tickets and collections (February and June 2011) by reviewing all paper tickets and both sets of accounting books maintained by Traffic Court. The auditor found that in February 2011, Traffic Court failed to remit $37,653 of collected fees to the public defender office. In June 2011, Traffic Court improperly withheld $45,716 from the public defender office. Traffic Court was given an opportunity to review these findings and concedes that the Orleans Public Defenders is owed additional funds. The LaPorte report also finds other significant problems: Because Traffic Court performs no reconciliation of pre-numbered tickets, there is no way to verify that the reviewed tickets are the total number of tickets received; Traffic Court uses two accounting systems to record transactions, making it difficult to meaningfully evaluate financial statements; Traffic Court regularly converts traffic tickets into contempt charges, or suspends certain charges while adding others, thereby bypassing the obligation to collect funds for any other agency except its own Judicial Expense Fund; and, Traffic Court remits fees to its judicial expense fund before any other agency.
Click here to read New Orleans Traffic Court Forensic Accounting Report.
A report of the Criminal Courts Technical Assistance Project (funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance)
Summary: This report provides a summary of the observations, findings and preliminary recommendations resulting from a review of documents and a site visit by consultant Ernie Lewis conducted December 12-15, 2011, to the Public Defender Office for the 22nd Judicial District of Louisiana, which consists of St. Tammany and Washington Parishes. This visit was made in response to a request for technical assistance submitted by Jean M. Faria, Louisiana State Public Defender at the Louisiana Public Defender Board (LPDB) to the Criminal Courts Technical Assistance Project (CCTAP) at American University, in Washington, D.C. The CCTAP provides free technical assistance and training services by senior practitioners to state and local courts and justice system agencies under a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice. The request for technical assistance was prompted by a letter LPDB received from the American Civil Liberties Union of New York, dated September 7, 2011, which stated that an independent investigation by the ACLU had led it to conclude that defendants in the 22nd Judicial District were "routinely deprived of their due process rights to effective assistance of counsel."
Click here to read the 22nd Judicial District Public Defenders' Office Preliminary Assessment
A Report of the Louisiana Justice Coalition
The Louisiana Public Defender Board, Louisiana Justice Coalition and the Vernon Parish Public Defenders' Office (30th Judicial District) released the recent "ExtraLegal Needs Assessment" of the incarcerated, pre-trial, public defender-appointed population at Vernon Parish Jail. Interviews of willing prisoners took place March 22-23, 2011. The inability of prison to address many of the underlying social service issues that are directly related to crime – mental illness, homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, illiteracy, and others – means that prisoners usually return to their communities with fewer resources and options than before. Not surprisingly, they often cycle back into the system. Even as public defenders struggle for adequate resources to provide the constitutional right to counsel, they often end up representing the same people over and over. The ExtraLegal Needs Assessment is designed to illuminate some of the problems facing poor persons who are appointed representation by the local Public Defenders' Office.
Click here to read the Vernon Parish ExtraLegal Needs Assessment.
Observations and Recommendations
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) report reviewed and assessed numerous areas of office operations, and noted the need for collaboration and systemic reforms across the justice system. Specifically, they looked at: management, communication, client contact, training, caseload, caseflow, supervision, timekeeping, policies relating to private practice, investigations, juvenile defense, conflict representation, policies and procedures, advocacy, technology and office culture. On a more systemic scale, BJA also reviewed indigency evaluations, filing of bills, right to counsel hearings (72 hour hearings), case delays and backlogs, high bonds, resources and jail access.
From these observations, BJA created a set of 20 recommendations which include: create a client-centered office, reduce caseloads, increase salaries, provide benefits, enhance supervision capacity, increase client contact, institute performance reviews, develop a salary scale, and increase the use of investigators, among others.
Click here to read the BJA Report Review of Management and Organization of the Public Defender's Office in Calcasieu Parish (Lake Charles, LA)
A report of the management evaluation of the 15th JDC Indigent Defender Office
Summary: The Louisiana Public Defender Board (LPDB) contracted with NLADA to conduct a management evaluation of the 15th JDC Indigent Defender Office, pursuant to LPDB's duties under Act 307 to review, monitor, and assess the performance of all attorneys providing counsel for indigent defendants. LPDB requested NLADA specifically to: evaluate the organizational structure, practices, and policies; evaluate the caseloads, workloads and workflow impediments; and identify the availability and use of investigators. All of NLADA's evaluations track the 15th JDC's performance against the mandates of the 2007 Public Defender Act.
Click here to read Effective Assistance of Counsel: Evaluation of Public Defense Services and Operations in Louisiana's 15th Judicial District indigent Defense System
A report of the Social Science Research Laboratory, University of Louisiana at Monroe
Summary: This study presents a snapshot of Public Defender operations of both adult and juvenile defense services in the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Judicial Districts (the parishes of Lincoln, Union, Morehouse, Ouachita, West Carroll, Richland, Franklin, East Carroll, Madison and Tensas), charting many of the changes between the first study of these four Judicial Districts in 2004, making recommendations to deliver the greatest possible operating efficiencies and effectiveness within current resource constraints, and framing the continued debate for increased support.
Click here to read Defending the Indigent in Northeast Louisiana.
A report of the Spangenberg Group
Summary: This study undertakes the following: Review of the program's budget, staffing, and allocation of resources; On-site interviews with Indigent Defender Board members and the Indigent Defender Office administrative staff; On-site interviews with Indigent Defender staff attorneys of all levels, as well as support staff; On-site interviews of other criminal justice stakeholders in the parish, including judges and prosecutors; On-site interviews with the Caddo Parish Commission's Director of Finance and the Parish Attorney; Court observation; Review of office policies, procedures and practice standards; Review of attorney practices, including client contact, motions practice, trials, and use of investigators and expert services; Review of the training, supervision and evaluation of attorneys; Review of all staff salaries; Review of previous reports regarding the Indigent Defender Office; Collection and analysis of indigent defense caseload data; and Review of the current indigent defense case management system.
Click here to read Review of the Caddo Parish Indigent Defender Office.
A report of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
Summary: New Orleans, and in particular the Board of the Orleans Public Defender should work from the outset to establish a model community defender office that will address clients' needs inside and outside the courtroom. This is the best option if the city hopes to staunch the excessive flow of cases running through its criminal justice system, cut costs and address the most exigent problems experienced by its former clients. Building a stronger system of community defense today will help prevent more onerous and expensive steps tomorrow.
Click here to read The Case for Community Defense.
A report of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Department of Justice
Summary: Without indigent defense lawyers, the system grinds to a halt. People wait in jail with no charges, and trials cannot take place; even defendants who wish to plead guilty must have counsel for a judge to accept the plea. Without indigent defense lawyers, New Orleans today lacks a true adversarial process; the process to ensure that even the poorest person will get a fair deal, that the government cannot simply lock suspects up and forget about them. Despite the efforts of many professionals in the New Orleans criminal justice system, it appears to us that the only justice that can be meted out today is for those who can afford to pay for a lawyers and a bondsman. For the vast majority of arrested individuals, justice is simply unavailable.
Click here to read An Assessment of the Immediate and Longer Term Needs of the Orleans Public Defense System.
A report of the Domestic Disaster Practicum, Northwestern University School of Law
Summary: Detainees can be classified into two main groups: residents and non-residents. Both have challenges to posting bond. Most reported that they: did not have a lawyer during their bond hearings, have never spoken to a lawyer, did not understand what happened in court, other than that the judge set their bond, and did not have any idea what was going to happen next in their cases. Non-residents who came to New Orleans to work reported that the bail bondsmen require them to post 100% of the bonds because they are from out of town. Several of the detainees interviewed reported that they could post bond, but had not been in contact with any family members because cell phones do not accept collect calls. The result is that a significant number of people who have not even been formally charged (and who may never be charged) are being held in custody on relatively minor charges.
Click here to read Access Denied: Pre-Katrina Practices in Post-Katrina Magistrate and Municipal Courts.
A report of Safe Streets/Strong Communities
Summary: The indigent defense system in Orleans Parish was broken before Hurricane Katrina, and further compromised because of the hurricane. The study finds that: The average number of times that each interviewee had spoken to his or her Orleans Indigent Defender (OID) Project attorney outside the courtroom before Hurricane Katrina hit was 0; The average number of times that each interviewee had spoken to his or her OID Project Attorney since the hurricane was also 0; The average number of days that the men and women we spoke to have been detained pre-trial was 385 days, with the longest wait being 1289 days and the shortest being 179.
Click here to read An Investigative Report on Indigent Defense in Orleans Parish.
A report of the Criminal Justice Department, University of Louisiana Monroe
Summary: The goal of any public defender system should be to provide quality legal services to the poor. Lack of available resources and consistent funding too often results in less than favorable outcomes. The obvious need is for adequate funding to reduce burdensome caseloads. Additionally, given the experience and expertise of the counsel involved, benefits such as health care and retirement are a dire need. Finally, any system requires accountability. The indigent defense system of Louisiana is no exception; however, currently no mandated quality control component is in effect. Record keeping is inconsistent, at best, and non-existent, at worst. Funding is needed both to administer the indigent defense system, and to ensure that all of the players within the system perform according to the standards that justice and the canon of ethics require.
Click here to read Indigent Defense in Northeast Louisiana.
A report of Louisiana State University, Shreveport
Summary: Contrary to national guidelines, resources for the Public Defender's Office pale significantly to those of the District Attorney's Office in Caddo Parish on every financial indicator. The total financial resources available to the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office are three times greater than those available to the Public Defender's Office. The Caddo Parish Public Defender's Office suffers from inadequate and imbalanced funding, crushing caseloads and other barriers to providing effective representation. The failure to promptly meet with clients costs taxpayers money. The Commander of Caddo Correctional Center estimates that Caddo Parish residents must bear the financial burden of six months additional pre-trial detention on average per inmate, at an approximate annual cost of one half million dollars. Inadequate public defender funding and staffing increases the likelihood that indigent clients receive poor outcomes, with a disproportionate impact on minority clients.
Click here to read The Provision of the Right to Counsel in Caddo Parish.
A report of Michael M. Kurth, PhD, and Daryl V. Burckel, DBA, CPA
Summary: In the public defense function in Calcasieu Parish, there is little client contact, little investigative and/or legal work performed on cases prior to trial, no use of experts, and minimal assertions of clients' legal rights. The study identifies two reasons for this: one is a lack of resources to carry out the public defense mission, and the other is a judicial process that tolerates delays. The felony caseload of attorneys in Calcasieu Parish Public Defender's Office is three times greater than state guidelines recommend. The average time from arrest to disposition of a felony case in Calcasieu Parish is 501 days, compared to a national average of 214 days. Cases often languish for more than three years before they are resolved, and often by a plea bargain. Data from 2001 showed the Public Defender Office in Calcasieu had 17 staff members and 5,100 cases, while the District Attorneys Office in Calcasieu Parish had 88 staff (more than 500% in excess of the Public Defender Office) and a caseload of 6,000 (only 15% more than the Public Defender Office).
Click here to read Defending the Indigent in Southwest Louisiana.