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New Orleans: an unethical District Attorney and an overworked Public Defender

Prosecuted by her legal counterpart: ‘It destroyed my life in so many ways’

This DA should resign, now:

At least six defense attorneys and investigators say they faced threats of criminal charges by the Orleans parish district attorney for doing their jobs, the Guardian has found. Since DA Leon Cannizzaro took office in 2009, the attorneys have been accused of kidnapping, impersonation and witness tampering in the course of defending their clients. Each case has failed to stand up to scrutiny: all charges that have been brought were eventually dropped or overturned.


Anderson Cooper did a great segment on 60 Minutes about how an underfunded, understaffed and overworked New Orleans Public Defender’s Office has started refusing felony cases. Chief PD Derwyn Bunton says he and his 52 attorneys cannot possibly represent the 20,000 clients they get annually in a way that comports with the ethical standards to which all attorneys are held, and to which criminal defendants are Constitutionally entitled.

It’s a divisive choice, but I think it’s the right one. Public Defenders Offices are notoriously underfunded all over the country, seen as low-hanging fruit when a politician or bureaucrat needs to cut budgets. But they should be among the last budgets cut. Many criminal defendants are guilty, and many are not. Because of that, all are entitled to the same Constitutionally mandated set of rights, chief among them being the right to representation.

No, public defenders don’t need and shouldn’t get astronomical budgets. But they should not have to divide 20,000 cases between 52 lawyers, either. That’s 384 cases per lawyer per year. Would you want to share your public defender with 383 other people? Would you feel confident that you will get your Constitutional rights to competent representation and a fair trial?

Didn’t think so.