Judge Threatens to Force Payments After Lawyer Pay Cuts!!
I realize our esteemed D.A. is between a rock and hard place concerning his low budget and high costs. He must love creating high drama, since that’s what he has in spades with his latest austerity plan to cut off private lawyers hired by the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender’s office.
When it comes down to the nasty cases that attract the death penalty as punishment, it’s customary to hire death penalty expert attorneys to ensure a proper defense is mounted. Whenever a client has a conflict with the office, private attorneys are hired to represent them.
Criminal District Judge Lynda Van Davis scolded Derwyn Bunton, the Chief Public Defender. Burton had to take the witness stand to explain why payments to private lawyers were halted.
Defense lawyer Donald Sauviac Jr. had asked to be withdrawn from representing Kenneth Barnes, who is set to go to trial in the 2009 kidnapping and execution of a 19-year-old couple.
He’s owed over $20,000 for past work and expects to bill an equal amount before the case ends.
After grilling Bunton, the judge accused him of misappropriating capital case funds. Bunton replied that he couldn’t print money.
Due to state reductions, the office is roughly $2 million short of its $9.5 million income projections for the year. About 900 ongoing cases and about 550 more will be affected before the fiscal year ends in June.
A number of lawyers have pushed to withdraw from cases since Bunton’s announcement last week, but judges have rejected nearly all of them.
Judge Davis denied Sauviac’s request to withdraw. She also threatened to order Bunton to pay up, saying she hasn’t heard they are bankrupt or out of money.
State law probably won’t let her order payment. She can halt the prosecution until money becomes available. A hearing on this issue is scheduled for Wednesday, January 11.
What a mess! Without a doubt the funding mechanism for the Orleans Parish Indigent Defender Office needs to be stabilized forever! These are people’s lives that are on trial here, and they need the best defense possible. Outside specialists make this possible.
I appeal to the Louisiana Legislature to stop playing around with this issue and fund this office properly now and forever!!