That’s the claim a lawsuit is making. Louisiana’s public defender system is such a mess that poor defendants are unable to see an attorney.
From the Daily Beast:
Michael Carter has spent more than a year and a half in jail waiting for a trial. Even still, the 27-year-old smiles easily when telling his story. His face is framed by an 8-by-4 inch window that separates the inmates at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison from their visitors. Like most people standing in the caged area of the visiting room, Carter is black.
In August 2015, Carter was arrested for being a felon in possession of a gun and indecent behavior with a juvenile. On the outside, Carter struggled to find a steady job. He occasionally picked up shifts as a mechanic, but it barely paid the bills—and certainly didn’t cover the cost of a defense lawyer. So when Carter got locked up, he waited until he could meet with a court-appointed lawyer who could help mount his defense. Finally, after three months, Carter met his counsel during his arraignment.
Carter said he has barely seen him since.
“He hasn’t come to visit me once,” Carter claims, adding the attorney hasn’t conducted interviews or done anything to investigate the circumstances surrounding his charge. In a December court date, the district attorney and the defender jointly requested and received a continuance, yet again pushing back a decision on Carter’s fate. The lawyer didn’t speak to Carter again. (The East Baton Rouge public defender office didn’t reply to a request for comment.)
“The public defender,” he sighs, “they don’t do anything for you.”
There is now a massive lawsuit against the state over the public defender’s program. The lawsuit alleges that Louisiana is now systematically denying poor defendants the right to legal representation. It’s hard to argue against the lawsuit’s claims.
You would think that the Louisiana Bar Association would be leading the charge to fix Louisiana’s broken public defender system. But you would be wrong. Their top priority this session is assessing fees on notaries in order to pay for pro bono civil legal representation. The bar association would rather try and cripple their competitors than work for the state to comply with the constitution.
Louisiana needs to find a way to fund public defenders or the courts will force a solution on the state.