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Paying for Public Defense

When you’re arrested and charged with a crime, you are entitled to the representation of an attorney who can advise you of your rights.  This attorney can explain to you the charges pending against you and aid you in your case.  Some of us are lucky enough to be able to afford a private attorney, but sadly, most of us do not have the financial means to hire an attorney on our own.  Thus, the State (and the federal government) are required to provide an attorney for your defense by the United States Constitution.

In New Orleans, the State has formed the Orleans Indigent Defender Board (OIDB).  The OIDB is a group of attorneys, paralegals, and investigators who work with an accused defendant receives the necessary legal service in their case.  As you can imagine this is not a cheap process.  Not withstanding the cost of hiring lawyers and staff, there are filing fees, costs of running an office, and all the expenses which come along with running a business.  As a state agency, the OIDB receives some state funding, but as you can imagine this doesn’t cover everything…

So, where do the extra resources come from?  Fees!  Every defendant who is represented or advise by OIDB (or another public defender agency) owes them a fee for the services rendered.  Typically, this fee is between$35-50 and it is imposed along with other fees for judicial administration at the end of trial.

In Orleans lately, however, judges in Orleans Parish have not been assessing the $35 Public Defender fee to cases in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court or in Municipal Court in New Orleans which resulted in a $1.8 million budget shortage for OIDB for the fiscal year which ends in June 2011.  Therefore, the Public Defender’s Office requested the judges at Tulane and Broad and Municipal Court be mandated to impose and pay the fees, but the judges aren’t budging.   They feel they are only responsible to remit fees to OIDB when the fees have been collected.  However, the judges overlook the fact that if the fee isn’t imposed the fee will NEVER be collected in the first place.

Facts aside, I’m not particularly surprised to see that defendants aren’t assessed this fee.  Since defendants’ attorneys don’t want to their clients taxed with another fee, the judges are not reminded about the fee.  Furthermore, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office has made it clear they want criminals off the street.  One way to do this is to limit the funding available to the accused.  The less money OIDB receives, the more likely criminal will not receive the legal advice they desire.  And, sadly, many judges are ex-DA’s, and while they’re supposed to be impartial, sometimes they’re reminded of their past lives as Assistant DA’s.

We as criminal defense attorney’s have to band together and ask the judges in Orleans to levy this fee, even to the detriment of our clients. As always, if you or your friends and family are in need of legal services, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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