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Judge Asks High-Profile Lawyers for Pro Bono Service after Layoffs of 21 Public Defenders

Posted Feb 16, 2012 7:39 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A New Orleans judge has sent letters to 33 high-profile lawyers asking them to handle criminal cases for free after the public defender’s office laid off 21 lawyers.

Judge Arthur Hunter said he would take action during a hearing last week, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. "This is not a constitutional crisis,” Hunter said. “This is a constitutional emergency.”

Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton told Hunter during the hearing that 543 defendants do not have lawyers because of his office’s budget woes, the story says. His office stopped payments to contract lawyers on Jan. 16 and it’s unclear if they will be paid for work after that date.

Hunter wants pro bono lawyers to represent 33 defendants who no longer have lawyers in his court, Fox8Live reports. Among those being asked to volunteer are a state senator, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a Loyola law school professor and the news analyst for Fox8.

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