Public Defenders

New Orleans Judge Tackles Defense Ills

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A New Orleans judge is shining a light on the city’s troubled public defender system.

Judge Arthur Hunter Jr. has held hearings into problems plaguing indigent defendants as the justice system struggles to recover from Hurricane Katrina, the Los Angeles Times reports. He has called for more funds and notified private lawyers that they may be appointed to represent defendants.

He recently ordered a suspension of prosecutions in about 100 cases and the freeing of 20 jailed defendants, but action was stayed pending an appeal.

Legislators are responding to funding problems. The state Senate passed a bill to increase the budget for indigent defense by $10 million, and the House is expected to follow suit, the newspaper says.

Many defense lawyers praise Hunter. But prosecutors and anti-crime groups worry that releasing accused criminals will endanger the public.

One critic told the Times that Hunter is misusing his authority.

“It is improper for the judge to use his position as a judge in a thinly veiled publicity stunt to generate media attention,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

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