NEW ORLEANS –Two New Orleans attorneys recently filed lawsuits on behalf of four inmates who have been incarcerated for months following their arrests without representation, victims of a budget crisis that has resulted in a lengthy waiting list for public defender services.
William Quigley, an attorney with
the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, and Anna Lellelid, an
attorney at the Louisiana Community Law Office, filed petitions for habeas corpus
and motions for release against Concordia Parish Sheriff Kenneth Hedrick on
behalf of Romando Russell, Tara Michelle Allen and James Malone in the 7th
Judicial District Court in Concordia Parish on May 5, and against Winn Parish
Sheriff Cranford Jordan on behalf of Kenneth Bratton in the 8th
Judicial District Court in Winn Parish on the same date.
All four are facing charges in Winn
Parish, but the petitions for Russell, Allen and Malone were filed in Concordia
because Louisiana state law requires the petitions be filed in the parish in
which the arrestees are incarcerated.
Lellelid said the 8th Judicial District Public Defender has
been mired in a restriction of services because of a lack of funding since
April 2015 and has been placing indigent defendants on a waitlist for
representation. This financial crisis stems from dramatic budget cuts to the
Louisiana Public Defender Board and, as a result, the public defender offices
“We filed (these) four petitions to start with, but we know and have good
information that those four are only a snapshot of a much larger problem in
Louisiana,” Lellelid told the Louisiana
Record. “The 8th District
Public Defender, Mr. Herman Castete informed us that there are many more who
are unrepresented and sitting in jail awaiting trial in his district. That does
not include the hundreds who are jailed around the state without attorneys.”
of the four plaintiffs in the suit were arrested in 2015. Malone was arrested in January.
After his April 20, 2015 arrest, Russell complained of a conflict with the 8th
District public defender and has not had an attorney since Dec. 15, 2015. Allen
was arrested on July 28, 2015, and has never had an attorney. Malone was
arrested on Jan. 27 and has never had an attorney. Bratton has been in Winn
Parish jail since being arrested on June 17, 2015 and has not had an attorney
since his arrest.
is the only state that funds its public defense offices mainly from traffic
tickets. Lellelid said this leaves no steady source of funding from the legislature
for indigent defense.
the decrease in revenue from traffic tickets and the state's budget crisis, the
district public defense offices have been forced to make major cuts from
Westlaw (legal research) access to critical personnel to placing people on waitlists for
representation,” Lellelid said.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S.
Constitution prohibits holding a detainee before trial without effective
counsel, while Louisiana law requires accused individuals to be released from
custody within 72 hours if no counsel has been appointed in that timeframe.
In addition, Lellelid acknowledged
that keeping these individuals in jail “delays any disposition in their cases and
overcrowds an already overcrowded jail system.”
“Keeping poor people locked up because they do not have the money to hire
an attorney and because the state is not ensuring that they get one creates an
unequal justice system,” Lellelid said. “A defendant who has the money to hire
an attorney would be in a better position to post bail and get out of jail,
investigate the allegations against her, and defend herself at every critical
stage of her case. Louisiana
has to change this system and better fund indigent defense across the state.”