NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Lawyers grappling with the city's broken and broke public defender's office were outraged Thursday after the district attorney's office rebuffed their efforts to have indigent clients released from jail.
The private lawyers have stepped in to represent indigent clients who had languished in jail for hundreds of days without counsel because the public defender's office is just too lacking in funds to help them.
Earlier this week they filed a series of motion, asking Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter to halt the prosecutions of scores of indigent individuals and to set the accused free on the grounds that their right to a trial with an adequate defense has been violated.
The motions were filed on behalf of seven felony defendants awaiting trial for a variety of crimes, including second degree murder and aggravated rape.
But Assistant District Attorney David Pipes said in a four-page response filed Thursday that the lawyers request should be frowned upon based on "the rules of basic humanity."
"What is actually before this court is whether a private attorney's right to a check should trump the defendant and the public's right to the quick, equal, and impartial administration of justice," Pipes wrote. "Quite frankly, that decision should not be one before this court at all.
"Whether or not a private attorney defends indigent men and women should not depend on whether that attorney gets paid. The rules of professional conduct and for that matter basic humanity would frown on anyone walking away from someone who needed help simply because they would not profit from doing the work of their chosen profession," Pipes says.
The assistant DA's response said the attorneys are "seeking to bring down a system they disagree with rather than protecting the rights" of their clients.
In January the Orleans Parish public defender's office announced it would stop taking clients because of money shortages. A public announcement said the office "is too under-resourced and overburdened to provide constitutional and ethical representations to many defendants in Orleans Parish" and the office would stop taking many felony cases.
When the public defender's office was unable to take the cases of the seven felony clients, Judge Hunter asked the private attorneys to take their cases. But the attorneys said outside of the courtroom after the hearing Thursday, his week that they cannot so much as hire private investigators to look into the charges against their clients without spending thousands of dollars.
"The District Attorney is compelled to seek justice for all people, and must ask this Court to side with the defendants and victims who are hoping to have their cases heard, and not the private attorneys who are hoping for a paycheck," Pipes wrote in his response.
"If there is a particularized need for a particular expert or testing in order to provide a constitutionally sufficient defense in a particular case, such a motion should be brought," he said. "In most of the cases before the court, however, the private attorneys have sought wholesale bans on doing the job they swore to do the day they became lawyers."
"Rather than help their clients either minimize their exposure or extricate them from the criminal justice system, what the movers before this court have sought is nothing less than anarchy," he continued. "They have devoted their time, their resources, and their efforts to conducting hearings and presenting arguments on why they will not do their job. They are seeking to bring down a system they disagree with rather than protecting the rights of those individuals this court has appointed them to represent."
Pipes' response continued: "It is not the job of a defense attorney, whether private or public, to build or attack a system. It is their job to protect the rights and interests of their clients in their individual cases. If that means that a private lawyer must defend the poor without the certainty of knowing they are going to be paid, that is preferable to seeing justice denied, criminals turned loose, or victims and defendants languishing in uncertainty."
Tulane law professor Pamela Metger, appointed by Hunter to represent the inmates' due process claims, called the district attorney's response "outrageous."
" This is a low point in what has been a shocking violation of justice. Shame on this state," Metger said.
"We are not asking for money for us," said Gregory Carter, one of the private attorneys representing the inmates. "Our clients need money for investigators, to interview witnesses and look for physical evidence that could aid in their defense. I'm disappointed in the audacity of the DA's office to say otherwise. ... They say they want justice. If so, they should be standing on the same side as us, demanding that the legislature come up with the money to prepare an appropriate defense for people unable to afford it on their own."
Hunter is expected to rule on whether or not to drop the prosecutions of the seven inmates next week.Follow @https://twitter.com/sabrinacanfiel2
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