Is this the solution to the indigent defense funding problem?

Let’s hope not. Over the last couple of years, we’ve devoted plenty of page inches to covering the sorry state of Michigan’s indigent defense system. And, needless to say, Michigan isn’t the only state having such problems.

In New Orleans, the public defender’s office cancelled the contracts of 33 lawyers last month, leaving 543 defendants without counsel. One judge, Arthur Hunter, came up with a solution, as far as the cases in his courtroom: he wrote letters to 33 high-profile lawyers asking them to handle the cases for free. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, via ABA Journal.]

“This is not a constitutional crisis. This is a constitutional emergency,” Hunter said.

Hunter said he would seek private lawyers to represent the 33 indigent defendants left without attorneys in his court section. He could end up ordering them to take the cases.

Hunter rejected a bid by private contract lawyers who asked to withdraw from a half-dozen cases because the public defender’s office is refusing to pay them. [Public Defender Derwyn] Bunton, who stopped the contract payments as of Jan. 16, said it’s not clear those lawyers will ever get paid for the work beyond that date. At last check, he said, his office owed about $200,000 in back pay for contract lawyers.

Hopefully we never get to this point.

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