[JURIST] Louisiana Attorney General Charles C. Foti, Jr. [official website] has launched a probe into the state's indigent defense system in response to funding and availability problems for public defenders, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive], which has sharply decreased the number of traffic fines from which the program primarily derives its funding. Foti issued subpoenas on 20 subjects regarding the indigent defense program, but both the Louisiana Public Defenders Association and the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers questioned whether Foti has the power to modify the system. The state may be forced to release up to 4,000 defendants [JURIST report] who have awaited representation in prison for over six months.
Earlier this month, Judges Arthur Hunter and Calvin Johnson of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court [official website] suspended all publicly-defended prosecutions [AP report] in their courtrooms, citing the dearth of public defenders since the indigent defense program downsized from 42 lawyers to six. On Thursday, Judge Hunter called for state legislators to appear in his courtroom in March to discuss the scarcity of funding for the program. Henry Weinstein of the Los Angeles Times has more.