[JURIST] New Orleans Judge Arthur Hunter [NO District Court website] is slated to start reviewing the records of New Orleans prisoners in view of their possible release on Tuesday, the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive], which devastated the city and its court system [JURIST report] last year. Some 6,000 cases are backlogged and only half of the New Orleans courthouse's 12 courtrooms have come back into service since judges returned to the flood-damaged building in June. Hunter says that especially given a shortage of public defenders, many indigent prisoners locked up even before the hurricane haven't talked to lawyers or been charged with crimes; he believes their rights have been being violated for too long and that therefore their releases warrant consideration on a case-by-case basis. Hunter first threatened to begin releasing prisoners [JURIST report] in July after Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco balked at a subpoena to come and explain the unsatisfactory situation.
The Houston Chronicle Sunday quoted Hunter as asking: "How long do you expect people to wait in jail to see a lawyer? We have people in Guantanamo appointed council, but our own citizens can't see a lawyer." There is minimal support within the New Orleans criminal justice system, however, for Hunter's proposal. New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan [Wikipedia profile] told the Chronicle: "We're all suffering the effects of the storm. Simply releasing all defendants because the public defender's office is not fully functional is an injustice and undermines public safety." The Houston Chronicle has more.