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Op-Ed: The Many, Many Problems With New Orleans’ Public Defender System

lead_large (CityLab) – The city’s chief public defender discusses persistent hurdles to adequately defending the poor in court.

On September 3, Tina Peng, a lawyer in New Orleans’ much beleaguered Public Defenders Office, which is facing furloughs and layoffs due to poor funding structures, decided to take her case to the American public. In an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post, she did for her office what she often does for her indigent clients when appearing before judges: She plead for mercy.

Wrote Peng:

I went to law school to be a public defender. My frustration with our office’s persistent underfunding is not that it forces me to work long hours, represent numerous clients or make far less money than I would at a private law firm. It is that when we are constantly required to do more with less, our clients suffer. …

Our office represents 85 percent of the people charged with crimes in Orleans Parish but has an annual budget about a third the size of the district attorney’s. The American Bar Association recommends that public defenders not work on more than 150 felony cases a year. In 2014, I handled double that.

Read the complete story here.

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