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Public Defender: We're Broke

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CLAIM: $1 MILLION SHORTFALL, POSSIBLE LAYOFFS

  The Orleans Parish Public Defender's office was down to $36,000 in the bank and may be unable to make its payroll this month, according to chief parish public defender Derwyn Bunton and Louisiana Public Defender Board Chairman Frank Neuner, who reported the budget problems at a Jan. 18 meeting of City Council's Criminal Justice Committee. According to Bunton, the immediate financial problem results from an alleged failure by the New Orleans Traffic Court to hand over monthly indigent defendant fees, which were due Jan. 10.

  Even if that's resolved, the office still faces a $1 million shortfall for the year and may have to lay off as many as 14 staff members, Bunton said. The office already has instituted a hiring freeze and suspended payments to contractors in an attempt to save money, but Bunton said those measures have only delayed more significant service restrictions, including the release of defendants who've been held in jail too long without representation.

  "We should expect those fairly soon, in the next 30 to 60 days, unless something drastically changes," Bunton said. — Charles Maldonado

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