“It is a pathetic and shameful state of affairs the criminal justice system finds itself,” Judge Arthur Hunter ruled from his bench at Criminal District Court on Friday after a hearing that Gov. Kathleen Blanco declined to attend, despite having been subpoenaed.
Blameco Blanco refused to appear in court after being subpoenaed to testify about Judge Hunter’s release of defendants from Orleans Parish Jails. The issue at hand is some 6000 defendants in OPP; defendants denied the constitutional right to trial.
“After 11 months of waiting, 11 months of meetings, 11 months of idle talk, 11 months without a sensible recovery plan and 11 months of tolerating those who have the authority to solve, correct and fix the problem but either refuse, fail or are just inept, then necessary action must be taken to protect the constitutional rights of people,” Hunter said
Since Katrina, NOLA has lacked resources in the areas of jails and public defenders. But Judge Hunter has been involved with resources as well as constitution.
Hunter earlier this year ruled unconstitutional the way the state pays for public defense, a formula that relies heavily on court fees and traffic court fines. Nowhere else in the country does a criminal court system use such an inconsistent, unfair formula to pay for lawyers to represent the poor, said Ronald Sullivan, a Yale professor hired by the Indigent Defender Board to act as a consultant and all-purpose fixer for the system. Even pre-Katrina, OIDP did not provide the level of service that the Sixth Amendment commands,” Sullivan testified before Hunter. “OIDP today is at about half the capacity from its pre-Katrina days.” In another statement issued Friday, Hunter said that, with 6,000 cases looming, it is time for District Attorney Eddie Jordan to start “the process of determining which cases can be prosecuted.”
Hmmm, note to self: Tell Ash that her speed trap ticket fine will be used to fund a criminal’s public defender.
Sorry, back to biz…
Between ruined evidence, relocated cops and absent witnesses, there is little to hold some “criminals” in jail. Judge Hunter sees that. He called on state assistance. He got nothing, and he is doing the right thing. He is letting the “criminals” go.
Hunter made his emergency order and ruling during a four-hour morning session in his courtroom. His docket included the cases of six inmates — still the maximum number of jailed pretrial defendants allowed at one time in court due to security concerns since the courthouse reopened June 1.
When one inmate told Hunter he had been jailed for three months without arraignment, Hunter said, “I know. The criminal justice system is in question. You’re not the only one.”
In another case, prosecutors announced they were dropping a possession of crack cocaine charge against Lisa M. Monroe, 41, a woman with prior convictions for theft, forgery and cocaine possession. Monroe was arrested on the crack charge May 2 and has been in jail since.
Pipes dropped the charge and requested Monroe be released Friday.
“I wish you’d do that on about 5,999 cases,” Hunter replied.
New Orleans has a judge operating within constitutional boundaries. Half the city is gone. These things would make one think that a Free City Project might be more successful than a Free State Project– at least early on.