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Louisiana, a Failed State Thanks to Bobby Jindal’s Urge to be President

2016-03-20

An article in the New York Times (NYT) describes the dysfunction of Louisiana’s court system thanks to Governor Bobby Jindal’s efforts to cut taxes and state services in order to look good for a run for the Republican Presidential nomination.  A commenter mentions that there is a $2 billion hole in the state’s budget.  As a result, infrastructure and all state services are being cut back.  The worst affected is the criminal defender’s office, which exists to support the indigent defendant’s right to representation by a lawyer.

Indigent defendants are being told that they cannot have a trial date set because they there is no public defender available to represent them.  For some, this means being in limbo indefinitely; for others, this means being in jail indefinitely because they cannot afford bail.  The state has attempted to draft lawyers to be public defenders, but many of those picked have no criminal experience and make weak trial lawyers.

In Louisiana, unlike almost all other states, defender’s fees are paid out of collected court fines.  Police have been writing fewer tickets and smaller fines are being assessed, but there are still more prisoners in Louisiana than any other state.  Many defendants, for lack of a lawyer, have no court dates set.  Some are at liberty, but others are imprisoned because they cannot pay excessive bails.  Without lawyers, they cannot negotiate lower bails, so they sit in jail indefinitely.

Louisiana was rated in a Politico article recently as the lowest state in the country for quality of life.  The state receives $1.78 for every dollar it pays in to the federal government, typical of Republican-controlled states, most of which do not pay enough in taxes to support the services that the federal government provides.  In addition, state taxes are highly regressive: for example, the state sales tax is 10%.  Meantime, the chemical industry is heavily represented in Louisiana, and pays little or nothing in taxes.

Here are some typical comments posted in response to this article:

Dallee of Florida: No right to speedy trial, one constitutional protection gone. No abiding by Miranda rights, right to self incrimination gone — did you notice that police interrogation was going on without counsel after charges were filed? Right to counsel in a felony denied, Gideon rights gone. Bail set seemingly without regard for community ties and likelihood of appearing on an adjourned date, so the bail standards are unreasonable. Court economics based on fines collected, a problematic system which lead to federal action in Ferguson. Hard to find anything going right in the criminal courts of Louisiana. Shameful.

We can ask, with sarcasm, whether the GOP sure does know how to run a government? No, it doesn’t and the rights of our citizens are being trampled into the ground and their lives destroyed. The Way of the Tea Party is a path to destruction.

infrederick of maryland: It is really simple. The sixth Amendment says they must get a speedy trial and the Supreme court has ruled that if they do not get one they must be released, with the charges dismissed with prejudice. Evidently Louisiana needs to have the Federal Courts tell them flatly: either pay the necessary costs to have a system of Justice so that defendants get a speedy trial with a competent attorney or they go free. Leave it up to Louisiana if they want to raise the needed revenue or not. However if they refuse to raise the more revenue to pay for trials, then they will have to prioritize which cases to try and let the rest go.

Chris Bradfield of Kansas: The poor lack the means to legal defend themselves across the nation.
Amend the laws to state that the government can not spend more the. The defense.
The state has unlimited resources to prosecute a person, who’s life is destroyed as they do not have unlimited resources to defend themselves.
This has become a nation where the justice you receive is based on the amount you can pay…

Paying Attention of Portland, Oregon: This is one side of a very sad and troubling coin; endemic poverty. There is a lot of money in Louisiana, it is just not very evenly distributed. Moreover, the haves have extreme contempt for the have nots. The public education system is an abomination, there are few jobs available for the multitudes of unskilled and poorly educated potential workers and, in a pull yourself up by the bootstrap culture, the rich and the poor blame the poor for their failures.

In sum, it is a third world economy right here in the middle of the USA. And it is not unique to Louisiana. The anger, frustration and fear experienced by those the high tech global economy has left behind is what is fueling Trumpism. The number of voters who support Trump should be a HUUUUGGGEEE wake up call that it is time for some major socialist redistribution. Sanders will never win the election, but his ideas must take root. The accumulation of wealth by the top 5%, let alone the top 0.1%, is unsustainable and will lead to social disorder on a scale that will make Louisiana’s substantial problems look insignificant.

kalpal of Columbus OH: Once upon a time a few decades ago there were lawyers who practiced in storefronts and were funded by the government. Due to their successes at vanquishing evil slumlords and various other wealthy miscreants, their storefronts were shuttered and they were dismissed. After all why should the poor and disenfranchised be represented by willing and competent attorneys at the expense of the miscreants who created the poverty and disenfranchisement?

ccg of New Orleans: Being a Louisiana resident for the last 30 plus years, the real problem is that we just finished 8 years of suffering thru the worst governor in our history – Bobby Jindal. He was basically our George W. Bush in that Jindal followed the neoconservative playbook to a T – cut income taxes and raise sales taxes, give corporations anything they want, and slash all social programs and public services to the bone. Jindal left Louisiana last month with a $900 million hole in this fiscal year’s budget and $2 billion hole in next year’s budget. For a poor state like we are, that is a ton of debt. State colleges and universities have already been cut to the bone to where professors and students are leaving the state, public healthcare has been slashed after Jindal refused to take Obamacare dollars (the new Democratic governor took Obamacare his second day in office), and all law enforcement for the indigent has been decimated as this article describes. Same thing W did to the country and Gov. Brownback has done to Kansas. The worst part in La. now is the Republican controlled House is refusing to raise taxes so is trying to continued Jindal’s failed policies which may result in private hospitals refusing to treat indigent or even Medicaid patients and a new billion dollar LSU teaching hospital could be shuttered. Yet the GOP still cannot figure out why they can’t win presidential elections and their party is in shambles with a blatantly incompetent Trump about to be their leader.

winthropo muchaco of Durham, NC: The article doesn’t mention the fact that all the judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court were sued last year in federal court in New Orleans for using “court” fees they extort from indigent defendants upon pain of languishing indefinitely in jail to pay for as many 19 supplemental medical insurance policies for themselves.

One judge, Camille Buras, formerly chief judge of the court, had a pitifully lax punishment for her role in the scheme handed down by the judicial disciplinary committee of the Louisiana “Supreme” Court: she was required to publish an apology buried in the classified legal notices of the Times Pickyournose and agree to repay the monies she had scammed. Leave it to the Louisiana Supremes to make the characters in Confederacy of Dunces look like geniuses.

Judge Jerry Winsberg, quoted in the article, now retired from the Criminal District Court benefitted for many years from the scheme as well. Crocodile tears for Louisiana’s indigent defendants.

melissa: This story never mentions Gov. Jindal, whose disastrous anti-revenue crusade is behind Louisiana’s fiscal problems. From Eric Levitz, NY Magazine: “When Bobby Jindal moved into the governor’s mansion in 2008, he inherited a $1 billion surplus. When he moved out last year, Louisiana faced a $1.6 billion projected deficit. Part of that budgetary collapse can be put on the past year’s plummeting oil prices. The rest should be placed on Jindal passing the largest tax cut in the state’s history and then refusing to reverse course when the state’s biggest industry started tanking.”

PMJ of Lafayette, LA: Let’s not miss the lining here, which is tarnished but silver. I and other lawyers are devoting countless pro bono hours to the crisis. We were not ordered; we were asked, and we responded. While few of us have done significant criminal work, more experienced members of the bar are mentoring us. You don’t need to work in criminal courts long to know that there is a larger crisis here that goes beyond the justice system. A whole generation of lawyers here will see firsthand what they might otherwise never have experienced, namely, how the really poor live, and how the odds are stacked against them. Call me an unreasoning optimist, but I think it just might lead to progressive change.

 

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