BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana's public defender system is the target of a potential class action lawsuit.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the lawsuit would impact roughly 20,000 people in Louisiana. They are people who were charged with noncapital criminal charges in Louisiana and were issued a public defender.
The basis of the lawsuit is a new report by public defense expert Robert C. Bourchowitz describes how the state's overburdened public defense system has failed to protect the constitutional right to counsel for those 20K defendants. The entire report is attached at the end of this article.
"The report we filed today documents what indigent defendants across the state have long known: Louisiana's public defender system is broken," said Lisa Graybill, SPLC deputy legal director. "This failure has created a two-tiered justice system in Louisiana – one for those with the money for meaningful representation in court and another for the poor that simply churns them through the system without providing them the meaningful defense required by the Constitution."
The potential class action lawsuit was filed Thursday in the 19th Judicial District Court. If a judge signs off on the motion for class certification, this would likely be the largest indigent defense case of its kind.
"Louisiana's public defense system is underfunded, unmonitored, and wholly inadequate," Graybill said. "The failure of the system is a statewide problem, and it calls for a statewide remedy."
The Louisiana Public Defender Board, the state public defender and Gov. John Bel Edwards are defendants in the lawsuit.