THE INVESTIGATORS: Chief Public Defender addresses complaints against her office
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - After dozens of employees have walked out of the EBR Public Defender’s Office recently, Chief Public Defender Lisa Parker addressed the complaints head on in an exclusive interview with the 9News Investigators.
A lot has been said about what’s going on in the office, which is meant to defend folks when they can’t afford to defend themselves. Parker says all amounts to change at the top and she says change is not always easy.
”And I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing for over 25 years, serving persons who can’t afford to hire counsel on their own,” said Parker.
Parker has been in the role for just over a year and in that time she has been criticized primarily for how many people have left the office during her tenure. State Representative C. Denise Marcelle has been one of the strongest critics of the situation, saying 30 people have left since Parker took over.
“First, we’ve only lost about 17 attorneys that have left the office in my first year. We’ve also hired 13 staff attorneys and 14 contract attorneys so the attorneys that have left have been replaced,” said Parker. “When you change the top, people leave.”
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Parker if she believes the departures were just because of the changes or because of her.
“Well what I can say is Lisa Parker can’t be responsible for people’s decisions to make a change in their career and that’s what I look at it as. They made a career decision that I can’t control,” Parker added.
Marcelle tells WAFB more folks continue to run for the door, saying one woman walked out just last week and there’s no way she could have been replaced yet.
”They quit on the spot on Friday. A person who had been at that office as an attorney for eight years quit and didn’t even give notice. They just quit and had had enough,” Rep. Marcelle said.
Another allegation is that the workload has tripled and employees have had to tackle assignments even on the weekends to keep up without being paid for the extra work. Parker says, like many other offices, they are facing challenges and trying to do more with less. In some instances, she says attorneys are taking on as many as 200 cases. Parker says the main problem is the office is just not being funded properly.
“If we could have funding where we could actually hire enough attorneys to lower the case load for all of the attorneys that would be great,” said Parker.
“I serve on the committee with Senator Barrow in order to find ways to get them more money. She’s had more money this year than Mike Mitchell ever had and not all the problems so it’s got to boil down to management for me,” Rep. Marcelle added.
A committee looked into the office earlier this year, interviewing a number of employees there. Ultimately they found the bulk of the issues came from some changes made under Parker. Representative Marcelle says that review though did not get to the meat of her complaints and she has even called for parker to step down.
“Absolutely I still want that and it’s not necessarily that I want to take money off of her table but I think they need to move her to a smaller jurisdiction, something that she’s more comfortable with.. perhaps in the parish that she came from in St. John,” said Rep. Marcelle. “This parish is different and it’s larger and she didn’t have this many employees and she had only been there five minutes before they promoted her over here. I think it was a mistake and I think that the job is much more than she can handle.”
“People are going to have complaints. Everybody is not going to be happy when changes are made,” said Parker. “I understand her passion for the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish and I too have passion for the citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish and that’s why I continue to strive at making sure the clients are properly represented.”
Parker says she has no plans to step down. She also says she must be doing something right because she’s recently been named the interim Chief Public Defender for the 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension Parish.
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