In a lawsuit filed yesterday, attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center, Jones Walker (New Orleans), Davis, Polk & Wardell (New York), and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law requested class-action status on behalf of more than 20,000 indigents who face criminal charges at any given time, contending that as a group those persons are deprived of their constitutional rights to effective assistance of counsel and equal protection. The lawsuit requests that the Louisiana Supreme Court appoint a monitor to determine how best to fix the problem of indigent defense.
Such a move would be without precedent in Louisiana history. It is difficult to dispute that the system of indigent defense in Louisiana is in shambles. Just last week, Judge James Brady of the Middle District of Louisiana stated in a ruling that it is "clear that the Louisiana Legislature is failing miserably at upholding its obligations" with respect to indigent defense.
Providing adequate defense for indigent criminal defense is not a politically popular thing to do. However, the Legislature needs to rise to the occasion and ensure that the system is adequately funded and passes Constitutional scrutiny.