Calcasieu Public Defenders Office rolls out restriction of servi - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Calcasieu Public Defenders Office rolls out restriction of services plan

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -

The Calcasieu Public Defender's Office (CPDO) has one clear mission:

"We provide the defense for everyone that's been accused of a crime wherein they face jail time" said District Defender, Jay Dixon. 

With cuts from the most recent state legislative session, that mission is getting a little harder. 

"When we were told what our funds would be from the state, we realized that we're going to have about a $450,000 shortfall" said Dixon.

They [CPDO] began adjusting to that shortfall, thinking of ways to gain more funds that would keep them operating.  A state attempt to increase tickets $20 to be assessed to the PDO failed, but they were able to secure a $10 increase, closing their budget shortfall to just over $200,000.

That still wasn't enough.

"We have stopped paying for continuing legal education for our attorneys... we have stopped paying for travel expenses for our attorney's" Dixon said.  "We've cut everywhere we could before we got to this point".

'This point' Dixon is talking about, is a restriction of services plan that will cause the Calcasieu PDO to withdraw from nearly 400 cases because they just can't afford to keep them. 

"If I simply go on the way I'm operating now and present the same level of representation for everyone, I'll be out of money in March" Dixon said.  "Which means I shut my doors.  If I shut my doors in March, no one is represented" he added.  

The plan means that the cases the PDO withdraws from will be appointed, by judges, to private attorney's within the Southwest Louisiana Bar Association at little or no costs.

"Everyone is going to be represented by counsel" said Dixon.  "Everyone, there are no exceptions, we are appointing someone in every case".

Some lawyers with the SWLA Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers have some concerns though.  They worry about how lawyers will be appointed, their own compensation, their work loads and the supposed role of the public defender.  

Dixon reaffirms that this restriction plan will hopefully be short-term. 

"This is not a long term solution as far as I'm concerned" Dixon said.  "This is really just making sure this office stays open and that most of the clients that we have still have representation by our office".

Copyright KPLC.  All rights reserved. 

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