Gang attorneys seek payment from Public Defender's Office

Gang attorneys seek payment from Public Defender's Office

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Defense attorneys in some of the most complex cases ever prosecuted in New Orleans say they have not been paid for hundreds of hours of work. That in spite of the Public Defender's Office being allocated more than $230,000 by the city.

Last week, a jury found Demond Sandifer, Sam Newman and Tyron Harden guilty in the murders of 5-year-old Briana Allen, and 33-year-old Shawanna Pierce. The three men were allegedly members of the 110er's gang.

"I don't believe these defendants have received a constitutional defense," said defense attorney Craig Mordock.

The guilty verdicts in the complex case came after countless hours put in by the defense attorneys.

"Per attorney, we were up to 150 hours. That was just trial time alone," said Brad Phillips, an attorney for Newman.

But none of the attorneys were paid.

"Approximately $230,000 was given to the Public Defender's Office for racketeering cases. Half is gone, with no clear accounting of where it went to," said attorney Stavros Panagoulopoulos.

Because of this, FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti warns, "Going forward, this great tool of the D.A.'s office will be hindered by the indigent defender's office."

Raspanti says the city's inspector general and the state Public Defenders Office should investigate.

"That's what Ed Quatrevaux needs to look at and what Frank Neuner needs to look at, because I do know he's got enough money to send some of his people to New York for continuing legal education and put them in a hotel and feed them," he said.

"We're no stranger to audits. We're straight up," said Orleans public defender Derwyn Bunton.

Bunton says three of his public defenders were recently sent to a seminar hosted by DNA attorney Barry Scheck, but he says all were paid for through training grants, and not out of operations.

"The lawyers who get trained bring back value to our office," said Bunton.

And Bunton says he's regularly audited, and has no fear of more investigation.

Many of the lawyers who have not been paid for hundreds of hours of work are watching another case now working it's way through the courts, as they try to determine how best to proceed.

"It's important for me to know where this money is going," said defense attorney Anthony Ibert.

Attorney Ben Sanders sued for payment to defend another alleged 110er gang member named Charles Brown.

"That lawyer can't claim he needs to be paid when he refuses to go through our office, and has said, he would do it for free," said Bunton.

The attorneys admit they took the cases pro bono.

"I don't believe he owes me anything," said Mordock.

But they say they could have used a portion of the city money to hire defense experts.

"This could not only affect future gang cases, but appeals in the cases right now," said Panagoulopulos.

And more litigation is likely, before the issue is settled. The court fight to get more money out of the Public Defender's Office is now in a state appeals court. A similar fight recently played out in a Baton Rouge court, with a judge there determining that the city needed to allocate $3 million for attorneys defending 19 alleged gang members there.

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