After months in Orleans jail with no lawyer, defendants seek fre - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

After months in Orleans jail with no lawyer, defendants seek freedom

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

Private attorneys who have been assigned to indigent clients with troubling records are trying to either get money to defend them or get them out of jail.

They argued their case before an Orleans Criminal Court judge Tuesday as the public defenders crisis appeared to be widening.

Defendants - like Darrian Franklin charged with second-degree murder and Malcolm Smith charged with armed robbery have gone hundreds of days without an attorney.

"Something should have been done a long time ago," said Lynell Jones, the mother of  defendant Henry Campbell.

Seven defendants were finally appointed private attorneys after the public defender recused himself from their cases due to a lack of funds. But those private attorneys now say the defendants' rights were violated and they should go free.

"When you've been sitting three years, there's a real problem with the system," said Greg Carter, who was appointed to represent Campbell.

Campbell was charged in August with  battery of a jail employee, but Campbell sat in jail for 234 days before he got a lawyer.

"There's serious damage done when you are not out there interviewing witnesses, and while you are sitting in jail," said Tulane law professor Pam Metzger, who filed the suit.

On the stand Tuesday, public defender Derwyn Bunton said if you think funding is bad now, it's about to get much worse. He said  62 percent in cuts to the state public defender system are now being discussed.

"The proposed budget is devastating, and we must follow and monitor what goes on in this Legislature," Bunton said.

Metzger said other states provide better funding.

"Most of them provide a predictable budget well in advance in the fiscal year, where public defenders can plan," she said.

But that's not the case here. Funding depends on collected fees, which often vary. And attorneys say it's not  enough.

"My client shouldn't have to sit in jail while they work out  the budget. Because while they go home every night, my client sits in Orleans Parish Prison," said Carter.

An assistant district attorney asked for and got a delay in a hearing on whether the seven defendants should be released, but the issue remains far from settled.

Judge Arthur Hunter set a hearing on whether the seven defendants should be released for Thursday, March 31.

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