An Orleans Parish judge said Friday that he will begin releasing pretrial inmates this summer unless the Legislature sends money to pay public defenders, ensuring poor defendants their constitutional right to a lawyer.I would say that justice is an essential service, like police, fire, and medical. But, work is only beginning now in earnest to reopen the Criminal District Court building at Tulane and Broad, the place where justice is served:
In four months, Hunter noted, it will be one year since Katrina made landfall, yet people "have been waiting in jail pre-Katrina and post-Katrina to have their cases heard and victims, victims' family members and witnesses have also been waiting to testify and seek closure."
All the while, poor defendants awaiting trial have been denied not only the right to adequate legal representation, but also the right to have an attorney at all, Hunter wrote.
Workers from the Shaw Group will go into the building on Monday, and barring unforeseen delays, several courtrooms and other key offices should be ready for occupancy by May 1, eight months after Hurricane Katrina flooded the courthouse.The poor have no public voice. People accused of crimes have no public voice. Therefore, it is no surprise that poor defendants are having their constitutional rights denied. No one is telling their story.
Although judges have been using a room at the U.S. District Court to hold hearings, they can't hold jury trials there. "There's no place to put juries" at the temporary site, Judge Raymond Bigelow told the council Thursday.
Before Katrina, Judge Camille Buras said, the court had 3,500 inmates awaiting trial. It has been able to handle fewer than 200 cases a week at federal court. "We are way past due process times," she said.
Criminals should go to jail. However, without a jury trial, we do not know who the criminals are. In the meantime, everyone awaiting a trial that is long overdue – guilty and innocent – is in jail.
That is not liberty and justice for all.