Since 2017 public defenders offices with a budget deficit have more than doubled from 10 districts to 22.
Public defense in Louisiana is reliant on unpredictable conviction and user fees for the bulk of its funding. For the fourth year in a row, public defense offices have run a budget deficit, with last year’s COVID closures exacerbating their lack of funding and jeopardizing the quality of legal defense for the poor. In 2020, traffic filings dropped by almost 25 percent and courts closed statewide, devastating local collections. District 20’s revenue plunged from $439,213 to $241,584, a 55 percent decline in 2020. When local funding does not meet expectations attorneys are furloughed to keep offices afloat. To curb further financial challenges the state legislature increased appropriations to public defenders during the 2021 legislative session, however, it may not carry district offices to the end of the year.
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