Monday, June 26, 2006

New Orleans

Sorry I have been away, faithful readers. I have recently returned from a trip to New Orleans (for a job interview) and central Mississippi (to see the folks). As luck would have it, I was offered and accepted a job at a New Orleans law firm and have been celebrating ever since. Now all I have to do is pass the bar.

Interestingly enough, CNN recently did a piece on the current situation of the legal system there. Apparently not much progress has been made since Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the legal system's infrastructure. But several steps have been taken to get back on track.
The state bar association has kicked in about $1 million. The Justice Department has awarded the New Orleans indigent defender program $2.8 million -- though the study it sponsored said more than $10 million is needed for the year. And Gov. Kathleen Blanco's call to double to $20 million the amount going to indigent defense for Louisiana was approved last week by the Legislature.
So at least the powers that be understand what's at stake here and have resolved to fix it. The article also hints at severe problems before the hurricane struck and suggests that this disaster could be a blessing in disguise if it leads to a more equitable legal system.

Katrina "removed the pretension that the system was working," he says. "They're now able to start with a clean slate."

To rebuild, this tradition-minded community must come up with not only money but fresh ideas and the political will to make them a reality.

Some changes already have occurred. A board has been selected to oversee the New Orleans indigent defender program, which represents about 85 percent of people arrested.

The program has been cash-starved for years because it's funded primarily by fees tacked on to traffic fines. After Katrina, tickets became nonexistent because everyone had evacuated the flooded city. With little money, three-quarters of the defenders were laid off, leaving thousands of prisoners in legal limbo.

Two judges recently ruled this kind of funding system is unconstitutional. The legal battle is now heading to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which has declared in other cases that reforms are needed.

Although the population has dwindled and the character of the city has been severely altered along with the changing demographics, everyone is determined to bring back the Big Easy. And with billions of dollars in aid coming into the city, few doubt that there will be a substantial economic boom in New Orleans. Hopefully fundamental building blocks of society, like the criminal justice system, will be adequately repaired along with the character and economy. Hopefully New Orleans will be spared this hurricane season.