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The Challenge of Rebuilding Louisiana's Legal System

by TChris

Half of the practicing attorneys in Louisiana lost their offices. The evidence room of the Orleans Parish Criminal Courts building is under water. Congress is allowing federal courts headquartered in New Orleans to set up shop elsewhere, but it's not so easy for Louisiana's state courts to relocate.

At emergency meetings in Baton Rouge, prosecutors and defense attorneys are debating how to alter laws that give judges authority only in stretches of Louisiana where courthouses have been destroyed.

Other problems will confound Louisiana's legal system. Will defendants who can't receive a speedy trial because of the hurricane be entitled to a dismissal? How long will they remain in pretrial detention while prosecutors rebuild files and police try to recover evidence that may have floated away?

Some crimes that were under investigation may go uncharged. In some cases, the statute of limitations for charging may expire. The governor has signed an executive order suspending all limitations periods, but her authority to do so is unclear.

Also unclear is the time frame for the legal system's recovery from the disaster.

Up to eight district attorneys offices were flooded or destroyed, said Pete Adams, president of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.

"There is going to be a big backlog, that is all that anyone can be sure of," Adams said. "I can't really guess when we will be returning to any sense of normalcy. We're not going to give up, though."

Government lawyers might not give up but, as Last Night in Little Rock predicted, some private lawyers may decide to move on to new careers. The most pressing question in the Louisiana criminal defense community has to be: what will happen to the 4,500 jailed defendants who haven't been charged or are awaiting court proceedings?

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  • Will somebody remind me why they developed a coastal city located between a massive lake and the Mississippi River and below sea-level? Seriously, I couldn't even begin to guess how they'll deal with it. As I understand it, their court system was not highly regarded to begin with.

    Re: The Challenge of Rebuilding Louisiana's Legal (none / 0) (#2)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:36 PM EST
    Larry:
    Will somebody remind me why they developed a coastal city located between a massive lake and the Mississippi River and below sea-level?
    It's a trade gateway... Re: The Challenge of Rebuilding Louisiana's Legal (none / 0) (#3)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:36 PM EST