NOLA Judge Jails Public Defender

This is absolutely astonishing.

The chief judge in the city’s juvenile courts had a top public defender arrested Tuesday in a bizarre escalation of a fight over changes in the city’s troubled program for representing indigent defendants.

The judge, David Bell, was upset that no public defender was in his courtroom when he was ready to start this morning, and he drove to the defender’s office and waited outside for Stephen Singer, the chief of trials, to arrive.

The judge took Mr. Singer to his courtroom, where he found him in contempt for not being prepared to provide representation and ordered him jailed for 36 days, three days for each of the 12 items on Tuesday’s docket. Mr. Singer then spent about five hours in jail before a state appeals court stayed the order.

The New Orleans criminal justice system has been in a heightened state of crisis since Katrina. If there aren't enough public defenders to go around, the state needs to increase the funding to hire more of them -- not blame the already overworked, overburdened current defenders who are doing more than their fair share of the work.

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    something tells me (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Tue Jan 09, 2007 at 11:37:54 PM EST
    this is going to come back to bite judge bell on the ass. this was ego, pure and simple. i hope the appeals court slaps him on the face, not the wrist.

    I agree with cpinva (none / 0) (#2)
    by Edger on Wed Jan 10, 2007 at 11:57:31 AM EST
    And I think Bell lost his composure, was determined that 'someone will pay for this', and scapegoated the handiest target he could think of.

    So far two messengers have been shot (none / 0) (#3)
    by JSN on Wed Jan 10, 2007 at 12:59:32 PM EST
    (the Judge & the PD). The legislature and Governor are out of the line of fire.

    It is the duty of PDs to be present in court... (none / 0) (#4)
    by Bill Arnett on Wed Jan 10, 2007 at 01:11:10 PM EST
    ...to defend clients THAT ARE VERY LIKELY IN JAIL and don't have the luxury of showing up or not on the day their case is scheduled to be heard.

    Don't get me wrong, I greatly admire attorneys who become PDs, knowing they will be faced with near insurmountable case loads, difficult access to clients (in NOLA), at a fraction of the money they might make in private practice.

    BUT, if I were one of those having sat in jail for months while they try to get operational again I would personally stand up and cheer the actions of the judge.

    If there was a scheduling conflict it should have been resolved PRIOR to time to appear for they are, after all, there to represent someone, not make excuses as to why no one showed up for hearings.

    And it cuts both ways. I have seen many a judge, when an attorney shows up late, whose very first words to the attorney were, "Sir, I hope you have your checkbook with you so that you don't wind up in the holding tank and on your way to jail tonight...."

    And being imprisoned is not a choice, most often, so why should a prisoner have to tolerate continuances for absent attorneys who do have free will and the ability to exercise it.

    Sorry, but I think the judge did the right thing, and that he should aggressive in maintaining control of his courtroom.

    Freedom and actions to defend it first.

    But (none / 0) (#5)
    by Claw on Wed Jan 10, 2007 at 02:59:44 PM EST
    Can you imagine a judge doing anything like this to a prosecutor?  I can't.  There was a Des Moines(?) prosecutor who was routinely hours late to court (defense attorneys would take bets on when he would show up), or absent completely.  To my knowledge he never spent a day in jail.  I could be wrong on that, but if he did get any time it was after repeated misconduct...and I'm still pretty sure he didn't.      

    Yes. I have seen prosecutors held in contempt (none / 0) (#6)
    by Bill Arnett on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 03:45:24 PM EST
    and subjected to the same fines and penalties assessed against attorneys in private practice.

    The thing that really struck home to me was that the judge left the bench, went to the PDs office where, apparently, there were no attorneys on duty, and further that he had to WAIT for the chief PD to show up for WORK before he could take him to court and hold him in contempt.

    I know things are horrible in NOLA, but when people in jail depend on you, I think you have an EXTRAORDINARY obligation to be present at all costs, or have another attorney available to appear for you.