I am not sure I can stand this.
According to its own communication director, the New Orleans public defender relies on fines and fees imposed by the court for 41% of its budget (NOLA CityLab here).
New Orleans’ Office of Public Defenders’ communications director Lindsey Hortenstine tells CityLab that court fines constituted 41 percent of the office’s budget in 2014. But public defender services, which assist defendants who can’t afford a private attorney, are otherwise starved of the capital needed to fulfill their obligations, as is much of the city’s court system. So the costs are absorbed by poor defendants who are basically “paying to be prosecuted,” says Adrienne Wheeler, executive director of the New Orleans-based Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana.
Indeed, as reported by the New York Times here, this is part of a broader problem in which these fines and fees also support the courts and the prosecutors.
On Thursday, [six] plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the criminal district court here, among others, alleging that judges and court officials have been running an “illegal scheme” in which poor people are indefinitely jailed if they fall behind on payments of court fines, fees and assessments. The suit describes how fees are imposed with no hearing about a person’s ability to pay, and how nearly all components of the local criminal justice system — the judges, the prosecutors, the public defenders — benefit financially to some degree.
“The extent to which every actor in the local New Orleans legal system depends on this money for their own survival is shocking,” said Alec Karakatsanis, a founder of Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights group, and one of the lawyers who filed the suit. The funding arrangements at the court have been particularly controversial here in recent years, in the wake of allegations of abuses in the way money raised from defendants has been spent.
But in general, said Mr. Karakatsanis, who filed a similar suit in Ferguson, Mo., in February and helped force changes to jailing policies in Montgomery, Ala., last year, “the effort to fund local court systems on the backs of the very poor is not an aberration.”
The article goes into detail about abuse of the fees fund by judges for things like premium health insurance. But the one that goes beyond shocking for me is the inclusion of public defenders.
Unless I get this wrong, the person who is meant to defend you against these charges, and, at least in theory, address whether you can pay them, depends for those fees for 41% of this salary.
Does the word “conflict” not come into mind? See e.g. Tumey v. Ohio
273 U.S. 510 (1927)(reversal; “The question in this case is whether certain statutes of Ohio, in providing for the trial by the mayor of a village of one accused of violating the Prohibition Act of the State, deprive the accused of due process of law and violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, because of the pecuniary and other interest which those statutes give the mayor in the result of the trial.”).
Sounds like all convictions should be voided from when this started to happen, and the contemporaneous objection rules are of no help in saving the conviction when the person who was meant to make the objection had a financial incentive not to do so.