The head of the New Orleans Public Defender's Office delivered mixed news about the agency's financial health at a joint City Council committee meeting Wednesday.
Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton said extreme budget shortfalls a year and a half ago required spending cuts, layoffs and service retrictions; and revenues for the public defender's office remain at "critically low levels."
But the news isn't all bad. Bunton said the Legislature increased the public defender fee and created a new revenue source for his office: fines generated by seatbelt violations.
"Still, Louisiana remains the only user-pay criminal justice system in the country. That is, we're the only place that relies on fees as heavily as we do to fund our system," Bunton said.
Bunton emphasized his office needs additional funding to handle the existing workload, but the user-pay system is unsustainable.