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Prosecution halted in La. for 42 who lack counsel

NEW ORLEANS -- An irate judge halted the prosecution of 42 criminal defendants yesterday, saying the city's underfunded public defender's office isn't providing adequate representation.

State Judge Arthur Hunter also ordered 16 of the defendants released from jail even though they have not made bail. However, he acknowledged that a state appeals court would not allow that to happen immediately.

Hunter had ordered the 42 people freed last month but delayed that ruling until a hearing yesterday. He has not dismissed the charges, most of which are drug-related.

Hunter also set a May 7 hearing for dozens of other defendants who he said are poor but cannot get adequate representation from the Office of Indigent Defenders.

"I'm up to an additional 40 people since March 26 who don't have lawyers, period," Hunter said Tuesday. "It's not inadequate representation in these cases, it's no representation."

At the hearing, Republican state Representative Danny Martiny, who chairs a legislative task force on indigent defense, said he's filing a bill that would set up a statewide indigent defense board, replacing the state's 41 local boards.

"The bill would transfer power to a single public defenders board," Martiny said.