St. John Parish indigent defenders run service on ultra-tight, shoestring budget

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – The St. John Office of the Indigent Defender found itself with a near $70,000 balance for 2005, but that doesn’t mean additional spending for the department, according to Chief Indigent Defender Richard B. Stricks.

The majority of the $400,000 income brought in by the Office of the Indigent Defender is done so through court costs assessed in adult courts, according to their annual budget report. The department is not funded by St. John Parish, which means the court costs are primarily their only source of income.

&#8220One month we get $60,000, one month we get $4,000,” Stricks said.

&#8220It’s ridiculous to expect a government agency to go month-to-month with no fixed sort of income.”

This doesn’t stop their dedicated attorneys, however. Some have been commuting great distances to ensure their clients have public defenders. Stricks said that two of the office’s attorneys are commuting from Baton Rouge, one from Bay St. Louis and one from Metairie who has been flying and driving once a week from Naples, Fla. to make it for cases.

Displaced and dedicated are how Stricks describes the attorneys in his office, especially with an increased caseload since Hurricane Katrina, and constant shortages of lawyers willing to take the cases of the indigent. He did point out that since taking over the office in 1995, there has never been any period of time that they’ve gone into debt, but Stricks feels the office could run smoother if a few changes were implemented.

&#8220We should be funded a fixed amount from the state or parish or some combination, and that money can be distributed according to a reasonable budget,” Stricks said. &#8220Our income is completely unrelated to our caseload.” This situation forces Stricks to use their excess money simply to run the office normally.

&#8220The parish provides us with nothing, Stricks said. &#8220If at any point there is a shortfall of funds, we feel it more directly than any other agency.”

For more information, call the Office of the Indigent Defender at (985) 651-6677.