NEW ORLEANS – Prosecutors from outside the metropolitan area have been brought into New Orleans to help clear a huge backlog of cases, a special panel working on the city's troubled criminal justice system said Monday.
The panel, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee appointed by Mayor Ray Nagin, said prosecutors from neighboring Jefferson Parish are helping the Orleans Parish district attorney's office screen arrests for possible prosecutions as the city struggles to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Assistance also is being sought from other parishes.
The committee also is pushing for more private lawyers to work as public defenders for poor defendants.
Criminal District Judge Arthur Hunter has said that unless officials act swiftly to fix the public defenders' office, he will begin on Aug. 29 releasing defendants whose trials have been delayed.
Court officials said Hunter's ruling could affect up to 6,000 defendants, though the state is planning to appeal his ruling.
The Orleans Parish indigent defender program had 70 attorneys before Katrina, but officials say it now has fewer than 30. Almost three-quarters of the parish's public defender program is funded by traffic fines and fees, which dropped drastically after the storm.
Along with prosecutors and public defenders, the police force also has needed reinforcements.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco sent the Louisiana National Guard and state police to New Orleans after five teenagers were shot to death in a single attack.
The Guard was assigned to patrol largely deserted, flooded-out areas where looting was still a problem since the hurricane. Police task forces were then reassigned to beats in troubled neighborhoods where violence had been increasing.