August 17, 2020

Jason Rogers Williams

Criminal Justice Committee Reviews Ordinances to Establish Funding Parity for the Public Defender's Office and Address the Unfairness of Court Fees Collection

Criminal Justice Committee Reviews Ordinances to Establish Funding Parity for the Public Defender's Office and Address the Unfairness of Court Fees Collection

NEW ORLEANS - Today's City Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting opened with consideration of a resolution addressing the collection of fines and fees in Criminal District Court. This "user pay" system has existed as a means to fund the system for generations. During the past several decades, significant amounts of money have been extracted from the poorest New Orleanians serving no real public safety benefit but rather increasing the wage gap.

The City has increased the Court's funding in recent budget cycles as it has lessened its reliance on collecting fines and fees following federal court rulings that the long-standing practice presented a clear and problematic judicial conflict of interest. However, recent action at the State Legislature permits the harmful practice to continue with a slight alteration whereby the City temporarily holds and returns the collected funds to the Court.

"We are not suggesting that anyone should be allowed to offend without being held accountable, but that those tools we traditionally use are not best or appropriate in all circumstances," said Criminal Justice Chair and Council President Jason Rogers Williams. "This recent action at the State Legislature does not represent a fix to the root issue of inequity and wealth extraction from poor communities. We have a duty to propose and make real change when it is needed, and it is desperately needed in the area of judge ordered fines and fees on poor people."

The Committee also considered Ordinance 33,093 to achieve parity between the City's funding of its Public Defender's and District Attorney's (DA's) Offices. For every dollar the Public Defender's Office receives, the DA receives two, not including the in-kind support provided by the City and the supplemental resources of the Police Department. 


Jerome Morgan, Co-Founding Co-Director of Free-Dem Foundations, joined the Committee to tell his harrowing personal story of the far-reaching effects of a lack of parity for public defense. Mr. Morgan, an exoneree who at 17 years old, was unjustly accused and later wrongfully convicted of murder, implored the Committee to take immediate action.


"This problem of inequitable funding has dismantled families and destroyed our communities," said Morgan. "We need to level the playing field fast if we wanna be fair and revive our most vulnerable communities. If not, this advantage will continue to seed the racism it has caused."


"Today's resolution is an important step toward ending the harms fines and fees pose to our most vulnerable communities coming into contact with the criminal legal system. This system should be funded by government revenue, and today's resolution helps normalize that practice," added Executive Director of Vera Institute Will Snowden.

Councilmember Williams continued saying, "What happens in the early stages of a case has a profound impact on the life of the accused. We have achieved national notoriety as one of the most incarcerated places in the nation, with one of the highest rates of wrongful convictions. This shows that very unfair and tragic consequences result from our lack of parity. Public Defenders are on the front lines of the fight for a population that is too often discounted and whose voices are almost entirely taken away. They deserve, and our residents deserve, for public defenders to be given the resources necessary to provide the legal assistance our residents are constitutionally guaranteed under the law."





Media Contact:

Keith D. Lampkin

Office of Jason R. Williams, Council-At-Large

(504) 758-8913

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