By The Associated Press
August 13, 2012
LAKE CHARLES — Members of the Southwest Louisiana Bar Association are expressing concern over whether criminal defendants will receive adequate representation from civil lawyers under a new arrangement in Calcasieu Parish.
The group this week discussed news that some cases previously handled by the Calcasieu Public Defenders Office are being reassigned to private lawyers — in some cases in civil practice. The office announced earlier this month that because of a $240,000 deficit, it was terminating contracts with five lawyers and withdrawing from about 400 cases.
Bar members asked the Public Defenders Office head Jay Dixon how the cases would be distributed.
Betty Raglin, president of the local bar, questioned whether she as a civil lawyer could provide an adequate defense for a criminal defendant.
Dixon said he rejected the notion that civil lawyers aren’t qualified to handle the cases, saying “all of us started up somewhere, all of us had our first case. Under that theory, none of us could practice law, if that’s the case.”
Dixon said his office has been tasked with distributing the cases, although judges must approve the assignments.
He said he received a roster of Calcasieu lawyers from the state Supreme Court and whittled that list down to 388 attorneys.
The list excludes judges and prosecutors.
He said he already has assigned cases, randomly starting with attorneys whose last names start with the letter J.
Lawyers won’t be assigned more than three cases, Dixon said.
He also said the toughest cases remain with the defenders office.