LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) – Amanda Martin, the chief public defender of the 15th Judicial District Court, held a meeting at Lafayette main public library on Friday to discuss funding and other concerns with hundreds of contractors, staff members and public defenders from Acadia, Vermilion, and Lafayette Parish.
As the first Black woman chief public defender of the office, Martin said, “I don’t look to fail at everything that I do, and that’s why I come this far. I don’t intend to fail in supporting this office and running this office and leading this office, so I will fight to get whatever funds.”
When coming into her position, Martin said that she was told the 15th Judicial District was in trouble and that it wasn’t her fault but her responsibility to get things in order.
There was not enough money for the fiscal year ending June 30th. However, taking on the challenge, Martin plans to do take as she recalls why public defenders chose their desired careers.
“You do public defense not because it’s just the job but because you care about that job. It’s dealing with people’s lives, livelihoods, and all the other circumstances they bring with the issues,” Martin said.
She said that she knew there was a shortage of lawyers and staff along with having to cut $100,000 a month off expenses. Yet while there are 42 districts in the state. Martin said the 15th judicial district office has the state’s second-largest number of cases. However, their department funding is limited because they are being ‘miscalculated,’ and the state does not assess the needs accurately.
“Our funding is limited, so our funding comes from certain sources. It’s just not the state gives us a big check and says, okay, this is what we’re going to have to run this office,” she said. “There are DAF funds, so it is state money. The state gets a certain amount of money, depending on all these meetings, and the board goes in and tells how much money it’s going to take to run every district.”
Martin said in the non-capital fund, there was $150,000 for all 42 districts to use for expert witnesses. At the same time, it is a constitutional right to a fair trial by a public defender based on the sixth amendment.
Could some people not have the best possible defense for their cases if there is limited funding for hiring inspective experts?
“This office will not jeopardize somebody’s case because we won’t have any experts. We will if it’s needed and it’s necessary because everything goes through a process whether it will or will not be approved,” Martin said.
Martin also said that she has been working on getting the state to assess their district as it should be evaluated. There is be a board meeting on Jan. 11 at noon where Martin will discuss getting additional needed funds for the district.