- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - More than 40 percent of Louisiana’s public defender offices ran deficits last year as they struggled to come up with enough money to handle the cases of people too poor to afford their own attorneys, according to an annual report released Monday.

The Louisiana legislative auditor’s office found that 17 public defenders’ offices out of 40 spent more money than they brought in for the budget year that ended June 30, 2013.

To continue operating, districts dipped into reserve funds, a solution the report described as a temporary fix that “seriously depleted most of the local districts’ fund balances.” Public defenders had to do the same practice in 2012, forcing some to restrict services.

The offices have had similar problems for several years. The auditor’s office notes that the Louisiana Public Defender Board requested more money than it received during the budgeting process last year.

Of the 17 offices, Jefferson Parish had the highest deficit at nearly $216,000. The report showed that the state provided more than $607,000 out of Jefferson Parish’s total revenue of $3.2 million. The bulk of Jefferson Parish’s revenue came from local government through fines, forfeitures, fees and court costs. The district’s expenditures amounted to $3.4 million.

Overall, the offices were in better shape than a year earlier. The number running in the red dropped from 29 districts, or nearly 70 percent of public defenders’ offices in the 2012 budget year, when the offices had a shortfall totaling $5 million.

By the 2013 fiscal year, public defenders’ offices overall brought in $45 million in revenue and had expenses totaling $44 million, leaving some offices with money to sock away into reserve accounts.

The auditor’s office recommended that the public defender board require districts that are struggling financially to create individual plans to fix their deficit spending.

The Louisiana Public Defender Board didn’t immediately return calls for comment Monday about the report.

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Online:

The report can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/QAHKfG