- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

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Oct. 2

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on a criminal suspect’s rights:

People who are brought up on criminal charges in America have the right to defend themselves. A criminal suspect’s rights are so well known that a good number of us can list the rights that are enumerated in the Miranda warning. There’s the right to remain silent. There’s the warning that whatever suspects say can be used against them. And there’s the promise that suspects can utilize legal representation - regardless of their ability to afford that representation. If they don’t have enough money to hire a lawyer, one will be provided for them.

That promise of legal representation ought to mean that the provided attorney will have the expertise to be of assistance to the accused. But as a recent report from The Marshall Project reveals, that’s often not the case in Louisiana. In our state public defenders are tragically and chronically underfunded, and some judges are responding to that crisis by conscripting attorneys who have no experience in criminal court.

Imagine Medicaid promising its beneficiaries that they can see a doctor when they’re sick and then directing somebody with a chronic headache to a podiatrist. Imagine a man with high PSA being sent to a gynecologist or a woman with a new, suspicious looking mole being sent to an orthopedist - or maybe an orthodontist. If you can imagine such absurdities, then you have a better understanding of what it’s like for criminal suspects who are facing years - if not decades - in prison to be assigned real estate attorneys or personal injury attorneys or tax attorneys to fight for them.

Or - most likely - not fight for them.

Assigning lawyers who are out of their depth and not getting paid for their representation is a reliable way of increasing the number of guilty pleas - and not just for defendants who are actually guilty. After Caddo Parish provided a 3-hour crash course at its courthouse called “Do’s and Don’t’s of Providing Effective Assistance,” Henry Walker, a Shreveport attorney who’s a former president of the Louisiana criminal defense bar, said, “They just learned how to trust the DA, make quick deals, dispose of the case, and go back to their real jobs.”

If some of the judges were to acknowledge that this is an awful situation, that would increase the pressure on the Louisiana Legislature to do something about it. But Judge Jacque Derr of Winn Parish seems to be of the belief that the job of the defense attorney is to walk a defendant into prison. Listen to what Judge Derr says about Kenneth Bratton who has been accused of multiple counts of burglary, trespassing and damage to property. Ignoring the cornerstone of American jurisprudence which holds that suspects are presumed innocent until proved guilty, Judge Derr tells a reporter, “Ain’t no question that dude did it.” The judge also describes the suspect as a “one-man serial crime wave.” In Mr. Bratton’s case Judge Derr made the unusual move of appointing a local prosecutor, J. Keith Gates, to Mr. Bratton’s. Did Judge Derr make that appointment with the expectation that Mr. Gates will mount a vigorous defense? Apparently not. The judge told The Marshall Project, “Kenny’s got a lawyer. So now we can convict him.”

No defendant should ever have to stand before a judge who has decided that the defendant is guilty and that the lawyer’s there only to give cover to an impending conviction. Nor should any defendant have to depend on prosecutors for their defense.

The Louisiana Legislature has been derelict in its duty to provide funding for indigent defense. Lawmakers routinely ignore poor Louisianans. Poor people accused of crimes get even shorter shrift from the state. However, there is a Constitution that guarantees that poor defendants have legal representation, and the state is all but flouting it when it assigns attorneys who by their own admission don’t know how to do the job they’re being asked to do.

As reported by The Marshall Project, at a June luncheon held by the Shreveport Bar Association, civil attorney Jim McMichael described a conversation he had with a defendant he’s been assigned. He said the defendant threw his arm over the attorney’s shoulders and asked, “Would it help if I told the judge that I also thought you were incompetent?”

What an awful predicament for the defendant. What an awful predicament for the attorneys who are being forced to accept these cases. What an awful predicament for our state.

People arrested in Louisiana are promised that they’ll have legal representation just like people arrested in all our other states. But after hearing that great promise, poor suspects here enter a criminal justice system that makes a mockery of it.

Online:

http://www.nola.com/

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Oct. 2

The Advocate on job growth in the state:

Local gains but overall losses.

Louisiana’s 13 was, classically, not a lucky number, as the state posted that many months of overall job losses in new reports.

Not a good sign, and one that helped to make the state one of the laggards in jobs creation in the nation.

Employer payrolls fell by 7,000 in August to 1.97 million after some relative stability, but losses have been the norm after the dramatic slump in employment in the oil patch.

Used by many economists as their top labor market indicator, payrolls were 19,000 below August 2015 levels.

The Louisiana unemployment rate was flat in August at 6.3 percent. But that separate survey of workers showed lower numbers of people seeking and holding jobs. The number of unemployed Louisianans fell slightly to 134,000 in August.

Lafayette and Houma regions are the main sufferers from declines in oil and gas exploration and production. “The sad thing in all this is that it’s questionable the degree to which those jobs will come back, even if the industry starts to pick back up again,” commented David Dismukes, who heads LSU’s Center for Energy Studies.

It’s the 19th month in Lafayette for year-over-year employment declines. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported, Houma and Lafayette were among the fastest-shrinking job markets in the country.

That is a grim prospect, but the new employment data showed job growth in the oil-consuming regions of the state - Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, where industrial construction is a big driver of the workforce. Industrial expansions added 1,300 construction jobs and 500 manufacturing jobs in Lake Charles, a center of the oil refining industry. There is also big new construction for facilities to export liquefied natural gas to foreign markets.

Baton Rouge is a key economic driver for the state but New Orleans remains the biggest regional market. In the Crescent City, some sectors gained, but there were losses in August in the region in “mining,” which includes oil and gas jobs.

Still, New Orleans was growing in the BEA report about last year, even if not at the pace of Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. The capital region is estimated to host more than 411,000 nonfarm jobs, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Baton Rouge has added jobs year-over-year for every month since January 2011, although the impact of recent flood events has not yet been reflected in the statistics.

Louisiana is thus something of an economic patchwork these days. But if some regions prosper, individuals are likely to assess the situation along the lines of a popular political dictum: When your neighbor loses his job, it’s a recession; when you lose your job, it’s a depression.

Our state is overall still not at the stage of growth that we want.

Online:

http://www.theadvocate.com/

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Sept. 30

The Courier of Houma on the toll of the 2010 oil spill:

The 2010 Gulf oil spill was a horrific event that claimed 11 human lives and did untold amounts of damage to the plants and animals of the Gulf of Mexico as well as to the economies along the Gulf Coast.

Much of that damage can never be undone.

So there is no silver lining in the cloud that still hangs over our region. However, there is good that can be achieved with the huge fines Transocean is paying for its part in the spill.

That is certainly the case with $7.3 million in fine money that will go toward a barrier island restoration project near Grand Isle.

“We are very excited to receive the first grant … and are looking forward to getting this important work started,” Louisiana coastal chief Johnny Bradberry said last week. “This project is located in an area that was heavily impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and is one of the most rapidly disappearing areas in Louisiana. We must act with heightened urgency to address the enormous environmental challenges faced by this region as well as the rest of the coast.”

Our barrier islands and our coastal wetlands are integral parts of our natural defenses. They help protect us from tidal surge during storms. They are natural barriers that have eroded quickly in recent decades.

Any help we can get in rebuilding our defenses is welcome.

And this is one instance of help arriving, one of many to come.

This project, which is being overseen by the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, will build marsh and beach on Grand Terre.

But others will follow. This project is part of a larger plan to use $1 billion in money Transocean is paying as part of its settlement with the federal government over the spill.

BP, which owned the well, will also pay huge fines. And much of that money, too, will go toward coastal projects.

This barrier island project is a great step forward toward recovery from the spill, but that is a journey that may never be fully completed.

A study released last week suggests that some of the spill’s damage to coastal wetlands could be permanent.

Still, it is encouraging to see the beginning of the fine money going toward such a worthwhile purpose.

Many more similar projects will follow, with each playing a significant role in our future protection.

The oil spill’s toll was huge, and some of it cannot be replaced. But this is one place where the fines should bring back some of what was lost.

Online:

http://www.houmatoday.com/

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