The Trials of the Public Defender

Overworked and underpaid lawyers serve up a brand of justice that is not always in their clients' best interests

Every day, as he ambles through the cobwebbed halls of the New Orleans criminal court building, public defender Richard Teissier feels he violates his clients' constitutional rights. The Sixth Amendment established, and the landmark Gideon Supreme Court case affirmed, the right of poor people to legal counsel. At any given moment, when Teissier is representing some 90 accused murderers, rapists and robbers, his office has no money to hire experts or track down witnesses; its law library consists of a set of lawbooks spirited away from a dead judge's chambers.

With so many clients and so few resources, Teissier decided he...

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