Oct. 21, 2014
By Lauren Rivera, Senior Associate
In April 2013, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore held a meeting with suspected members of various local violent groups in an effort to dismantle criminal organizations in Louisiana. Among those summoned by Moore were members and associates of the “Big Money Block Boyz,” one of about 30 active street gangs in Baton Rouge, an organization based out of the criminally concentrated Gardere area. The group is believed to be responsible for years of heavy narcotics trafficking, several shootings, and other acts of violence throughout the parish. At the meeting, community leaders and local law enforcement agencies warned members of the Block Boyz that if the group failed to heed their warning and another homicide occurred, the entire group would become the subject of an investigation.
Among those in attendance at the meeting was Trevor Georgetown, an 18 year-old male and known Block Boyz member. On June 6, 2014, only a few short months following the meeting, an 18 year-old Honduran man, Franklin “Franco” Ely Lara-Solis, was shot and killed. According to East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, Georgetown bragged about the June 6 shooting, even going so far as to show the murder weapon to witnesses. Based on his known affiliation with the Block Boyz, Georgetown’s actions gave local law enforcement the support it needed to target the entire group.
Almost immediately, the Louisiana State Police, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Baton Rouge Police Department, and the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office began a multi-agency investigation into the criminal activity of the Block Boyz from 2007 to 2014.
On February 7, 2014, with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Marshals Service, local law enforcement conducted an early morning “Round-Up” operation that resulted in 27 arrests. The arrests resulted from two indictments handed down from a 19th Judicial District Court grand jury on February 6, 2014. The first 24-count indictment included charges of murder, attempted murder, and criminal conduct. A separate 15-count indictment alleged charges of group racketeering, various drug offenses, and conspiracy. Nineteen members of the group requested public defenders.
Both the United States Constitution and the Louisiana Constitution give every criminal defendant a fundamental right to counsel regardless of financial means. Under normal circumstances, the public defenders office is responsible for appointing an attorney from its office to defend the accused wrongdoer, as he or she is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, as is all too often the case in jurisdictions across the country, the Public Defenders Office of Baton Rouge is overburdened and under-resourced. The court, therefore, deemed the office unequipped to handle the complexity of the multi-defendant case.
Consequently, the Honorable Judge Trudy M. White of the 19th Judicial District Court (JDC) appointed 19 private attorneys outside of the Public Defender’s Office to represent the accused. The majority of the firms appointed were large, local, and regional private law firms with respected reputations, yet most have little to no experience in criminal defense work. Based on their inexperience, a number of the appointed law firms chose to hire and independently enlist the help of experienced criminal attorneys in the area. All 19 law firms reserved the right to seek compensation for their services.
Baton Rouge criminal defense practitioners James Borne and John DiGiulio joined Michael Walsh of Taylor, Porter, Brooks and Phillips to file a motion to determine a source of funds that would provide for competent and compensated defense counsel and litigation assistance costs in the charges brought against the accused.
The motion involved the interplay of two separate, yet immutably joined, constitutional rights under both the United States and Louisiana constitutions—the right to counsel and the right to property. The argument advanced by the appointed law firms centered on the failure of the Louisiana Legislature to provide adequate funding to compensate appointed counsel in difficult cases such as this. Relying heavily upon federal and state constitutional rights, the appointed law firms jointly argued that by failing to provide funds, the court not only violated the indigent defendant’s constitutional right to counsel, but the court also violated the property rights of those appointed by imposing a heavy uncompensated burden on each law firm. The argument stressed the unreasonableness of the burden and sought a determination from the court that by forcing these attorneys to spend countless, uncompensated hours properly defending this case amounted to a taking of their private property in violation of Louisiana Constitution Article I, Section 4.
On July 3, 2014, a hearing was held to determine whether it was the state of Louisiana’s duty to fund the defense of the 19 indigent persons accused of criminal wrongdoing, and if so, whether sufficient funds existed to reimburse the court-appointed attorneys in this matter. The unprecedented nature of the circumstances surrounding this case gave the 19th JDC an opportunity to decide, as a matter of first impression, whether Louisiana would follow the trend adopted throughout the country and hold that when the burden on an attorney appointed to represent an indigent becomes excessive, it is deemed a taking of private property without just compensation.
By order dated August 12, 2014, Judge Trudy M. White, citing the United States and Louisiana constitutional rights to counsel, found that “it is the State’s obligation to fund the defense of the indigent defendants.” Moreover, Judge White’s order stated that “if the requirements placed on appointed counsel are unreasonable this results in an unconstitutional taking of the appointed counsel’s property rights.” Following the hearing, counsel for each of the indigent defendants submitted budgets to the court for in camera inspection. The court found the budgets equitable and determined $3 million to be “a reasonable amount of money to be allocated to the defense of the indigent defendants.” The budget included an allocation of funds to cover experts and investigators, as the court believed such expenses “necessary in order to prepare a competent and proper defense in this case.” Accordingly, the 19th JDC stayed the case for 60 days to allow the state to fund the $3 million necessary for the defense.
It is the state of Louisiana’s position that it does not have the funds to pay for the defense in this case. According to the order, if the State fails or refuses to pay the legal fees and expenses associated with the defense, the stay will remain in effect and a hearing will be held, “at which time the State, through the Legislature, will be ordered to show cause why the indigent Defendants should not be released without bond” until sufficient funds are made available.
Because there is a clear constitutional right recognized in Article I, Section 13, of the Louisiana Constitution that requires the State to provide adequate funding for indigent defendants, the case cannot constitutionally move forward without a means and method of payment. Thus, although the August 12th decision is a significant victory for the appointed law firms, there remains no state plan to secure the $3 million defense costs. At the July 3, 2014 hearing, state and local officials testified that there is no money available to pay these costly legal fees. According to the testimony, the State has already developed a budget for 2014-2015 and is unable to reshuffle these funds due to its current financial status.
As the old saying goes, you cannot squeeze blood from a turnip. Consequently, unless the State is able to identify and make a source of funding available within the 60-day stay period, the 19 indigent defendants—some of whom are considered among the most violent in the city—may find themselves free to walk the streets of Baton Rouge in the near future.
 Jillian Corder, 27 Arrests in Criminal Organization “Round Up” in Baton Rouge Area, KNOE (Apr. 10, 2014, 6:43 PM), http://www.knoe.com/story/25219288/27-arrests-in-criminal-organization-round-up-in-baton-rouge-area, archived at http://perma.cc/65PJ-ZNJU.
 Ben Wallace, BR Gang Crackdown Nets Nine Arrests by BRAVE, The Advocate (July 6, 2013), http://theadvocate.com/home/6428159-125/br-gang-crackdown-nets-nine, archived at http://perma.cc/W6VZ-QALM.
 Ben Wallace, SWAT Team Net Drugs, Guns in “Block Boyz” Crackdown, The Advocate (Feb. 9, 2014), http://theadvocate.com/home/8317039-125/swat-teams-net-drugs-guns, archived at http://perma.cc/4AWC-7S4A.
 Corder, supra note 1.
 See U.S. Const. amend. IV, VI; La. Const. art. I, § 4; La. Const. art. I, § 13.
 Ivan J. Dominguez, Louisiana State Court Judge Orders Funding of Defense in Complex Case Involving Indigent Defendants in Order for Case to Proceed, NACDL (Aug. 14, 2014), http://www.nacdl.org/NewsReleases.aspx?id=34193, archived at http://perma.cc/D7JE-WP8M.
 See generally State v. Turner, No. 04-14-0382 (19th J.D.C., Aug. 12, 2014),
 State v. Turner, Motion to Determine Source of Funds, No. 04-14-0382 (19th J.D.C., June 17, 2014), available at https://www.nacdl.org/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=34186, archived at http://perma.cc/UD4D-92M2.
 With respect to the rights of the accused, Louisiana Constitution Article I, Section 13, provides in pertinent part: “At each stage of the proceedings, every person is entitled to assistance of counsel of his choice, or appointed by the court if he is indigent and charged with an offense punishable by imprisonment. The legislature shall provide a uniform system for securing and compensating qualified counsel for indigents.” La. Const. art. I, § 13. With respect to property rights, the court appointed attorneys in this matter claimed to have a constitutional right to earn a living. Article I, Section 4 provides in pertinent part: “Property shall not be taken or damaged by the State or its political subdivisions except for public purposes and with just compensation paid to the owner or into court for his benefit . . . and the owner shall be compensated to the full extent of his loss.” La. Const. art. I, § 4.
 State v. Turner, Motion to Determine Source of Funds, No. 04-14-0382 (19th J.D.C., June 17, 2014).
 Dominguez, supra note 11.
 Most recently, the Supreme Court of South Carolina, in Ex Parte Brown, held an attorney’s services constitute “property” for purposes of the Fifth Amendment; thus, the denial of any compensation for an involuntary appointed attorney was considered an unconstitutional taking of his property without just compensation. 711 S.E.2d 899, 904–05 (S.C. 2011); State v. Lynch, 796 P.2d 1150, 1164 (Okla. 1990) (holding that compulsory appointment of lawyers to represent indigent defendants without providing post-appointment opportunity to show cause why they should not be required to accept appointment or without providing adequate, speedy and certain compensation for such representation, is an unconstitutional taking of private property); Arnold v. Kemp, 813 S.W.2d 770, 776 (Ark. 1991) (holding that statutory expense and fee caps imposed on court-appointed attorneys for indigent clients accused of crimes was excessive and constituted a “taking” of property by limiting attorneys to mere award of $1,000 for work and skills); Jewell v. Maynard, 383 S.E.2d 536, 546–547 (W.Va. 1989) (holding that involuntarily appointed counsel was entitled to “at least $45 per hour for out-of-court work and $65 per hour for in-court work”); Delisio v. Alaska Superior Court, 740 P.2d 437, 443 (Alaska 1987) (holing that private attorneys cannot be compelled to represent indigent criminal defendants without just compensation, as doing so would be a violation of the state’s Takings Clause).
 State v. Turner, No. 04-14-0382 (19th J.D.C., Aug. 12, 2014).
 Dominguez, supra note 11.