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Reveal: If You Can't Afford A Lawyer

Anna Vignetfor Reveal

If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you — that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But in New Orleans, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton, the lawyer in charge of representing poor people accused of crimes, is saying no. His office doesn’t have enough money or time to do a good job, he says, so he’s refusing some serious cases, which is jamming up the courts and leaving hundreds of people stuck in jail with no lawyer.

Bunton’s goal? To break the system in order to fix it.

So far, Bunton has earned the ire of a few judges and skepticism from the city’s district attorney. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued his office.

We go inside the mass shooting case that sent Bunton on this path, and trace the ripple effects of his plan on the lives of the people accused of crimes, left in limbo without legal representation.

Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

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