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Pam Metzger has been waiting for the cavalry to arrive. The Tulane University Law School professor and students from her own criminal law clinic have been working to help repair the damaged criminal justice system in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit 16 months ago. Finally, her patience has paid off. When Metzger received a call from a professor at University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif., asking if 73 students could come down to New Orleans to help represent indigent defendants who had no lawyers, she couldn’t believe her ears. “I thought he said 17 students,” she said. “And then he said, ‘No, 73.’ I sat down on the floor and started crying. All this time, we were waiting for people to come. And then I asked the law students, and they were ready and waiting. Help was there; we just had been asking the wrong people.” Into the jails That call from McGeorge was just the start. Metzger’s law students will be joined by more than 150 law students from 12 law schools during their winter breaks to assist about 30 New Orleans public defenders with a caseload big enough for at least 72 full-time attorneys. Some of the other schools sending the students include Fordham University School of Law in New York; University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln; Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Del.; and Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center in Baton Rouge. The students will travel to New Orleans for weeklong trips during their winter breaks as part of the first formalized effort to battle the backlog of cases in the New Orleans criminal justice system. The project, called Project Gideon, is organized by Metzger and the Student Hurricane Network, a national association of law students and administrators dedicated to providing long-term assistance to communities affected by Hurricane Katrina. The project will require law students to spend their vacations going into the jails and interviewing criminal defendants who have been waiting to see a lawyer for months. Some defendants have been waiting so long that they have already served their maximum possible sentence, Metzger said. Students will attend a training session on their first day in New Orleans at Tulane covering how to conduct and complete interviews, Metzger said. They will be meeting with defendants in misdemeanor and felony cases, but not with capital defendants. The students will be supervised by practicing attorneys or faculty members who join them on the trip. For schools that cannot find enough practicing attorneys to accompany their students, volunteer attorneys in New Orleans will serve as supervisors, said Josie Beets, a second-year law student at Brooklyn Law School who coordinated the winter project for the Student Hurricane Network. The supervising attorneys will review the memorandums written by students following their interviews with the defendants. The final memorandums will be placed in the defendants’ criminal files. Paulino Duran, public defender for Sacramento County, Calif., is traveling as a supervising attorney with the McGeorge School of Law students. “The system there is broken,” he said. I thought I could help another part of the country get on its feet.” While some schools are requiring students to pay their full way, others are footing part or most of the bill. Hurricane Katrina is not to blame for the delay in moving cases through the system, said Craig Famularo, chief of the homicide division at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, which covers New Orleans. “It’s about people wanting to do the work,” he said. “It’s the best strategy for a defense attorney to delay and we think that is what is happening. They have investigators and a public defender in each court. A lawyer just needs to pick up a file and read it and determine what should be done.”

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