News Release

Criminal defense lawyers represent Bill of Rights, judge says

Judges, defense lawyers should unite in indigent reform efforts  

Washington, DC (November 5, 2003) – Characterizing criminal defense as “a very patriotic profession,” a New Orleans federal judge noted that a criminal defense lawyer “represents the United States of America, because the criminal defense lawyer represents the Bill of Rights – and the Bill of Rights is the essence of the United States of America.”

U.S. District Judge Helen “Ginger” Berrigan addressed an audience of more than 300 criminal defense attorneys at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Fall Meeting in New Orleans last week. A former criminal defense attorney, Berrigan now serves as Chief Justice of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Prior to her appointment to the bench, Berrigan served as president of the Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union and as a board member of the Louisiana Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Berrigan was also very active in the Forum for Equality, a local organization dedicated to promotion of civil rights. Currently, Berrigan serves on the board of the New Orleans Federal Bar Association.

Berrigan focused her remarks primarily on the role that the judiciary could and should play in correcting the shortcomings of current indigent defense systems. Calling judges a “logical choice” as allies of the criminal defense bar in indigent defense reform efforts, Berrigan noted that, “our primary mission as judges is justice.” She continued, “In a criminal case, justice means assuring a defendant’s rights are respected – including his right to the effective assistance of counsel.”

Berrigan remarked that while the criminal defense bar ought to appeal to individual judges using the “obvious idealistic arguments,” practical arguments for effective indigent defense systems were effective as well: “the overall argument…is that money and effort spent at the front end – for competent representation – saves money and effort in the long run with expeditious pleas, shorter and cleaner trials, and a reduction in retrials. How can a judge not love and support that?”

The entire text of Berrigan’s remarks can be found at under “New & Issues.” 


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NACDL Communications Department

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.