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Public Defender accused of practicing without license, what this means for former clients

"I suggest some of these cases will result in new trials for these defendants.”

NEW ORLEANS —

A woman practicing as a public defender may need one as allegations surface that she was not licensed to practice law.

Eyewitness News checked the State Bar Association’s directory for Ashley Crawford and her name was not listed. 

The association confirmed with Eyewitness News that Crawford is not licensed anywhere in their records. 

Lindsey Hortenstine, a spokesperson for the Public Defenders office, released a statement saying:

“These reports are just coming in to us and we’re working hard to gain answers as fast as possible for our clients and our community. Until we know more, Ms. Crawford is not authorized to speak on the record on behalf of OPD or any of our clients, nor represent herself as an attorney with the Orleans Public Defenders office.”

District Attorney Leon Cannizarro also released a statement about Crawford saying:

“Practicing law without a license, as Ms. Crawford appears to have done on more than 100 cases across all 12 sections of Criminal District Court, is both a criminal offense and a grave violation of the public trust in the criminal justice system.”

Eyewitness News called Crawford and went to the home that was listed as her address, but no one answered.  

According to our partners at the New Orleans Advocate, Crawford began working for the Public Defenders Office in September, according a Facebook page that has since been deleted.

On Crawford’s LinkedIn page, it says she once worked as a Law Clerk for the Public Defender’s office in Jefferson Parish. Eyewitness News called Paul Fleming.  He confirms that Crawford did work there as a law clerk while she was in law school for about a year. Fleming says that she was a great employee, everyone loved her and that he’s saddened to hear about these allegations.

We asked WWL-TV legal analyst Chick Foret who is to blame. 

“There’s plenty of blame, certainly, to go around," Foret said. "Certainly, Ms. Crawford is to blame if in fact, what we’re learning is true."

Foret says if these allegations hold true, clients that Crawford represented could very well ask for their cases to be reviewed again. 

“The issue’s going to be did she in fact give those individuals, those people accused of crime, did she give them bad legal advice? Were they prejudice? Was she a reason why they lost their case at trial? All of these issues will be examined on a case by case basis," Foret said. "I suggest some of these cases will result in new trials for these defendants.”  

It is also alleged that Crawford used someone else’s bar number while conducting cases. 

In addition to the DA’s criminal investigation, Crawford is subject to discipline from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

If any trial verdicts are vacated, Crawford and the Public Defender’s office can be held liable for the cost of a re-trial. 

Foret says this crime carries with it a maximum of $1,000 fine and up to two years in jail.