Public defender offices in Louisiana are notoriously dependent on traffic fines and court fees for their primary revenue. That creates what many regard as a conflict of interest by marrying defense of the indigent to the whims of sheriffs who write tickets and prosecutors who choose what cases to take to court. Less understood is the secondary way Louisiana pays its public defenders: an annual state appropriation divvied out to individual districts through the Public Defender Board. It’s intended as a reliable supplement to the unpredictable fines-and-fees system, and makes up about one third of public defender revenues across the state. But the way the board distributes the money to public defenders in the state’s 42 judicial districts is anything but predictable. The board is working with public defenders on a fix, but there are arguments over how to do it. Some want the process to be simpler and more objective; others worry that oversimplification will fail to account for their workload. All say they want to fulfill their constitutional obligations to represent poor defendants, but none can easily do it when their funding matrix is as unpredictable as it is inadequate. Public defenders are “fighting over whatever the scraps the legislature will throw,” said Walt Sanchez, a Lake Charles criminal defense lawyer and former Public Defender Board member. The scraps have increased some since last year, when a new law required the board to give a minimum of 65 percent of its overall funding directly to public defender offices. That resulted in a 25 percent annual increase to the district offices, from about $16 million to $20 million. But the board’s formula for distributing the money is “almost indecipherable,” said Robert Noel, vice president of the Public Defenders Association of Louisiana. “There is a formula, but for the life of me I can’t explain it to you,” said Noel, who serves as the deputy chief and interim chief in the 4th and 5th districts, respectively. “Some districts have seen massive discrepancies from one year to the next, others have not.” The board’s chief executive, James Dixon, said the existing formula is scientific. He said it factors