In The News › BGR’s court cuts not likely to gain support

Sep 4, 2013

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Courts, Government Finance, Orleans Parish

BGR’s court cuts not likely to gain support

By Greg LaRose

CityBusiness

September 4, 2013

Careers in law often start with honorable intentions such as a desire to protect others, a passion for shaping policy or the quest for justice.

While it’s hard to imagine aspirations of a new law school graduate ever involving a job in traffic court, such judgeships are highly sought after in New Orleans and frequently a springboard to loftier political perches. What humbler beginning to a political saga could there be that that of a traffic court judge?

Maybe humble isn’t the right word. A more accurate term would be strategic.

Nine candidates are competing for the Division D vacancy at New Orleans Traffic Court, a part-time position that pays a salary close to $140,000. The court’s three part-time judges (a fourth, full-time judge serves as chief and makes around $170,000 a year) serve eight-year terms, can continue practicing law while holding their seats and are allowed to hire personal staff members to supplement court-appointed employees.

All told, Traffic Court had 72 employees in 2012, second only to the Criminal District Court’s 128 among the seven Orleans Parish courts.
How badly do the candidates want the Division D seat?

Louisiana Ethics Administration campaign finance reports show Clint Smith loaned his campaign $50,000 in the period from mid-June to mid-July. Maria Bookman borrowed more than $35,000 for her election efforts, according to a May-to-July report, and Richard Perque spent $6,000 on consultants in the same period.

While the argument to keep judicial posts out of the political realm was lost long ago, a report by the Bureau of Governmental Research published Tuesday wages the war on the efficiency front. It contends just about every Orleans Parish court could do more with less.

Out of the 45 judges who serve in New Orleans, BGR calculates that only 20 are needed — less than half. Specific to Traffic Court, it used Judicial Council analysis to determine that 1.2 judges could have handled the workload its four judges carried from 2010 to 2012.

Only Municipal Court was found to have the appropriate number of judges at four. Civil and Criminal District Court could have their number cut in half, while 0.8 of a Juvenile Court judge could have performed the work of its six judges in the three-year period examined. First and Second City Court could also get by with less than one judge.

Citizens, representatives of the judiciary and legal association members comprise the Judicial Council, which acts as the research department of the Louisiana Supreme Court. The council offers recommendations to add or eliminate judgeships to the Louisiana Legislature, where they need a two-thirds vote to take effect.

After Hurricane Katrina, lawmakers asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to look into the need for judgeships in areas the storm impacted, whether that meant adding, subtracting or merging them. Although the Judicial Council’s findings in 2007 indicated there were excess judges in Orleans Parish, the Legislature decided not to eliminate any while the city was still recovering from the storm. Eight years later, there still have been no changes.

Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson issued a statement Tuesday night in response to the BGR report. She said a separate legislature-created, court-appointed committee that Sen. Ed Murray is heading has been meeting for the past two years to evaluate the use of the state’s judicial resources. It’s scheduled to conclude its work in February and “will be interested in reviewing” the bureau’s report.

Reading between the lines, it’s a politically tinged response with Johnson essentially saying, “When we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it.”

So while well meaning and thoughtfully researched, there isn’t much political momentum behind the change BGR suggests. Lawmakers have not taken action on Judicial Council recommendations to date, as they aren’t inclined to support standards that could eventually apply to them.

It’s a case of one group of elected officials having the back of another. In this race, efficiency and the electorate are losers.

And in the race for Traffic Court Division D, it will probably take a runoff — yet another expense for taxpayers — to determine winner.

Sep 4, 2013

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Courts, Government Finance, Orleans Parish

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