magnifying glass on budget

New Orleans court clerk says he won’t furlough employees for at least a week

By Matt Sledge

Source: The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

January 6, 2020

Deputy clerks at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court can breathe a sigh of relief — at least for now.

Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell said Monday that he has shelved his plan to furlough nearly all of his office’s roughly 80 employees for at least a week.

He announced the furlough plan on Friday in response to a budget dispute with the city. He said the layoffs would start Monday but then postponed them on Saturday.

Morrell said he made his decision to shelve the plan after a Monday meeting with Chief Judge Karen Herman, who asked him to hold off.

In a statement, he said he was pleased that the judges indicated willingness to work with him on his budget issues.

“The Criminal District Court judges understand the many benefits to the public that a fully funded clerk’s office is able to provide. I look forward to working with them to help resolve this and other issues,” Morrell said.

The clerk alarmed judges and his own employees on Friday when he suddenly announced that he would furlough nearly his entire staff in response to a budget dispute that has stretched on for the better part of a decade.

Morrell contends that the city is violating state law by failing to fund his office at the staffing level he says is necessary. Although he’s won several cases in court, the city has continued to stop short of giving him the funding to hire as many workers as he wants.

Between 2010 and 2019, the city’s funding for the clerk’s office dropped from $4.8 million to $3.7 million in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Bureau of Governmental Research.

In response to Morrell’s furlough plan last week, the city noted that its appropriation for the clerk’s office increased to $4 million this year. But he said none of that money went to new clerk positions.

Morrell said that a decade ago he had the equivalent of 90.5 full-time employees, but in the face of depleted funding from the city that number has dwindled to 75. In his latest budget request, he asked for 85.5 employees, he said.

He said he was left with no choice but to act now, since Monday marked the start of a new budget year.

Yet the sudden announcement of furloughs caught the rest of the criminal justice system by surprise. Some warned that inmates might linger in jail unnecessarily without clerks to process their bail orders, or courts might struggle to generate dockets.

Herman also described her meeting with Morrell in positive terms.

“We had a good conversation, and we’re looking forward to working with him in the future to hopefully come to a resolution,” she said.

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