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Packing the Courts: Report Says NOLA, La. Has Surplus of Judges

Locals face shortages of police and other justice specialists, but when it comes to judges, there are too many, according to a recent report. The Bureau of Governmental Research says that Louisiana has more judges than necessary to handle the currently declining caseloads, and that Orleans Parish is the biggest offender.


The Bureau of Governmental Research—a private, non-profit, independent research organization dedicated to, "informed public policymaking and the effective use of public resources," for New Orleans— says the city and the state are burning millions in public funds with unnecessary judgeships. All this is according to the Judicial Council of the Louisiana Supreme Court's own research data, said BGR.


"The Judicial Council’s formula suggests that the court system in Orleans Parish has far more judges than are needed," the BGR report states. "According to the formula’s estimates, the parish’s seven courts need 20 judges, or less than half of the 45 they currently have."


The report claims that six of the courts have, "more than twice as many judges as they need."


"The Judicial Council’s workload estimates are not the only metric pointing to an excessive number of judges in Orleans Parish," BGR claims. "Case filings at several Orleans courts have been on a general downward trajectory for many years, even as the number of judges in the parish has increased."


As an example, BGR cites that filings in Civil District Court, Juvenile Court, First City Court and Second City Court have all dropped by anywhere from 55-percent to 88-percent since the 1980s.


BGR says that their formula is only based on numbers, and and does not account for the complexity of cases being handled by the Courts. The assessment they provide is only meant to be an "indicator light" that there may be more to look at.


However, the group says: "The light is flashing in several spots across Louisiana. And it is blinking furiously in New Orleans."


"The public pays an average of $570,000 per year in personnel costs alone for a judgeship in New Orleans," the study summary says. "A large portion of those expenses falls on state and local government. Both levels of government, and the citizens they serve, have a significant stake in preventing the waste of public money on unnecessary judgeships."


The Court and state legislature is currently preparing a report on the Louisiana district and city courts, but BGR said that study has been more than two years coming, and that the state's legislators need to take action during the coming 2014 Session.


"The Legislature should take action to eliminate unnecessary judgeships in Orleans Parish and other districts with excessive numbers of judges," BGR states.


The group recommends that those judgeships should expire concurrently with the legislators term. Past that term, the Supreme Court and Legislature should continuously monitor the number of judges and the necessity of remaining judgeships.


In response to the report, Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson issued a statement responding to the BGR assessment of both the excess judges and the coming report from the Judicial Council.


"While the Court is aware of studies by the [BGR] and other groups who have concerns about the appropriate number of state judges, our work is guided by HCR 143," said Chief Justice Johnson, which is the order outlining the state's own assessment of judicial waste.


The mentioned HCR 143's actual work is executed by a committee of legislators (lead by Sen. Edwin Murray of New Orleans) and judges from different levels of the Court, as well as reps from private organizations and citizens from the community. The committee has been meeting for two years—as BGR said in their own assessment. The fruit of those meetings is scheduled to be complete in February 2014, and then delivered to the legislature.


"Before concluding its work, the 143 Committee will hold a public hearing at the Capitol in Baton Rouge in October, specifically to receive information and input from the public...however, ultimately, the state legislature is tasked with the creation and funding of judgeships which is why the Supreme Court will be guided by the work of the 143 Committee."


So all there is left to do, as far as the state is concerned, is finish the committee report, let everyone weigh in, deliver the report to the legislature, and then have the legislature address the issue and agree on the course of action. Until then, the money BGR cited as being wasted will continue to be doled out in the same fashion.

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