If, as the rumor mill and the Bureau of Governmental Research suggest, the committee examining the number of judgeships in Louisiana is going to hire the National Center for State Courts to do a long, thorough study of the issue, then the question is: why didn’t it hire the NCSC to do this years ago? The NCSC is a respected, neutral authority in today’s court reform landscape… just like it was years ago, when the study committee began its work. If the NCSC had been brought in then and had recommended reducing the number of judgeships, the state could have acted on that before judges across Louisiana get elected to six-year terms this fall. Millions of dollars are at stake here. Kudos to BGR for aggressively pursuing this crucial issue, which CWN was among the first to raise in its 2012 Report.
N.B. It’s official – Three years is apparently not enough time to study a simple question: given that New Orleans has the same number of judges today as it did in the late 1990s, when the city boasted a much larger population, should we reduce the number of judgeships in order to save taxpayer dollars? You can read the full report here.
This week’s New Orleans Comedy Arts Festival will not only be awesome, but will also be benefiting Court Watch NOLA! Comedians from shows like Community, Conan, and Jimmy Kimmel Live will be performing at the La Nuit Comedy Theater and NOLA Brewing Co. Buy a ticket, bring friends, laugh until it hurts, and help Court Watch NOLA in the process!
CWN revised the subpoena start time for Section C listed on pages 21-22 of its 2012 Report from 8:30 to 9:00 A.M. The original report was based on information from the Clerk of Criminal Court’s office, which CWN has recently been informed was incorrect. CWN also took this opportunity to clarify on page 12 of the 2012 Report that while Judges are required to grant joint continuance motions, these joint requests comprised only 20% of the continuances CWN volunteers observed in 2012. CWN made these clarifications as part of its continuing effort to be as accurate as possible in all of its reports.
The national conferences of Chief Judges and Court Administrators recently passed a resolution encouraging all state courts to embrace “procedural justice” (a.k.a. procedural fairness). The resolution states that “extensive research demonstrates that in addition to providing legal due process, it is important also to meet the public’s expectations regarding the process in order to increase positive public perceptions of the court system, reduce recidivism, and increase compliance with court orders.” In other words, perception matters – the public’s view of the courts even affects the crime rate – so Court Watch NOLA will be incorporating the concept of procedural justice into its own observations and reports over the coming weeks. Check out www.proceduralfairness.org for even more information on this crucial topic.
ICYMI, the Advocate is reporting that in 2013 Tulane & Broad saw the lowest number of jury trials held in years. Just two years ago, by contrast, CWN reported that a huge rise in the number of jury trials was bogging down the court, so hopefully this drop in trials portends a more efficient court in 2013. Check back in a few weeks for CWN’s 2013 Report to see if this is the case.
More proof that a focus on procedural justice in criminal courts reduces recidivism! Procedural justice (a.k.a. procedural fairness) – if defendants feel like the court process was fair (even if they lose), and feel respected, they are more likely to respect and obey the court – is one of the three principles behind the founding of a community court in Brooklyn. This (long) study by the National Center for State Courts shows that the court “appears to bring about a robust and sustained decrease [of 10%] in recidivism,” and states that “the primary lesson is clear: a commitment to procedural justice in all aspects of court operations appears to be essential… to achieve a reduction in recidivism.”
Follow along over the next few weeks to learn more about how Court Watch NOLA is incorporating into our own operations the need for greater procedural justice in New Orleans’ courts.
The Center for Court Innovation’s recent article on improving misdemeanor court practices is a good starting point for reforming New Orleans’ own Municipal Court. Step one: EXPAND pretrial services – whereas some Judges and bail bondsmen have suggested abolishing New Orleans Pretrial Services. Other key steps: using more community service punishments rather than expensive and ineffective incarceration, better IT, and a greater focus on procedural justice, a concept near and dear to Court Watch NOLA. Let’s hope our own Municipal Court administrators and Judges take a look at this.
Court Watch NOLA is a proud member of Forward New Orleans, a coalition of civic and business groups dedicated to making our city government better, and that recently published a platform for continued reform efforts. Please read more about FNO and encourage all candidates for municipal office in the upcoming election to pledge to follow this platform for progress.
Only about one-third of New Orleans residents approve of the Judges at Criminal District Court, according to a new report:
“The city’s criminal courts are only slightly more popular. A steady 34 percent of survey respondents said they approved of the courts, with no gap at all between black and white residents.
Chervenak argued the courts may be unpopular for two reasons. First, simply because institutions, without a human face or personality attached to them, tend to be less popular than individuals. And secondly, because of how often repeat offenders turn up in the headlines.
‘I just get the sense that people feel the court is a revolving door,’ he said. ‘You read the news accounts of people getting arrested and they have these long rap sheets. You wonder why these people are still on the street.’”
The article also pointed out that the District Attorney had a 55% approval rating.
Inspired by recent media reports on campaign finance in Louisiana, Court Watch NOLA just finished publishing a series of Facebook posts researching the top donors to the campaigns of each Criminal District Court Judge… and the results were revealing.
By cross-referencing top campaign donors with data gathered by Court Watch NOLA, we found that the majority of top donors to several Judges’ campaigns were private criminal defense attorneys or bail bondsmen. In other words, many top donors are also doing business with or before the Court. 9 of the top 10 donors to one Judge’s campaign fit this description, in fact, while another Judge’s campaign chair is a private criminal defense attorney.
It is important to note that just because an attorney or bail bondsman who appears before a Judge also donates to that Judge’s campaign does not necessarily mean that anything wrong or illegal is going on. Our system of electing Judges forces judicial candidates to raise money, and the most motivated donors are naturally going to be private criminal defense attorneys and bail bondsmen, thus creating the appearance of a crooked system even where no wrongdoing may have occurred.
But appearances matter because they can degrade public trust in the system. And as Justice Brandeis said, sunlight is the best disinfectant. That’s why Court Watch NOLA will continue to shine a light on who is donating to whom in the upcoming judicial election season. “Like” Court Watch NOLA on Facebook to learn more.