CWN’s Data Now More User-Friendly

Court Watch NOLA is always trying to make it easier for the public to learn more about our elected officials. Over the past seven years, CWN has collected data and published reports to hold our public servants in the criminal justice system accountable, but we recognize that these lengthy reports are not as user-friendly as they could be for voters and other citizens. CWN, with the assistance of Baptist Community Ministries, is therefore proud to launch new, easier-to-use “Elected Officials” pages on its website.

Curious about one particular elected official, and don’t want to wade through unrelated data? Just go to www.courtwatchnola.org, find the “Elected Officials” drop-down menu, and select the public servant or office you’re interested in to find background information, volunteer observations, and helpful charts and data from CWN’s 2013 Report and other sources. We’ve started with the Judges our volunteers observe in Criminal District Court, but will be adding additional pages soon!

To assist CWN’s volunteer observation and public education efforts, including this new, easy-to-use web resource, please consider making a secure, tax-deductible contribution through the “Donate” button on the right. Also be sure to follow Court Watch NOLA on Facebook for regular court updates.

The Stage is Set for Criminal Court Elections

Now that qualifying is over, the stage is set for the fall’s election season at Criminal District Court. First, a big congratulations to Chief Judge Willard and Judges Flemings-Davillier, Landrum-Johnson, Pittman, Buras, Herman, Derbigny, and Zibilich, who have been re-elected without opposition to additional six year terms. Judge Parker chose not to run for re-election, so Court Watch NOLA thanks and congratulates Judge Parker for his eighteen years of service on the bench.

The only contested CDC races therefore appear to be for D.A. (defense attorney Lionel Burns vs. District Attorney Cannizzaro) as well as in Sections: A (former prosecutor Kevin Guillory vs. Judge White); D (attorneys Graham Bosworth, Brigid Collins, Rudy Gorrell, & Marie Williams vs. Judge Marullo); G (Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens vs. attorney Byron Williams (open seat)); and K (attorney and ad hoc Juvenile Court Judge Amy Kern vs. Judge Hunter).

(Court Watch NOLA does not endorse any of these candidacies, of course – we just want to keep you in the loop!)

Music to Our Ears – Weekly Court News Round-Up

Court Watch NOLA is incredibly gratified for the shout-out from former Tulane President Scott Cowen in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal! President Cowen’s understanding that Tulane could not thrive unless all of New Orleans was rebuilt and revitalized, and his dedication to that mission, has been inspiring, and makes this mention even more special. In the Op-Ed, he attributes New Orleans’ renaissance to citizen activists like Court Watch NOLA’s own volunteers as well as groups like Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, and the Metropolitan Crime Commission. To all of our volunteers, this means you! Thank you so much for your hard work over the past seven years. 
In local court news, judicial election season is heating up, and Judge Marullo says he’s running again. In the meantime, Judge Herman sentenced a cop-shooter to 50 years, while new City Councilman Jason Williams testified against his own former client in an Orleans Parish Prison contraband case. The Metropolitan Crime Commission also came out with its 2013 court report, and its 2013 judicial efficiency rankings largely parallel CWN’s own. Finally, the DA’s office agreed to a relatively short plea deal in a 2008 murder case, and in explaining the deal said that “Time is the enemy of the prosecutor. This is why we have to keep these cases moving– this is why the criminal justice system needs to work to get these cases to trial quicker.” This focus on making the courts more efficient is, of course (like President Cowen’s Op-Ed), music to CWN’s ears!

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Court News This Week

We’ve got some good, some bad, and some ugly in court news this week.

The good: Jarvis DeBerry wrote a nice piece on the opportunities that responsible, non-violent offenders are getting through the Re-entry Court run by Judges Hunter and White.

And even better: Court Watch NOLA noted a sea change in public perception at Wednesday’s City Council Criminal Justice Committee meeting. During the meeting, City Council President Stacy Head urged the District Attorney to monitor the U.S. Attorney’s prosecution of the (alleged) Mother’s Day Second Line shooters to make sure the feds “don’t drop the ball, and if they do that you can pick it up.” Under the previous administration, the idea that the D.A. might be better equipped than the feds to handle important prosecutions would have been laughable, but the office has come a long way under District Attorney Cannizzaro (with more work to do, of course).

The bad: Sheriff Gusman continues to miss court-mandated deadlines for reforming Orleans Parish Prison.

And in related news, the ugly: another video showing inmates with drugs and contraband in OPP has surfaced. OPP needs to change the way it operates, especially given the huge number of defendants incarcerated there, many for nonviolent offenses, while awaiting trial.

Half-Time Stats and the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is not only a celebration of American history and our shared values, but also marks 2014’s halfway point. And this most recent Independence Day was a great reminder that there is nothing more American than regular citizens working to hold the government accountable.

Our Declaration of Independence states that governments “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” a revolutionary idea echoed in the very first words of the Constitution: “We the People…” The right to “a speedy and public trial” is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, meanwhile, while Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address declares a “government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.”

That’s why Court Watch NOLA is taking this opportunity to thank our citizen volunteers for their work. Halfway through 2014, over 60 CWN volunteers have observed 492 mornings of court in 2014 alone, for an average of approximately 47 volunteer hours worked every week. Over two hundred years since our nation’s birth, Americans of every stripe are still working to keep their government accountable.

As you can see, it’s been a great first half of the year for CWN, and with your help the rest of the year can be even better. So please consider making a secure, tax-deductible contribution using the PayPal tool on the right. Also be sure to follow Court Watch NOLA on Facebook for regular court updates. And thank you as always for your friendship and support!

Read the entire Court Watch NOLA Summer Newsletter.

In the News: NOPD, Courthouse Security, Jury Bribery, and Right-Sizing the Courts

Court Watch NOLA has been tracking a lot criminal justice stories in New Orleans this week, including a 30% drop in the murder rate for the first three months of 2014, though the NOPD acknowledged that other violent crimes were up. In bad news for the NOPD, however, a detective was caught writing words in the blood found at a murder scene. And one tourist decided not to wait for the NOPD, turning the tables on and beating up a would-be armed robber.

In court news, an armed assault on a Georgia courthouse reminded us all of the important and life-saving work the security screening deputies perform at the entrance to Tulane and Broad. A couple of prominent cases were also resolved this week: Judge Davillier revoked the probation of Dean Kelly, a former male model, sending him to prison for 8 years; and a defendant charged with trying to bribe jurors plead guilty and received a 13-year sentence for that charge and others. In news about the bench, the D.A. has had disagreements with Judge Derbigny, the Clerk of Court and Judge White this week, and James Gill lamented the slow pace of progress on “right-sizing” the courts.

NOPD in the News This Week

The New Orleans Police Department has dominated local criminal justice news these past few days. The Inspector General recently asked why the NOPD has so many of its officers in offices and so few on patrol, and also accused the NOPD of misclassifying rape incidents. NPR, on the other hand, published a story about how the NOPD’s new body cameras are working and FOX 8 showed how the NOPD is analyzing trends in who is being victimized by crime in New Orleans in order to better target its policing strategies.

Court Watch NOLA has learned about the NOPD’s data collection and analysis efforts related to victims of violent crime, and it is impressive. The NOPD seems to have hired exceptionally qualified people and obtained cutting edge software to assist with this effort.

The question, however, is whether the NOPD has a well-thought-out plan for making practical use of the data. CWN itself collects a great quantity of information about the court system, and is uniquely suited to understand that collecting data is only half the battle. Convincing entrenched system actors – whether they be judges, clerks, or police officers – to act on the data is just as, if not more, important. So kudos to the NOPD for gathering this information, and good luck to it as it tries to turn all of those “1″s and “0″s into a real-life reduction in the local crime rate.

NPR Fines & Fees Series Exposes Criminal Justice Funding Problems in N.O.

Throughout this week, National Public Radio has broadcast stories about how America’s 21st century criminal justice system sometimes resembles an 18th century debtor’s prison. As Court Watch NOLA volunteers know, defendants pleading guilty in New Orleans are frequently assessed hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fines and fees that they may not ever be able to repay. When these defendants can’t make a scheduled payment, some choose (wrongly) to not show up for court at all, leading to their rearrest and incarceration, all on the taxpayer dime. On top of this, indigent defendants in Louisiana must also pay to get a public defender, creating a perverse incentive system, as Chief Orleans Public Defender Derwyn Bunton described in one of the NPR stories.

While it may be tempting to blame these problems on Judges because they are the ones imposing fines and fees on poor defendants, the Court often has no choice but to do so, either because they are required to by statute or because the Court relies on this funding to operate. Put simply, no one person or group of people is to blame, and Louisiana does not yet have an answer to this complex problem. But understanding the problem is the first step towards fixing it, and NPR’s series, along with the longtime work of dozens of committed local reformers, is doing good work by raising public awareness of it.

Criminal Justice Leaders Praise CWN, 2013 Report

In April, after fifteen months of hard work by our volunteers, staff, and Board members, Court Watch NOLA published its 2013 Report (Executive Summary)– and we couldn’t be happier with the positive response. Not only did the Report earn unprecedented media coverage, but CWN was gratified that numerous criminal justice leaders praised its findings and heralded Court Watch NOLA’s critical role in the fight to reform our city’s institutions. We wanted to share some of these recent comments to the media with you – our supporters – since none of this would have been possible without your time, contributions, and support over the past few years:

“I want to thank [Court Watch NOLA] for the job they do,” said District Attorney Cannizzaro recently. “They are vigilant in keeping tabs on what’s going on in Criminal Court.”

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Chief Judge Benedict Willard added that the “Court appreciates the hard work provided by the volunteers. Hopefully the program will continue and possibly expand.”

And Robert Jenkins, a prominent private criminal defense attorney, talked about Court Watch NOLA’s impact on the criminal justice system: “I’ve seen a total change from delay, delay, delay…. The point is it’s working much better these days.”

CWN is proud of its work, its history, and its impact, but needs your ongoing support to continue to advocate for reform. So please consider making a secure, tax-deductible contribution through this website, and be sure to follow Court Watch NOLA on Facebook for regular court updates.