Section C – Chief Judge Benedict Willard

Honorable Benedict Willard, Section C, Chief Judge, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court

  • Section letter: C
  • Date elected: November 5, 2002
  • Results of last election: Re-elected without opposition
  • Date of next election: 2020
  • Political party: Democrat

VOLUNTEER OBSERVATIONS¹:

[The Judge] was prompt, professional, and denied a number of sidebars on the basis that the discussions should take place in open court.

[The Judge] was good at trying to get things on the docket done today as opposed to continuing them. There was a trial on the docket but the ADA wasn't prepared to go forward, which ticked off the Judge a little.

Today was the most frustrating day of court ever. There were no defense lawyers when the day started, so it was a bunch of waiting. Whenever the Judge was ready to call a case up, someone wasn't there or ready.... At one point, the Judge...  pointed out to us that "The Court is just as frustrated with the inactivity as y'all are."

Above all he generally kept things moving, and did not grant many continuances. And while not the most solemn character, [the Judge] was consistently engaged and polite to participants. My main complaint was that [the microphones] were almost never used by him or anyone else; for most of my time there I was uncertain if they were even on.

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Procedurally fair courtrooms are respectful, helpful, neutral, and understanding towards defendants and the public, and CWN volunteers rated Chief Judge Willard as the tenth-most procedurally fair Criminal Court Judge (out of 12) in the first half of 2014. The American Judges Association and the Conference of Chief Justices endorse procedural fairness because “extensive research demonstrates that in addition to providing legal due process, it is important [for courts] 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.” For more on procedural fairness, read CWN’s 2014 Report or go to proceduralfairness.org.

CWN volunteers therefore rated Criminal Court’s twelve trial Judges on a variety of metrics taken from national best practices and related to procedural fairness, including timeliness, respectfulness, use of plain English, and maintaining a neutral and transparent courtroom. Using these subjective ratings, CWN then compiled a ranking of how procedurally fair CWN volunteers perceived each Judge to be.2Procedural Fairness Ranking Chart Willard

Chief Judge Willard took the bench (a median time of) fifteen minutes after his courtroom was supposed to start in the first half of 2014. According to the American Bar Association, “[a] judge should be evaluated on his or her… [p]unctuality and preparation for court.”³ Every day each section of Court issues subpoenas to witnesses, attorneys and defendants, ordering them to appear at a particular date and time for the next hearing in their case, and each Judge can choose the court start time listed on his or her section’s subpoena. Subpoena recipients are then legally obligated to be present in court at the court start time. Most sections have a subpoena start time of 9:00 a.m. The following chart therefore reflects the median delay (in minutes) between each section’s subpoena start time and the time Court Watch NOLA volunteers observed the Judge in that section take the bench in the first half of 2014.⁴

Timeliness 1h2014 Willard

The Metropolitan Crime Commission ranked Chief Judge Willard as the seventh most efficient Judge (out of twelve) in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in 2013. The MCC measures judicial efficiency “by examining each judge’s inventory of open felony cases, percent of open felony cases more than one year old, and the time it takes to close felony cases. These performance measures are based upon standards established by the American Bar Association (ABA). In a study commissioned by the judiciary of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, the National Center for State Courts confirmed the metrics applied by the MCC are valid and reliable indicators of judicial performance. The random assignment of cases should result in caseloads balanced in size, intricacy, and difficulty. Therefore, assessing court performance in these areas offers a uniform and established gauge of the efficiency of each judge’s felony case management practices.” MCC 2013 Orleans Parish Judicial Accountability Report (text and chart used with permission of the MCC).

MCC 2013 Ex. 6 Willard

Footnotes:

¹ Court Watch NOLA believes that our public servants, including Judges, attorneys, and law enforcement officers, must be accountable to all citizens, and not simply to their colleagues and the bench and bar. Therefore, and in addition to the objective data presented in CWN Reports, volunteers also make more subjective observations regarding the Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and law enforcement officers who are present for or testify at hearings and trials. These narrative observations are snapshots of one volunteer’s personal opinion regarding one particular day in court, and do not represent the position or opinion of Court Watch NOLA, its officers, or its directors. Court Watch NOLA attempted to select three positive narrative observations and one representative critique from 2013 for each section of Criminal District Court. Some of the narrative observations were edited for grammar, spelling and/or length, but not for substance.

2 CWN volunteers observed data regarding or rated Criminal Court Judges on a variety of metrics related to procedural fairness throughout the first half of 2014, watching them on weekday mornings for, generally, two or more hours at a time. For each morning, volunteers were asked to contemporaneously note the time the Judge first took the bench and whether the rules of court were posted or explained to defendants and the public. Once the observation period ended, they were asked to rate the Judge with regard to the remaining metrics listed in this chart (and explained in CWN’s Report for the first half of 2014) on a scale of 1-5, with one signifying that the practice at issue “never” happened during the observation period, three signifying that it “occasionally” happened, and five signifying that it “always” happened.
Court Watch NOLA then compiled all of this data for the first half of 2014 and averaged the volunteers’ ratings or data with regard to each Judge for each of the eight metrics included in the chart. For each metric CWN assigned 12 points to the top performing Judge, 11 points to the Judge with the second-highest average rating, and so on, with the lowest-performing Judge on that metric receiving one point. CWN then added each Judge’s point total to get his or her final score, out of a total possible score of 96. The chart is therefore a ranking of how procedurally fair Court Watch NOLA volunteers perceived the twelve trial court Judges of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to be during the first half of 2014.

³ Am. Bar Ass’n, Black Letter Guidelines on Judicial Accountability at 5-5.1 (Feb. 2005); see Center for Court Innovation and National Judicial College, Enhancing Procedural Fairness: Draft Menu of Best Practices (“Court session should begin promptly at the time scheduled to demonstrate respect of defendants’ time. You can thank the audience members for being on time to show mutual respect. If court does not start on time, court staff may [/] should update audience members of when they expect court to start.”).

⁴ Court Watch NOLA emphasizes that its volunteers record the time the Judge takes the bench and not the time the Judge may arrive in court. The Chief Judge, in particular, has additional administrative duties to which he or she must attend. Each section’s subpoena start time, listed next to the Judge’s name, was provided by the Judicial Administrator’s office for 2013, and sections A, C, F, H & K separately confirmed the accuracy of their respective subpoena times.