So who gets to decide how many judges are too many? Mayor Mitch Landrieu has strong feelings on the subject, based on his own experiences when he was in the private practice of law and his observations from the mayor’s office. There are too many judges and the money devoted to supporting empty courtrooms and under-worked judges could be better spent if the money was instead in the city’s general fund, Landrieu says.
We might mention in passing that one of the mayor’s sisters, Madeline, is an excellent judge in the Court of Appeals. She previously served as a Civil District Court judge.
Janet Howard, the hard-working Executive Director of the non-profit Bureau of Governmental Research, holds the same opinion, and she has research -– controversial though it may be -– to back up her argument. There are now 45 judges in Orleans Parish, spread over seven courts. Howard thinks that the judicial system could function just fine with 20 total judges in Orleans Parish.
On the other side of the argument is Criminal Court Chief Judge Camille Buras, whose qualifications go back to the days when she was one of the first female Assistant District Attorneys to present criminal cases to juries at Tulane and Broad. Like Mayor Landrieu, she knows from experience that there are good judges and judges who can barely stir themselves to appear in their courtrooms. If asked, she would acknowledge that some judges come late to work and leave early. In many instances, these late-to-arrive, early-to-leave judges are the same ones who hire relatives to fill staff positions in their courtrooms. Often these familial hires come with the view that they aren’t required to exert themselves except to pick up their paychecks.
But, Judge Buras, argues that a few bad apples shouldn’t tilt the argument. The judge points out that justice delayed can be justice denied. As it is, in some courts in the system, a case is put on hold for an entire year before it can be heard. If you were the plaintiff in such a case, would you think that 45 judges are too many?
Perhaps the question everyone should be asking is how many judges are needed to run an efficient judicial system? It might be that what is missing is some kind of oversight apparatus that checks every day to see when the judges arrive, how many cases they handle and what time they leave. But, even then, as Judge Buras notes, there are complexities that should be taken into account. For example, current District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has filed charges against alleged heads of New Orleans killer gangs that are likely to take many months to unfold.
In the end, if the issue is sorted out, it will be by the Louisiana Legislature. State Sen. Ed Murray, a respected veteran lawmaker, is heading up a legislative study that will make recommendations to the upcoming 2014 session of the State House and State Senate.
It will be interesting to see how that works out. Many legislators are close friends or relatives of sitting judges throughout the state. Some legislators are thinking about running for judgeships themselves when their legislative terms are up. To put it mildly, throwing the issue of how many judges are needed in New Orleans or in Jefferson Parish or the State of Louisiana is a lot like throwing a big fish into a nest of swamp alligators. The one thing that is certain is that someone is going to get eaten alive.
Early voting ends Saturday for judicial races
If you are a chronic voter like Danae, you may be one of the 1400 hundred people who have already visited the registrar’s office to vote early this week. The turnout is just a little ahead for an off election like this one. There is even free parking for voters in several spots around City Hall.
We’re also starting to hear more from the candidates. Mark Vicknair, magistrate candidate, is telling us the lawyers in town love him by almost two to one. Traffic Court candidate Steven Jupiter is giving us biographical information so we can get to know him a little better. Clint Smith is telling voters that he’s the only candidate who has actually served as a judge in traffic court. Perque keeps wrapping up endorsements. We even have dueling minister groups speaking in this election. While Patrick Giraud received the nod from the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, Smith quickly rounded up his own group of ministers and heartily announced their support. Giraud was said to be quite generous with his financial backing for the IMA. Who says money isn’t the mother’s milk of campaigns? Only two weeks to go, thank goodness!
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.