Muni Court chief judge: IG report is "fundamentally flawed"

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In a response letter to the report, New Orleans Municipal Court Chief Judge Paul Sens says New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux's assessment of the city court system, released yesterday, is "outdated and ignores the current operational realities of our court," and is "fundamentally unfair and fundamentally flawed."

Why does Sens think the IG got it wrong? It's in the first paragraph of his letter:

"We are ... disturbed by the fact that not one person from Municipal Court was interviewed during this assessment process. It was not until Nov. 3, 2011 that someone from Municipal Court was contacted, which was after the draft report was completed."

The report cites operating efficiencies, particularly in New Orleans Traffic and Municipal Courts, and recommends that the two courts be consolidated at a supposed savings of $2.5 million per year. It compares New Orleans four city courts — Traffic and Municipal, which are responsible for criminal cases; and the First and Second City Courts, responsible for civil litigation — to Baton Rouge City Court, which handles all criminal and civil cases in Baton Rouge.

Sens, however, notes that Municipal Court — designed to try violations of city ordinance — has recently been asked to take on nearly half the docket of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court — the state court.

"We respectfully question whether such charges are also handled by Baton Rouge City Court," Sens writes in his response.

(More after the jump)

In making its determination that a consolidation would save a significant amount of money, Sens says, the IG cites state law, in the following section:

In addition to each judge’s personal appointees, state law provided a Clerk of Court for each court, to be appointed by the judges. The Clerk of Municipal Court was authorized to appoint “not less than twenty deputy clerks and other employees of the court,” and the Traffic Court Clerk had, “the right to appoint such deputy clerks, assistants and other employees of the clerk’s office as may be necessary for the proper functioning of the office and the violations bureau.” Municipal Court and Traffic Court each had a Clerk of Court, Deputy Clerk of Court, Judicial Administrator and Assistant Judicial Administrator. Consolidating the two courts would eliminate the need to maintain multiple administrative organizations.

Sure, Sens says, that's what state law may allow. That doesn't mean it's actually the case.

"...The report cites [two state statutes] as evidence of unnecessary Municipal Court personnel, but conspicuously fails to note that the court employs about half of the number of employees mandated by one statute and fewer than the number authorized by the other," because, Sens says, the city only funds that many, in spite of state law. It also fails to fund any of the court's operations costs, again in spite of state law. As Gambit reported, Municipal Court is facing further cuts in Mayor Mitch Landrieu's 2012 proposed budget.

Municipal Court, Sens says, costs taxpayers less per filing or per "work point," (a state court formula) than any of the other New Orleans city courts, at $107 per filing or $262 per work point.

"Traffic Court and 1st and 2nd City Courts came in vastly higher at $1,521 and $1,085 Cost per work points respectively," Sens writes in an email. "It further underscores my exact point that Municipal Court is grossly disproportionately underfunded."

Read the IG report (PDF): 11-17-11_Final_Public_Report_10013.pdf

And Sens' response letter: IG_Response__Work_Point_Values__Jurist_Award.pdf

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