You would think our judges would know the law and follow it, but it appears  they probably knew the law and ignored it en masse. Why oh why would so many judges use a judicial expense fund to buy expensive life and health insurance policies, trips, etc.?

Caldwell is Louisiana Attorney General James David “Buddy” Caldwell. Orleans Parish District Attorney Cannizzaro has recused himself from this investigation. Cannizzaro spent 17 years on the criminal court bench and wanted to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell

This story was apparently broken by Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, who discovered the roughly $2 million in supplemental health and life insurance policies the judges have purchased since 2006 for themselves and key court employees. My hat is tipped to Mr. Goyeneche!

Rafael Goyeneche

Rafael Goyeneche

State law bars judges from receiving “directly or indirectly any additional salary, compensation, emolument or benefit from the state or any of its political subdivisions” beyond their statutory $130,000/year. Payment for insurance programs are excepted, but only at the same rate paid by other state employees.

Criminal Court Building, New Orleans

Criminal Court Building, New Orleans

It seems obvious the appearance of impropriety threshold has been met big time. Appearance means a lot when it comes to our judges.  They appear to be GUILTY but we’ll have to see how it plays out.  I believe the vast majority of our judges are fair, honest and hard working public servants.

I think I can surmise what happened here. The start of the policies was early 2006, a few months post Katrina. They took out extra insurance during the wild and wooly months after the levees broke, and that would have been seen as prudent.  As time progressed, opinion of this type of action shifted hugely, and now is seen as very excessive.  At the same time, the judge’s dockets got more and more crowded. As busy as they were, the practice continued and now they may be in hot water.

Whoever it running the judges’ administrative arenas is partly to blame here. A bunch of red flags should have gone off years ago; padding incomes didn’t work very well immediately after the storm, let alone six plus years later.

~ by neworleansmusicman on October 21, 2011.

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