Inspector General Calls for Fewer New Orleans Judges!
The Inspector General’s new 57 page report states the balkanized city court system in New Orleans would benefit from one less court and roughly half as many judges. This would save city government as much as $2.5 million by moving Traffic Court functions into Municipal Court, according to the report, which figured that six judges could do the work of the 12 who now sit on four separate benches- 1st City Court, Traffic Court, 2nd City Court, and Municipal Court.
I always liked Inspector General Quatrevaux, and now I like him even more! This is an important report that, if enacted, could save the city millions and reigns in the somewhat out of control Traffic Court, which I’ve written about in the past about their wanton ways, and will write about again after finishing this entry.
The report states that Traffic Court needs only a single judge, and that four are way too many. Merging Traffic Court into Municipal Court is a necessary step, according to the report. The report finds Traffic Court has 19 negative aspects that need attending.
The most egregious- Traffic Court (TC) STIFFED the city, the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, Crimestoppers, the Public Defenders Office and others to the tune of $1.3 million last year! We are talking major stiffing. I wrote last time about TC and their new policy of mailing threatening postcards all over the region, stating your license was suspended because you forgot to pay a single traffic ticket. It turns out the postcard is phony- your license wasn’t suspended yet, but you owe an extra$100 for being in contempt of TC! This obviously brought in a box car load of new cash to TC, and that’s what we are talking about here. TC also kept another half million dollars in surplus revenue and used another $425,000 in revenue from city fines to pay its accountant.
Robert Jones, Traffic Court’s administrative judge, conceded many of the reports findings. He said many of the judges had long discussed many of these issues, including their authority to unilaterally dismiss tickets, but with little action until recently. Apparently all 88 court employees could help friends and family with their tickets almost at will. Employees’ access to this computer system to erase tickets and fines has been restricted of late.
The report highlights a $682,000 tab to Vandale Thomas last year for accounting and supervisory work. Thomas also served as treasurer for Jones’ political campaign fund. According to Jones, the court had authorized $96,000 in payments to Thomas. Yet the Inspector General found he was paid $256,000 from the judicial expense fund and he received another $426,000 in court revenue that was supposed to go to the city. City Hall approved some of the increased payments, according to emails.
Jones said many of the billings grew out of a project to correct problems with the court’s online and phone payment systems, which he said gather about $2 million. Still he found the amount troubling. “Yeah, I think it’s excessive. I think he’s got explaining to do,” Jones aid.
Among other findings, the report said- the court had no adequate in house management of $12.8 million in revenue and no written policies or procedures on court operations. It has also ignored civil service requirements in hiring. Traffic Court judges incorrectly used judicial expense funds to buy disability insurance for themselves and to pay replacement judges. A similar use of the judicial expense fund at Criminal District Court has prompted a state investigation.
Sounds a lot like we’ll be seeing some indictments in the near future by these pack of ….