Traffic Court Lambasted by Inspector General’s Scathing Report!!
Here’s the short list of charges leveled by Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux concerning aberrant behavior by our Traffic Court- Stealing money from the city and other agencies; paying full time salaries and benefits to part time judges and employees; letting a contract accountant charge more than $680,000 in 2010 while also serving as the campaign treasurer for a sitting judge; and misstating its court income substantially. Read the report here.
What a mess Traffic Court has become! I’ve written twice about Traffic Court hi-jinks, once recently and once a few months ago. Quatrevaux conducted a study of 250 traffic tickets and found that just one person who contested a moving violation was found guilty. Of 93 people in that sample who fought their moving violations 92 people had their charges dismissed or allowed to plead to non-moving charges with fines.
The inspector general’s report quotes a city attorney, who explained that she offers deals to “give people a break on their insurance.” But the drivers in the sample included those who were ticketed for serious violations, including reckless driving and even a hit-and-run. Surely Traffic Court bears a responsibility to public safety.
City attorneys have sole authority to dismiss or reduce traffic charges, but the inspector general’s report found that some judges and staff members did so, which violates the law, the report said.
That’s bad enough, but Judge Jones said that until recently, all 88 court employees had the ability to log into a computer system to erase tickets and fines and could use that ability to help out family and friends.
Judge Jones said that changes have been made in the past month to prevent staffers from being able to “go in and enter a dismissal on any matter.” that certainly needed to happen, but it’s worrisome that the situation wasn’t corrected until recently, especially since Traffic Court has had ticket-fixing scandals in the recent past.
This is fairly unbelievable stuff! I saw what was going on a while ago and I wrote these other pieces getting into the Traffic Court’s mess of worms. I noticed they were bringing in oodles of new cash where previously there was no such revenue source. I also noticed their vast new cash was unaccounted for at that time. Traffic Court had invented their own huge new revenue source. They were dismissing a giant amount of tickets as well as long as fines were paid. Robert Jones, Traffic Court’s chief administrative judge, seems to be the man in the hot seat.
Vandale Thomas is the $682,000 man, paid for accounting & supervisory work. He also served as treasurer for Jones’ political campaign fund. That is a lot of moolah for one man for any kind of work in one year. I foresee a criminal future for Mr. Thomas.
Rafael Goyeneche has some of the best reports around in the local criminal justice system. However, the Inspector General’s report seems to be equal to Rafael’s organization’s best work. They both should be congratulated for reporting in the criminal trenches of NOLA, it’s a tough environment to get right, and both take their civic duties very seriously. Here’s to both men, you get our best Watchopp salute!
Traffic Court said in its response to the report, it is transferring $2.2 million from its judicial expense fund to the city that includes the $1.3 million that should have gone to other agencies, as well as $500,000 in surplus revenue and $426,000 used to pay Mr. Thomas.
Mr. Quatrevaux argues that the city doesn’t need a Traffic Court and should fold it into Municipal Court for a savings of $2.5 million a year. The work now done by four Traffic Court judges could be handled by a hearing officer, he said. Baton Rouge’s single court of 5 judges managed a caseload slightly higher than did New Orleans’ 12 judges.