NEW ORLEANS -- A funding dispute between the Orleans Parish clerk of court and the Landrieu administration threatens to shut down one section of criminal court Wednesday, and a judge says she's going to demand answers.
Orleans Parish Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell says the Landrieu administration, specifically Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, is violating state law that requires the city to pay the salaries of the clerk's employees.
Morrell says Kopplin has refused to put his new hires on the payroll. He says he has 13 vacancies, and the situation has become so dire that it will shut down Section A of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on Wednesday.
“Section A, I don’t have any clerks right now that are qualified. I can’t take someone from another department and just throw them in there, because they don’t know what to do,” Morrell said.
Morrell says he notified Kopplin that he could not staff Section A Tuesday morning, and had gotten no response before our interview Tuesday evening.
“And it may cause some criminals to be back on the street because the city will not follow state law,” Morrell said.
But Kopplin denies the city has violated any law. He insists the city has the authority to ensure the clerk's office operates within its budget.
Kopplin released this statement:
"The Landrieu administration inherited a $100 million deficit when we took office in 2010. Since then, we have balanced the city's budget with aggressive cost-cutting measures. In contrast, the clerk has overspent his budget each of the last three years. We cannot and will not allow that to continue,” Kopplin said.
But Morrell argues against that.
“The law says if you want to reduce the clerk's budget, you have to go to the legislature,” he said.
Judge Laurie White says she was able to hold court Tuesday, but has been notified the absence of a deputy clerk means she won't be able to try inmates being held in jail.
"I was pretty surprised to learn that my court had been shut down by him," she said.
She plans to hold a hearing on this.