Despite scrutiny, judges continue using court funds for extra insurance

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wwltv.com

Posted on July 18, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 18 at 10:42 PM

Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News
Email: mperlstein@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mperlstein

NEW ORLEANS -- The Orleans Parish district attorney requested a criminal investigation. The legislative auditor is deep into its own intensive review.

Despite the scrutiny, records obtained by Eyewitness News show that two New Orleans courts continued to dip into court funds for extra insurance perks for judges.

"It's disturbing that after many months of scrutiny both by your station, by the crime commission, and the fact that the Louisiana legislative auditor has been bearing down looking at these records, obviously public dollars are being used to buy supplemental insurance,” said Rafael Goyeneche of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

4 Investigates first uncovered the insurance purchases through a series of public records requests last summer. Records showed that both criminal and civil court in New Orleans enjoyed the perks, with costs in the millions.

Legal experts say the insurance appears to violate state law. The law dictates that judges cannot receive any compensation beyond what is offered to other state employees.

Reacting to our stories, Goyeneche asked the legislative auditor to step in.

"You're using public funds for what are clearly personal benefits,” he said.

As the auditors enter the home stretch of their review, we decided to take another look. In response to our requests for records, the courts provided these documents that show payments to a company called Exec-u-Care as recently as April.

"I think it's a problem in that it indicates a sense of entitlement that some judges in both of these courts believe that those judicial expense funds can be used for their own personal benefit,” Goyeneche said.

The judges declined to answer our questions directly, but administrators at the two courts say the extra insurance was scaled back dramatically. However, both courts show quarterly payments for Exec-u-care premiums through the second quarter of this year.

At criminal court, while the judges continued to pay the premium for Exec-u-Care, they decided last winter to suspend making any claims under the policy until all state investigations are complete.

Meanwhile, a host of other insurance policies used by the judges over the years have either been dropped or are now being made available to all employees through payroll deductions.

At civil court, the records indicate that judges have made individual decisions on whether to keep or cancel the coverage.

This response from civil court shows that these judges individually dropped their Exec-u-Care policies over the past nine months. And in a follow-up statement late today, the court said that all other Exec-u-Care policies ended as of July 1.

We also requested documents to see if the Louisiana Supreme Court has weighed in on the issue. Goyeneche said he was surprised to find out that it has not issued any opinion.

"They were put on the clock and alerted in writing by the crime commission last year. I think this is so fundamental an issue, I'm a little disappointed that the Supreme Court didn't step in," Goyeneche said.

But the high court hasn't been completely silent. According to this memo from April, the court instructed all lower courts to keep detailed records of collective and individual expenses on supplemental insurance. Why? Because the records might be subject to a legislative audit.

The legislative auditor would not provide any timetable on the completion of its audit.

As for any criminal scrutiny of the insurance purchases, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office says it will wait to review the audit findings.

 

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