Report says city could save millions by consolidating courts

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wwltv.com

Posted on November 17, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 17 at 7:22 PM

Mike Perlstein / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS – Excessive judgeships, staffs bloated by patronage, part-time employees making full time salaries and overspending on contractors – these were some of the findings in the latest report from the New Orleans Office of Inspector General.

The 93-page report offers a scathing review of two of the city’s busiest courts – New Orleans Traffic Court and Municipal Court.

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said he plans to work immediately to put some of his suggested reforms into motion to help the cash-strapped city save money.

“It’s time for action,” he said. “This is not a study. This is an objective evaluation by people within the city government.”

The report gives a detailed analysis of the workloads of the two courts, along with the city court, which handles small civil claims, and comes to the conclusion that New Orleans could easily get by with just one.

“The city is dirt poor,” he argues. “The picture, the outlook going forward is terrible in terms of expectations of state and federal revenue. We’ve got to get lean. We can’t pass up opportunities like this. If we do, then there’s no sense of us being here. This is too obvious.”

The report provides a detailed comparison to courts in Baton Rouge.and shows that a single combined city court there with five judges actually does more work than the three New Orleans courts with 12 judges.

Consolidation would require an act of the legislature, but could save the city millions.

"We can get, by consolidating municipal and traffic court, $2.5 million in recurring savings. That means each year, every year,” said Quatrevaux.

In response to the IG's report, the traffic court judges agreed with most of the findings, but did not take a position on consolidation.

Municipal Court, on the other hand, rejected most of the findings, saying the Inspector General's facts were incomplete and that it was unfair to lump municipal court with its traffic court cousins.

"When we get lumped in with other courts, the thing gets skewed out of sight," said Chief Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens.

He disputed many of the IG's findings. Sens said the report, which relied on 2010 statistics, does not take into account a large increase in cases in 2011.

"We said it's fundamentally flawed. It's timed. It's dated. It's stale as it relates to us. We didn't have the opportunity to discuss the whole methodology that they were using until it was already completed."

But even Sens conceded that the divided court system in New Orleans should be reviewed.

"I'm not saying I oppose that,” he said. “If you look at just about any other parish in the state, they have that type of system. Why this has evolved this way, I couldn't tell you. It's way before I came on the scene."

Chief Traffic Judge Robert Jones declined to go on camera, but in an interview he said many of the Inspector General's findings were accurate.

He said he would welcome a review by the Supreme Court and Legislature on possible consolidation.

But Traffic Court may have more immediate concerns.

Tonight at 10:00, 4 Investigates has a story on a contractor paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, a total that would require 20 hours of work a day, every day, for an entire year.

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