NEW ORLEANS -- The Orleans Parish Criminal Court is handling fewer cases but moving more slowly, according to the latest report from volunteer group Court Watch NOLA.
Last year, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro challenged the judges at criminal court to hold 600 trials a year.
They didn't. They held 329, but a new report from Court Watch NOLA shows even the increase they did accomplish is actually slowing down the dockets at Tulane and Broad.
“Two thirds of the time that one of our volunteers was in the courtroom for a matter that had been set for that date, it got continued. It got pushed back and the reason is because of this huge increase in the number of trials,” said Brad Cousins, executive director of Court Watch NOLA.
It's a side effect Cannizzaro said he expected.
“When we are trying as many cases as we did last year, in 2011, we tried more jury trials, for instance than we had in a very, very long time in criminal court, way back to almost 2000. You're going to see that it tends to bog down the docket,” Cannizzaro said.
Nothing else can be done in a courtroom while a trial is going on, so everything gets delayed. It's one reason Court Watch NOLA's latest report shows a big increase in things getting pushed back.
“That was a record that we hadn't seen since the chaos right after Katrina,” Cousins said.
At the same time, their report also shows the court handled 2,000 fewer cases than in 2010, the result of Cannizzaro moving misdemeanors, including marijuana possession, to municipal court.
“Overall we were very disappointed with what we saw for 2011,” Cousins said.
The district attorney said he's pleased with how his office is performing, accepting more cases, and he says getting more convictions.
We contacted the judges at criminal court to get their response to the latest report, but didn’t hear back before the time of publication.