NEW ORLEANS - Juvenile Court in New Orleans is bracing for massive cuts.
The city council agreed to slash court funding at the urging of the Mayor Mitch Landrieu administration.
According to Chief Judge Ernestine Gray, the city cut more than $872,000 out of her $2.7 million budget.
As a result, beginning next month, 31 juvenile court employees will be moved off the city payroll.
"It is a layoff and it's a layoff for this reason," said Gray. "Those employees will no longer be eligible to participate in the city retirement plan. They will not be covered under those benefits with the city."
Judge Gray says the court will use its reserve fund to keep those employees on a contract basis.
While she says the court hopes to provide dental and life insurance, there are questions as to whether the court can offer contract workers health insurance.
The judge admits the courts reserve fund will be nearly depleted at the end of next year.
"As I have always done as a judge, I try to really tell people the way it is," said Gray. "I'm saying if we have the same situation from the city and the mayor next year for our budget, I don't know how we operate in 2014."
During this year's budget debate, the Landrieu Administration told the city council that New Orleans has a larger judicial bench than the workload justifies.
"The workload at Municipal Court has gone up, " said CAO Andy Kopplin. "The workload for Juvenile Court and Criminal Court has gone down and the evidence suggests that 30 percent funding reductions are appropriate based on the balance of the workload."
Tracey Flemmings-Davillier recently left the Juvenile Court bench after being elected to Orleans Criminal Court.
Mayor Landrieu is asking the governor to put off a special election for her replacement until this fall.
That fueled speculation that the city might ask the state legislature to eliminate one of the court's 5 judges.
Judge Gray says that would be a mistake.
"On the one hand, people talk about how juvenile crime is rampant. Well, if that's true, why would you be reducing the number of judges."
The cuts take effect January 1.