Mayor Mitch Landrieu today said that the city will lobby for state legislation reducing the number of judges at Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.
"We have a responsibility to make sure we have enough money for the entire criminal justice system," Landrieu said. "I'm going to go to the legislature. We don't need six judges."
Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said the city hopes to trim the number of judges allowed by state law from six to three.
Landrieu's announcement to reporters came just after this morning's groundbreaking ceremony for the Juvenile Justice Center, where Chief Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray criticized the design of the $32 million complex, which will accommodate only four judges. Gray said she was alerted to that feature of the center only yesterday.
"The mayor has talked about reducing the number of judges, and maybe this is one way of doing it," she said.
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The administration has previously characterized the court as bloated — including during city budget talks last November — pointing to state and city-commissioned studies criticizing the size and complexity of the city's criminal justice system. As The Times-Picayune's Laura Maggi reported last year, a 2010 caseload analysis by the State Supreme Court's Judicial Council suggested the city needed only one Juvenile Court judge.
Gray, who opposes the reduction, disputed those analyses.
"My personal position is there is a lot of work," she said. She said the studies compare adult and juvenile caseloads one-to-one rather than taking into account the extra work involved with juvenile cases."You cannot just sit on the bench and think you can do your work there."
As an attorney himself and out of respect for the separation of powers, Gray said, Landrieu should recognize that his "intrusion into the judgeships is outside of his bailiwick."
Landrieu said building two additional courtrooms to the Juvenile Justice Center would have cost an extra $6 million. While costs of construction came from a number of sources, including FEMA, the two judges would mean a continuing impact to the city's budget.
In January, the city came into compliance with a federal consent decree over conditions in the Youth Study Center (which replaced by the Juvenile Justice Center when it opens in 2014). He called the project a good example of local and federal cooperation, as opposed to what he said were "unfunded mandates" from the U.S. Department of Justice in the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Prison consent decrees.