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There goes the judge? 

Mayor wants to bench judges to save money

  Mayor Mitch Landrieu said last week he will ask legislators to reduce the number of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges to three from the six now designated by state law. "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's announcement to reporters came after a groundbreaking ceremony for the New Orleans Juvenile Justice Center. In her remarks during the ceremony, 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 a day before the groundbreaking. Gray's husband James is the new District E city councilman; he was elected recently with Landrieu's support.

  "The mayor has talked about reducing the number of judges, and maybe this is one way of doing it," Gray said.

  The Landrieu administration previously characterized the court as bloated, pointing to state- and city-commissioned studies criticizing the size and complexity of New Orleans' criminal justice system. A 2010 caseload analysis by the State Supreme Court's Judicial Council suggested the city needed only one Juvenile Court judge.

  Judge Gray, who opposes the reduction, disputed those analyses.

  "My personal position is there is a lot of work," she said, adding 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."

  She added that Landrieu should recognize that his "intrusion into the judgeships is outside of his bailiwick."

  Landrieu said building two additional courtrooms at the Juvenile Justice Center would have cost an extra $6 million. While costs of the construction came from a number of sources, including FEMA, funding two more judges' offices would have an ongoing adverse impact on the city's annual budget, he said.

— Charles Maldonado


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