WWL>Topics>>1-21-14 1:10pm Angela: on the NOLA judicial system

1-21-14 1:10pm Angela: on the NOLA judicial system

Jan 21, 2014|

Angela talks to Brad Cousins of Court Watch NOLA about whether less trials but more convictions is a fair trade.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Well didn't you just wake up today saying it's another perfect day in paradise. It is gorgeous it's like -- like a broken record but I can't stop we have to. Appreciate these days and they are beautiful and yes it's gonna get colder but. Just look at the sunshine today. We have three but I think incredible shows beginning with. Not looking at our court system -- to talk about they're going to have on mr. -- zero win shortly. And our second 12 show was going to be not to be missed if your parents are going to be looking at. Something that a lot of people talk about a re giving too many trophies. Too -- it's just pressure going up. We have some wonderful parents and house and we'd love to hear from -- And our third program I think is also extremely interest talking to a doctor Ph.D. Who has written a book and that's about pornography. And how can really ruin lives so if you have opinions on that we're gonna wanna hear from -- as well. Oh three years ago New Orleans DA -- -- cameras zero challenged the judges of criminal district court. To each tried at least one case a week. With a dozen judges that would mean roughly 600 trials a year. Well the judges reached the 600 mark it just took them three years to get there. It's been a changing time criminal district court with fewer trials but perhaps a growing number of convictions. And as I said were going to be talking with the de Leon -- zero. Thirty minutes from now he will join us here in the studio we look forward to that but we begin. With talking to Brent cousins who is the executive director of court watch know. Court watchers created in 2007. Because a growing number of citizens were looking for greater accountability. Transparency. And efficiency. In our criminal justice system. And I truly appreciate you being here. I remembered that that the need for the -- watch. After the storm Bush's so chaotic our entire judicial system. But our court system clearly needed some fresh on it so kind of take me back to 2007 in what was created. We are a volunteer driven organization that recruits people from all walks of life. To go down to the criminal district court house and observe. What's going on and in the different courtrooms we then compile that information together and issue reports. Trying to give the public a peek at Westbrook what's really going on in their courtrooms. In 2007. It was. Chaos and in some cases the courtrooms weren't even in Orleans parish after the storm. Prisoners were scattered throughout the states. We were having trouble getting them to their court appearances. And so all of actors in the system have really tried to. Returned a sense of normalcy. And improve the systems since then and we have seen some improvements but there. For every step forward there's half -- and sometimes awful step back and that's why we continue to do our work. But would be a step back. Well in 2011. And 2012. Our volunteers observed. An all time high rate of continuance it is that is delayed something was on the docket scheduled. And got pushed back to another day. We're concerned about continuance is because they have multiple negative facts. For stuff for the defendants. Justice delayed is justice denied. For. The public taxpayers. We're paying for pretrial incarceration. Of those patents the longer it takes to get trial. The more we have to -- And for public safety in the longer cases take. The more likely witnesses are to be lost evidence is to be lost. And people get tired of waiting in the ways why do you think I know it's a very general question. That we had so many of those continuance. In 2011. We were able to Trace it back to that higher number of trials. Instituted at the urging of the district attorney's office. In 2012. We -- our reasons coming from. All sides the court the district attorney's office as well as and predominantly. Defense attorneys -- they were driving the process. But it was widespread enough that we called it a culture of continuing axes in 2012. I've still seen as very that very high rate of two ways. I'm pleased to say that. Well our 2013. Report has not been released yet it will be in a few weeks and we're still. Crunching the numbers from the second half the year in the first half of the year in 2013 it looks like we're starting to see some incremental progress. Let's goodness absolutely. In the area of continuance is or overall. Issues. Overall but also an area of the rate of continuance as and that length of them. Not only do we want to see fewer delays but we wanna see shorter place. So we're gonna delay this 24 hours or 48 hours and not my weeks oh my gosh. You know what you happened to have a number of trials. In 2013. We don't track the number of trials are also different ways of measuring that. But they are certainly down what we saw on 2013. Is that. Trials are down and that the most common way of closing cases at least the cases that are volunteers watch. Is -- the state and the defendants are agreeing to plead deals on two charges that are less than those initially brought. Okay is that a good thing. It is for efficiency. YE you and I both know that every defendant has a right to a jury trial I'm -- charged with felony. But if they all. Asked for a jury trial at the same time that would be the single best way to destroy that system. It tree -- inefficient because. You've got to get witnesses there you've got to bring terrors and and nothing else can happen in the courtroom when an injury trial is going on. So in terms of efficiency that's a very good thing. And it in terms of public safety can be too. Just because a plea deal is reached to a charge that's less than the charge that was initially brought does not necessarily mean that the defendant is. Getting away with. Less of a punishment. And that's because. Information could be on discovered through the first part of the case whereby. Maybe the initial charge wasn't quite right and this plea deal is more fair. It also could be cases. Charging very aggressively. In order to -- agree to a plea deal in that sweet spot and we've seen some of that in court to. So. You have more good news for 2013 perhaps the man. And that's what our initial numbers say. When when not the DA came mount and 2011 and challenged. The twelve judges you know one a week. Up for those of us who are not involved in court. I literally thought to myself you know. -- how long does a trial -- trying to get one through week. And and they didn't do it. It would have been impossible it really with our current system well. Jury selection alone will take at least half today and usually -- and sometimes more than that. And then you've got opening arguments presentation of witnesses and closing arguments and -- jury deliberations. I guess I'm only saying because on and just had this one limited experience which I'm a treasured because it was a criminal court case. And it was it started in the morning and it ended at 9 o'clock at night it was a very long day. But it was done and so what -- saying is that's not -- -- and that's the exception not the rule okay. Okay. One we take a quick break we're gonna come back if you have anything you'd like to talk to -- The director of court watch Noah give us a call any thoughts on our judicial system gives us a call 2601870. Financial under the anyway. -- cousins the executive director of -- watching Nolan is our special guest today were talking about sort of a status report at. From the time not his organization started in 2007. Not keeping -- nine on not the criminal district court. Trying to look for transparency. For efficiency. And we're hearing some good news and you know it isn't perfect yet before we get to -- let's take our color Peggy from New Orleans Peggy. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- Own child and. You're. An art. And try to year. At court and say you -- drop charges. -- at it like it guilty and they try to make it or are tracked because they don't want. Are you wanting the trial you didn't try to go through with -- And that was two years ago. -- -- Brand any thoughts on what you're hearing. The American bar association's standard is for a felony case to be tried within a year after its instituted and that's certainly called it. We are pushing for along with other organizations like the metropolitan crime commission. Now that's a trend to two years waiting I really appreciate you calling -- you know we should. -- know I'm talking. About. Plea guilty -- That demeanor. It. Right. Now here which -- saying well don't hesitate to call back in the next half hour only him DA Leon and Kenneth arrow was well thank you very much thank you for calling. Brand going back to that's a very interesting thing that there is a standard by which we should be aiming. To complete these trials in two years hanging over your life it's too much. Right and one of the big you know solutions that we embrace is is trying to get the court system. To institute national best practices we are unique but there are lessons to learn from other places. The National Center for State Courts is a great example of resource that could be used more effectively. I look foolish parish invited them come in analyze how they do things in the court and suggest ways for improvement on why can't we do that here. Beautiful idea. We're gonna jump ahead a little bit. Bureau governmental -- search did a pretty massive study on suggesting that we need fewer ports. Europe thoughts on Matt and you have all of these are wonderful volunteers going in insane. Really this slow pace. Of the system do we need fewer. Who were very proud to have been one of the first organizations to raise the alarm on this issue on our 2012 report we said. Look we need to have a community conversation about this. Because the formula that the state judicial council uses suggest that we have too many judges in criminal district court everyone agrees that formula is going to be a little bit low. Comets -- under shoot the mark by a little bit but that's why we need to have this conversation. I anecdotally. I can tell you that our volunteers. Say that most courtrooms are empty most afternoons. That if their more than a couple of courtrooms. Going at three in the afternoon that is a very busy day. I I normally refer to that is tumbleweed time because. Most days he could -- -- can imagine tumbleweed blowing down at the courthouse hallway. But not to sound simplistic but is -- just called the caller who just called it's been waiting two years why can't her trial be put in place. During that tumble big time. That's a good question. Correct me if I'm wrong but I believe it was last year. Or including eleven -- it was last year the last two months there were no trials. I don't know if there are no trials traditionally they're certainly fewer trials in November and December because of the holidays. Well me but we all work coming Christmas itself and even a week out you understand but to have. -- on site only ten trials in November and December and the judges held no trials at all during those months. What does that mean. Only ten trials in November December half the judges held no trials. So they just took time off. While no they would be some may have taken time off comments certainly quieter time in the courthouse. But they also may be holding motions hearing -- doing other -- to work right okay. But that doesn't. Still a lot of time trials could be that extra okay you were gonna talk about conviction rates. We you had asked me about this and I think it's a good question because. From my perspective. You always have to question conviction rates. You don't want them to be too high because if you -- 99% conviction rate that raises the question. Are their tough cases that you're not pushing. -- are you only going for the low hanging fruit and of course at that rate is too low. Then it raises the question of whether the office has managed effectively there's a sweet spot in the middle that there's no specific number that's the national coal. I relate conviction rates because I'm a baseball fan to batting averages. We know now that batting averages. Start to tell the story that they don't tell the whole story because someone with a good batting average could be terrible on defense. And someone with a poor batting average could hit a lot of home runs and make up for another way it's. So conviction rate starts to tell a story but it is not the holes to. Okay. How are we doing now. It's the district attorney said the conviction rate in cases that went to trials 75%. In 2013 I believe. And that is in that middle range where. You don't immediately question and wonder what's going on. Clearly the DA who will be joining you shortly. Does have some strategies and and you were commenting in the back in the break that some of them are very good. Absolutely. This district attorney is a change agent NS system that is very moribund. We haven't always agreed we certainly disagreed with the institution of all of those trials in 2011. Because they bogged down system. But he's also done things like move misdemeanor cases to municipal court. Which has freed up the felony courts to focus on the bigger cases. It's led to smaller dockets and felony court. And our volunteers have observed that with those smaller pockets it's allowed the courts to do things like. Wade out a defense attorney who's not there yet instead of having to continue a case to another day if frees them up to do things like that. I'm he's also instituted. Racketeering indictments which had never been done before and Orleans parish. And it's really exciting those cases are still working their way through the system now undergone trial but uh oh we're all watching with excitement about the possibility of that new crime fighting tool. Specifically. Better and could you continue to explain the racketeering. Indictment. Short the idea is that instead of picking up. One defendant on charges one charge another defendant on another when those defendants are part of the -- -- asked them all the same time charge them all not just with the individual crimes but the racketeering crime of working together to further that violence. And that way you get them all off the street that wants. So if you are hopeful from 2007 to today. I am really am I think the city's. Done some remarkable things and I hope we keep that momentum going for. Well we hope that town. Court watch Nolan continues to do the incredible job that your doing thank you thank all of your volunteers. I want everyone to stay with this we're gonna take a break -- only come back out of the newsroom. We will have the district attorney Leon Canada's share stay with this financial under the to -- well.