WWL>Topics>>4-16-14 2:10pm Angela: on courtroom efficiency

4-16-14 2:10pm Angela: on courtroom efficiency

Apr 16, 2014|

Angela talks to Brad Cousins and Stacey Smith of Court Watch NOLA and defense attorney Robert Jenkins about how to improve the city's judicial system.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Well the question is is the court system in New Orleans improving. 100 volunteers observed 2647. Violent felony cases in Orleans parish criminal court last year. Then they graded the Orleans parish criminal district justice system. How did the judges prosecutors. Defense attorneys and law enforcement officers do. If you've been to court what's been your experience I'd love to hear from you that numbers 2601870. Here to talk about the report is court watch Nolan executive director Brett cousins. Stacy Smith the court watch know volunteer. And Robert Jenkins well known defense attorney but also a former state public defender. On ad hoc law professor and a former ad hoc judge and I welcome all three if you. Really appreciate this this was a good news report in the things are getting better. That's right Angela after two years of record high delays. We're very pleased to say in our most recent report that the court has hopefully turned a corner. That we're seeing fewer delays and that the delays we are seeing are shorter too and that's definitely good news for the system we hope that's the beginning of a long term improvement. In the efficiency of the criminal court hearing nor islands let's go back in time for a top distinction about exactly what she does it. How did court watch. What how was born and what we were born in the chaos of post-Katrina New Orleans had. Coalition of groups who wanted to make our criminal justice system better. Gathered together to found -- watched you know including. Citizens for one greater new orleans' common good and the business council all said this is an investment in making our community -- We need to do this so they founded a program that recruits volunteers from all walks of life to go into the criminal court house. -- judges attorneys other public servants and try to make the system as a whole more efficient transparent. And procedurally fair. Sosa -- you have been paying him. A volunteer for awhile now and doubt first of -- why. And is that what you thought it was going to be. Well. I like court to position them I think efficiencies. As a taxpayer. Years. Important. And as a community member you know if you had the time it's. Your responsibility again now where you can. On court cases interest me so. That's -- charged to help out. Social what do you do you work once a week generally ankle and once a week and its morning so. 33. Hours to go to the courthouse I'm sitting in one. One courtroom. And tracked -- just -- inspiration about the cases the Italy's center. So you're looking at the judge you're looking at the prosecutor you're looking at the defense attorney -- you're looking at the whole system. And isn't a form that you fill out or suggest your own notes we do have a form so for a specific questions and then if we have. You know different. Thoughts. Things happened. In a specific courtroom. Oh right those counselor seminary. Angela that's one thing I'm really proud of and -- Ministry's report it includes not only that data we gathered. But page after page of volunteer narrative observations and these are just one person's opinion about one day in court a snapshot if you will. But sometimes they can tell the story better than a single data point can and you learn a lot about the court system by flipping through. What are very observant volunteers -- down. OK so one of the issues was less -- started the top. Of judges not showing up on time and a you know common sense says well there late but if if if the court case is called for 9 o'clock. And everybody's there. The prosecutor the defense attorney -- -- suspect -- when the person and then the police and the witnesses in the whole thing and the judge doesn't show up. That's a problem. That's a big problem and the judge may be working it's not that they're not working at -- late that bench but it -- everybody else's time. -- when court hearings start late all of those people you just mentioned. One of our volunteers noted a courtroom that started two and a half hours late in which four police officers were sitting there waiting for court to start -- they could be out on the streets. I'm making our city safer instead of sitting there waiting. Are you you are very specific that some judges or later than others yet and. To be clear it's only a handful of sections where the delays and starting court on time are really. On regular and extreme in most of the courtrooms. Things start either exactly on time or within ten or fifteen minutes of play action it. Well 1015 minutes is okay but you're talking an hour you're talking 45 minute you're talking. In south -- tell your story this isn't in our 2013 report is it happened in January. But a volunteer observed he was. Could have been a defendant he could have been a witness he could have been a family member but somebody waiting for court to start. No it was only 45 minutes later so at that point but he he went up to a card -- of the sheriff's deputies to do security for decorum and he said. You know I've got my oxygen tank and I'm worried it's starting to run a little -- How Long Will we have to wait. And that's just one man one situation but it's an example of how timeliness is really important. You do name the names of the judges and how did they respond. Most of them say that if court doesn't start on time it's because I'm doing another part of much up. And eBay site for example. The chief judge is always very busy with administrative responsibilities some judges are on state. Legislative. Committees and panels and that's great I'm glad that they're doing even more work we just like. For court to start on times that you don't -- everyone else and of course is not gonna start on time and you know that in advance let the public know about it so that they're not there wasting their time. -- could be out working. When they could be back on the streets fighting crime in the case -- the police or attorneys preparing cases. And you know again. If you know you're on a committee -- and you know that you have these administrative duties don't started at 9 o'clock. Can you started case attend her. Or eleven absolutely and some courtrooms do start. Later acknowledging that there on a slightly different schedule on trying to make more convenient for the public public servants family members witnesses it's that are. While we're talking about court watch there. I was recently on a given report. Which is more uplifting and I think we need to to say that we're seeing change for the better. But stay with this we're gonna talk about the issue of course delays right after this I'm Angela on -- well. We are talking about -- watching Nolan and their recent report that shows. There is some improvements happening slowly but surely within our criminal court system. Which is shorter run amok and -- and I'm. Paraphrasing there but things are getting a little bit better wanna go to our caller -- appreciate your holding on. On a short break the the -- -- sure of what they're doing it it's very important I think that. Especially the last twenty or thirty years the court system to turn her. All big bunch yeah. And I think that some of these are just a symptom of that attitude. What are stories that feel like that they all -- kind of ball much. Air -- operating court near merged terms more than I would really cured through it it -- you all I've never seen -- church there aren't. -- year ago this is all other things that they do now and this is just new war -- -- You know below borders I would urge -- to keep watch on bought all are well. Sure I'll be certainly easier courts because it's that the problem where. -- feel like they're really over structure and their countries like. -- -- A conflict of interest you require people to a chair and certain groups when the groups contribute to the judges get paid foreign. Or it won't name names but I think they may be aware talking about. All all searchable probation conditions. That are scorched. All in the local areas that aren't necessary or orally but other pair shoot. Are are basically unconstitutional. Restriction in these challenging. Aspect for your service and Specter I'm wondering. Well thank you for calling -- Interesting that he hasn't expansion not ever have picked Siena a judgment coming on -- would you say that it does happen. You do have judges who show up on time I guess and it is what we're really talking about is accountability. And and yes I'm sure that the judges weren't happy when court watch first came about but. Hopefully they understand. The importance it I think many of them do and as for judges being on time there are several judges torso on time that if they think our numbers are you are off by even five minutes. They let us know about so we watch carefully about this and and they pay attention. And they -- figure in their Stacey because how to think. Well. We have badges that -- that we -- that I don't know if that's on and and they look for us iPad. In just about every courtroom the judge hands during a break. Introduce themselves com. Thanked me for for watching court. And and sometimes. If their outside on every. -- Let's go yes that's very nice let us talk about one of the biggest peeves and that is continuing losses and why we should care. That their they're cutting them back. This is hugely important not just for efficiency that. That big long query that's kind of vague and abstract but it has real life consequences. First off it matters to public safety the longer cases take the more likely witnesses -- and moved to get lost. To stop wanting to come back to court the more likely evidences to be lost. The more delays the more times police officers have to come to court instead of being on the streets. We think it matters from the perspective. -- defendants access to justice they deserve their day in court. It matters for taxpayer dollars. Not only. The faster things move more quickly we can move on other matters and there's always more business to be done in the city of new ones always more things -- -- But also if we get to trial faster we can reduce the pretrial population. Of Orleans parish prison. And that has a real cost in terms of paying per Diem for every prisoners there that's the city's burden. Whereas once it goes to trial an innocent defendant can go home and guilty defendant goes into the state system. Finally I wanna mention one other real consequence. The more certainty that we have this -- witch trials are going to ago and we turn now. The fewer jurors. Are needed to and abroad and that's a big pet peeve of many of the people I talk to -- Who get called and then sent wrecked and yes Robert Jenkins again. Very well known defense attorney but. Multi talented has been the Anton judge has worked for the status of public defender and so you've lived this life correct that. To correct and he says something very interest me. I'm I've been around a long time even to the pin is no longer it takes delays benefit them. And most likely you will lose the witness if you can go to. Trial quicker so I've seen that total change from tape delayed delayed delayed two while they're trying to rush to stroke. But the point is -- that. It's working much better these days. I have to tell you we talked about it all about keeps their pants and his policies. A have a police. Accountability may have bear that's sitting in -- -- go to work. And we don't have that many years ago so he's done a good job getting in the court and giving them their own time. And I've got a second that Angela there it doesn't always -- perfectly but the police department is really trying to get officers in court prepared to testify time. -- that is the good news -- Monica back to the continuance. Correct me if I'm wrong if both parties. If the defense attorney the prosecutor go up to the judges and we wanna continue -- the judge passed him. Well. That that's to a size that it depends on if it's a motion by the trial with the -- of my emotions. But to judge is not likely to continue with your offices there they're ready to testify. And therefore you just wait to move off this time. But if it's a continue with its only for good cause shown we can just walk in and they -- both sides on continuance. Most of it was civil war what's the reason what's the rationale. And there's some would say that the lawsuits and we both say that. Then we'll get it but that's not entirely correct it depends on what the rationale behind and -- it depending on hooded judges is not likely go to -- continue. It says here that public defenders. Handle eighty to 85% of all defendants in court. But private attorneys account for two thirds. Of the observed continuance -- so I want what does that say. Well and let me clarify and -- since we only watch the more violent cases it's possible that. Private attorneys are representing more those defendants say that the disparity is not quite as large as his numbers would suggest however we did conclude that. The private bars disproportionately. Contributing to the defense to always. An element. And I think he's absolutely correct about that because. A lot of times we seek immediate discover with filing additional motions. That don't normally see you know what's so people. And and and she can attest that is what you see on television hasn't really happened in the courtroom reduces the real world. And the fact of the matter is is that. We're coming in following. Tons emotions. Where the public defend itself may be will be -- -- brief and go forward so he's correct we'll filing additional most than we probably do account for -- continuance. But that doesn't mean that just -- grant an army and opts out trap heat continues in many case that they've said no so it goes both ways. I think and it probably summer again this is real world this is not television tour. But in some very prominent cases on talking national and state and you know not just local. We keep hearing. Continuing to canyon we think this thing role going to be watching is gonna start until I think in the public's mind it's why are they delaying wire they delay. But it's interesting when you say real world. The world. Going back to the judge's reaction to. The issue of continuing says. Are -- defensive about how they're making those decisions. While. The myth that because. If this continues as of merit and real merit. And then they deny as you can force that trial but that what happens you back here on an appellate issue are reversal he got into an all over again. So sometimes being on the side of caution when is it constitutional issue. So you. Or the other prosecutor go up to judge. There are very specific things that would merit it that's correct depending on what the issue is not so much is that we -- we. Have a case of another quarter or whatever but generally it's a constitutional issue but the court was that bed last night and this is another pain that quote what's his dad. Discovery did lines meaning. You comment you argue motions and he's in the deadlines we didn't do that many many years ago we should come -- -- suggest we don't have that but now we have been going now. And Angela we agree there is a healthy level of continuance is in the system that are just necessary. We just contend that. The rate of continuance is went from 63%. As we count them in 2012. Down to 57%. In 2013. And that's a real improvement but we also think there's room for more. Do you have any. Information on how other communities. Are size. Would we behind -- matter low or in the middle or like everybody. We had anecdotal suggestions that. The New Orleans criminal justice system is still. Behind the times would open and that's from a systems perspective not at fault of anyone actor in the system that's not just judges it's not just lawyers. Stay with us every one let's go to the newsroom now and check in with Chris Miller. Our guests today are brand cousin who is the head of court -- know look. Stacy Smith the volunteer with the organization. And Robert Jenkins a defense attorney and former ad -- judge -- talking about the court watch know the report that was recently released. I'm showing some improvement. Within the criminal justice. The system and this was again launched after. Katrina. When we were in such disarray but as Robert Jenkins said it used to be back and now it's better. Much better one of the issues that you wall one of the goals of your organization is transparency. So where are beyond that. -- transparency is important because. Judges are administering justice and the name of the public on behalf of all citizens of New Orleans. And we have a right to see what kind of justice is being administered in our name. Constitution guarantees that trials be public. Not to mention our volunteers like to be able to follow along with what's happening in court on a very personal level it's more interesting if you can see and hear more. So we watch for indicators of transparency and openness and we saw a slight improvement in that in the second half of last year in terms of I'm having more conversations on the record and not in whispered conversations at sidebar. We think that's really important so that the public can can see what's being done and evaluate their public servants according. But Stacey when Winger court watching and you see them -- judge calls into the bench. Are you straining to hear. Well I tried but it's it's very difficult from the audience so unless they put it on the record we don't know what happened out there. And some of them are very good about putting him on the record. It's nice to have you found -- that use it too much. Use sidebar -- I talk too much. They're -- seem to be quite a few sidebars. But that's just overall. And in our report we note that. Look at -- this is happening at sidebar which it here so some of these are merited some may not be we don't know we can't hear. But the fact that some sections have twice as many off the record sidebars as other. Others suggest to us that we can cut down on some. And you know our volunteers to note that in some sections of course it's like a parade of attorneys from the sidelines have about the microphone. Generally unilateralist -- when it has to do with. Constantly. Sexual assault cases. And you -- make sure that the and it's because Maine was patently found a statin inappropriately those cases. So those cases -- you have a that's how. Victim economy for the two of those. On the sideways Matt put in the public record sort of an out of style was animals and. -- and those are absolutely legitimate of course no -- opposed to -- What would be the types that you would but close. Again we can't hear what's going on we don't know specifics. But for instance our volunteers. Wrote. About one section. This is a direct quote I think I heard the statement permission to approach the bench for every case. Eighty it would announce the case in almost immediately the ABA and the defense counsel would go to the bench. The three of them would have a conversation off the record and then they come back to the microphone and ask for another hearing on another date so if it's happening in every case it. They're not all necessary. We talked about defense attorneys let's talk about issues you have seen with prosecutors. Well we've seen both that good and the bad because there are people like any other. I'll read you a couple of volunteer observations if that works for you. One of our volunteers wrote. That 88 did an excellent job during the entire time I was observing cases he was transparent and moved through the case has quickly. I heard his argument in a motion hearing he was extremely convincing. On the other hand every once in awhile we do see some on professionalism from -- the defense bar and the prosecutors it's not often. But in one case of volunteer. Wrote down. The 88 in this courtroom was not very professional. She had a hole in her pants and waved huge bag of marijuana around. It wasn't during the hearing that pertain to she was just showing people around her she is also unnecessarily -- to the public defender. So that's just one situation and it's not frequent but our volunteers do watch for the professionalism. Of these public servants as well. Not as if you've ever been in court that makes a difference I was paying him. Just a friend of somebody who was going through -- process and -- elect an observer and I think that's what fascinated me so much. And I remember walking out thinking how unimpressed otherwise. Frankly with both sides. And that was just one moment in time. But you know I think we have the image of the professionalism. As we -- with Robert and others but that is not always the case so it's a good. That -- watchers doing this as well court -- doing this is what makes everybody aware that there are being observed. We're not a bad thing. Not a bad -- but some of the judges have criticized saying it's an oversimplification. And I think that in in my heart I can kind of understand it. But I think hopefully the judges will now that this is a very important element to citizens. That's right and that's why in our report we note that the data that we're providing the public is supported by places like the bureau of justice assistance notes how important. Continuance dad is saying that the routine granting a continuance -- creates disorganization. And inconvenience. We note things like the American Bar Association talking about how important. -- starting court on time he has to everyone involved in the process so. Outside of volunteer observations. That are narratives that are chest their opinions on one day in court. Our dad has backed up by eight citations to best practices and and legal research. Before we take a break I want it done I wanted Robert to. Your overall thought you you have sent. This organization has helped improve the system what else does the court system need to do well. I -- it's Davis that's actually. This system has worked much better because. All of the units were working together but I think -- money is needed on the computer aside over the technologies that it can be done much better. That's we talked all -- the record then the program that if the parents who use Netflix. Beautifully that health. Fun things in perspective pretty quickly and I don't think that if we could use that computer system and Arlene it would change to hold documents the system and we must quit. Much quicker much quicker we're gonna take a break and come back and -- gonna talk with the court watching all of group about what their recommendations are right after this. We are back talking about court watching -- And they just come out with their report again there's some improvement more improvement needed and what are your recommendations. Who for the first time we have ten recommendations based on hard -- -- our observations and that's practices. Throughout the country. And they really focus on improving the system as a whole making it run more smoothly. It's there on a range of topics they range from having it written policy on delays how you ask for them asking for them in advance of the day. And what grounds. Are available to ask for a delay to start to set expectations. Amongst the attorneys the employees' and the judges that. When something is set for hearing it's gonna go. That's our first one we recommend. Getting experts and analyze the case flow for the court the foolish parish recently did this. I'm -- -- and the National Center for State Courts are respected national organization to do that. That would cost a little bit of money. That's one of those things that. An upfront investment could paid dividends down the road in terms of making the court system how it handles files when it sets hearings more efficient. Those are just a couple of the ten that are in our report and are available on our website at court watch Nolan dot award tree. You mentioned also among them is reduction in the number objection so -- -- that this has been. Bandied about by -- BGR others. So what you're saying is if necessary let's look at do we need them all. Right we said support right sizing the courts are proud to have been one of the first organizations in 2012. To raise the issue and say we need to have a conversation about this. That based on the old methodology. Of determining how many judges are needed. There may be the possibility of reducing the numbers judgeships. We don't have a final answer but we want that conversation to continue. We suggest bringing in an organization like the National Center for State Courts make an independent assessment. And then here's the key thing. Whenever they say acting on it not just letting it sit in a file somewhere gathering dust -- many studies that we heard about. How many studies have heard of I'm gonna go back to stick to what have you learned. Powell. I've learned a lot of things I'm. Probably. The biggest thing I've learned to really doesn't have to do with the efficiency part of of the court system at all but it's just kind of compassion sort of thing. -- the one thing that I strikes you Iowa got a court is the number of young men. Home late teens early twenties. Who are being sentenced to a prison term for something they've done and down. Her mom sell. As a mom I see their moms in court and and my heart breaks for them and so that's probably. The biggest impression that I've gotten from the whole thing I'm really not efficiency by. But just compassion. Compassion thing in lives wasted some very very very sad. I know that one of the reasons -- or wrong that the efficiency has gotten bettors because the GA took. The misdemeanor. Cases and put them in another court so that helped. In terms of efficiency absolutely we were able to point to three reasons and there are many others that accomplish complicated system. Three key reasons for the improvements we saw last year. Number one's smaller -- sizes if you have fewer cases to deal with everyday you're more likely to get to those cases. And that's driven in large part by the district attorney's decision to prosecute state misdemeanors in municipal court. And that felony court focus on the violent crimes that really needs their attention. We also saw fewer trials and continued high number of sweet deals which leads to greater efficiency -- trials take more time error right. But they are. Inefficient that's one of -- conflicts between efficiency and justice that -- sometimes exist and that we recognize. And third. The key third reason is just. A greater determination by the court itself. At least many of the judges on the bench to focus on this problem addressed many of our volunteers. -- observations noting a judge's worst thing to attorneys now I wanna hear this case today. No more days. And -- finish in name's Stacey but and you've done this now for six months. Do you have strong feelings that there are some -- far superior to others. There are a few core. Much I'm much more ahead in the efficiency game and then yeah there're couple hurt just ahead of the pack yes. Do you get to choose your cases or you signed -- were assigned okay. And something that's -- of which is nothing to do with -- but we're talking about getting a system that works continued you have to appreciate Robert Jenkins he's been around a long time. As a young man and but a long time and what -- saying is how the the court cases are divvied out could be improved. Well. We talked about the I'm -- into a man has an outlook it's. Presley happy to -- he can be done a better way but I wanted to touch on something about the the efficiency. In the plea deals. There are a lot of pleased rather than going through because and -- sincerely say this with seem much much. That a police work and and the police reports because. In the olden days we would have police reports that you could barely read. They would not put together very well so when you have these tight police report that was seen now. -- class will look at them and say well the big got me. I've got to accept the plea whenever. And and we CNN based on the police -- -- me is much better in terms of the reporting that the union that goes back to the administration keeps their pampered at a tea. -- there were times we look at police reports and they were horrible. -- -- Rodman that go into another issue I think that in terms of how -- on -- and I like the -- way. That's -- can't manipulated in some form that. OK let's take another break we'll be right back. Well we're talking about the court system and and the efforts by court watching Nolan. To make it more efficient by observing and again it's a hundred wonderful and volunteers just like Stacy Smith thank you for what you do. And who I think you enjoyed the process but it really making a difference and and that's really what we're hearing all these years post-Katrina. If it's getting tied -- to hear that from Robert Jenkins who lives that life every day that's huge. Well enjoy your may. -- indifference -- and not just by having us on but by your focus on. Local news I'm Israeli bringing a spotlight to issues that might have gotten overlooked. And all that national attention off the media now. The politics that we gets has swept up and says thank you very much that this that this is a pleasure. Believe me this is what makes this job very very interesting to make it's what I've learned I'm sitting there listening. To you all who are. Doing wonderful things and I think it's very easy to run. To talk about the bad sometimes you really have to say there's a lot right going on and this is progress. Just as our earlier show on homelessness. It is progress but still not there yet I'm sure that you have miles you wanna go. But it's happening because of good people and I cannot thank you -- enough for being on the show. I want everyone to stay with -- for the next hour we're going to be talking to cheap Ronald surpass to stay with us.