WWL>Topics>>10-8 2pm Angela, NOLA criminal justice system

10-8 2pm Angela, NOLA criminal justice system

Oct 8, 2014|

Since Katrina, efforts have been made to fix our broken criminal justice system. Local watchdog group, Courtwatch NOLA, just released another disturbing report—see if any of this sounds familiar: finding the courthouse is a problem; ground level access is invisible; security & safety is problematic; the place is dirty; starting court times aren’t adhered to; they don’t prioritize when law enforcement has to testify; courtroom rules & etiquette are posted. How do we bring New Orleans courts into the 21st century? Angela was joined by the Authors this report, Brad Cousins, Executive Director of Court Watch NOLA and Melanie Talia, President of New Orleans Police and Justice Institute.

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Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)

Well they go to Tulane in broad to watch what's going on -- criminal district court and there is planning on any given day. Were talking about -- watching -- An army of volunteers who spend hours each day observing court proceedings. How judges perform. And the general efficiency or lack of efficiency. A criminal district court. Court watch Nolan has just republic -- released its latest report in here to talk about it is the executive director Brad cousins. And we're delighted to have Melanie tally up who was president of the new Orleans police and justice foundation. Very very interesting report. I always everytime -- -- one of these I applaud so much your volunteers to do this sort of day in day out. Checking on the system. Well I'm so glad to be here again with you Angela first off. And second off you're absolutely right our volunteers are amazing -- mixture of students -- interest in the law or criminal justice and retirees and seniors who want to impact the community. And in the first six months of 2014. They observed 479. Different sessions of court. And that's what led to this report that are hard work and so they. Or given name blank sheet in their filling this out and they're giving also their observations. And that's right on everything from efficiency. Which is important to keep the system moving save taxpayer dollars. To transparency. It's our courtrooms it's the public's. It justice that's being done. Two procedural fairness making sure the court is respectful. Helpful and gives people a chance to have their voice be heard this was born after Katrina. -- rest just with we need to pay attention as citizens to where our tax dollars are going in the systems we have in place. Absolutely the court system was a little bit of a mass. And the years after Katrina. And since then it has stabilized there's no doubt about that but we can't. Stop being vigilant because there's always room for improvement. Nobody likes to be. Told that they can do their job better but it's a different standard on -- talking about elected officials who have to welcome. That kind of constructive criticism legally. Right and it isn't just going after them it's really saying exactly which are saying we can be better. We can be better and also hear the things that we're -- well. And there's that too so that needs to acknowledge and we're gonna go through this it. Some very very interesting moments I just like talk to Melanie though. From your perspective with the police and justice foundation this is only got to be an extra help as we look at our whole system. Oh absolutely Angela thank you for having me today I would like to go back to some 2% that the volunteers. In agencies like like the please foundation a small nonprofit and and the court until it's the same thing our volunteers really become. The core of our organizations and we can't survive without them so I say many many thanks to that the volunteers at court -- optional as well as to -- that the police and justice foundation. But yes ago you know -- break point out the the courthouse in the criminal justice system within a bit of a mess after Katrina and let's be honest it was a bit of a mass before Katrina hit a that being said. The police and justice foundation as we started -- that the police foundation really trying to assist the police department with its needs and shortly before. August 2005 we changed -- name to police and justice foundation. Because we want it to treat the system and we want to treat it -- logistically and a component of that obviously is the criminal court. The judges and ND every day. And the everyday. Justice that that is handed out. In that courthouse. Well this report to Guinness the first six months of this year and he's said over 400 almost 500 court perceiving this. And it looks at everything from and we're gonna talk about this -- I was fascinated by the confusion people had even getting to the court. We're not gonna start with that but I thought that was a very appropriate. Thing that we need to address let's start with the judges. The judges who who keep. And don't start on time. Well fortunately there in the minority and can't give. The judges five or ten minutes to get the bench after -- post -- supposed to start excuse me. -- most judges are starting -- too quickly but there are few sections of court with. I enormous and consistent delays and this is a big problem because. Of all the people sitting there in the courtroom. Waiting for it to start it's not just defendants who may have committed a crime. It's also their families who took time off of work or away from their kids it's the victims and witnesses who are there to testify. And as Melanie knows well its police officers and could be doing their jobs could be on the street. And in a time when we need all the officer manpower we can get from those sections where there are persistent delays her real concern to us. Before you get into some specifics does but do you hear that from police you know had to waste half a day we -- we didn't. We never went to court. EST Angela. And the court starts across the across the courthouse at 8:30 or 9 o'clock for the most part. And the subpoenas go out they say specifically 8:39 o'clock the officers now received their subpoenas electronically. We've done away with the days of old where the subpoenas were handwritten or even computer generated and then someone would drive to every police district and station across town. And delivering to -- The end result once you know an officer got a subpoena as very labor intensive very expensive process. Well now it's electronic -- officers all get their subpoenas directly to their email address they acknowledge it within 72 hours and so they know they need to be in court. At a given time. And there's also electronic documentation. That the officer has received and has acknowledged the subpoena in will be present. So what the officers not there he or she subjects himself to discipline. So across that are close the courthouse officers are more often than not appearing at 8:39 o'clock whenever they're given timing is. But then. When they do have to sit and they do have to wait. It is it is costly to the city of New Orleans not only because the officers off the street when they might otherwise be. On mystery protecting and serving but because they are off duty. And they are -- having to be paid overtime to -- that's a huge additional cost if we can effectively and efficiently. Well the officers into the court and can testify or be excused and respect. More quickly that would be huge cost savings financially as well as -- -- to our safety of our community in our citizens. And I wanted to give your listeners a little bit of contacts within a specific story. About what our volunteers -- This is just one day and one courtroom but one of them said. Court started very late and there was a man who used an oxygen tank. He expressed concern over the lateness to an ATA because he said he may run out of oxygen. The ABA said they would call him early in the -- That they did not do that to judge did not take the bench until 10:40 AM and it was 1120 before they called his case. Court that was supposed to start at nine guest judge goes at 1048 they still don't call the man and oxygen to eleven something. Right and that's obviously not the normal case but it's an example of some of the consequences when this stuff happens there. Look let's talk about the the two that have been. Judgment ruling judge hunter. Are the two that are mostly all the time. They are mostly most frequently as observed by our volunteers I don't wanna say all the time because sometimes they do start on time okay but. -- judge -- has been consistently. The latest to start court in that courthouse in this case in the first half -- the year it was. He was on average sixteen minutes late starting court. And that may be an understatement because. Some days are volunteers gave up because they couldn't wait for court to start and the start. And judge hunter roughly 35 minutes in the first half of 2014. Us okay. There are ones that did start on time. Judge Parker. Yes he has. On the dot com and always has -- as far as we've been able to tell. You know judges. Pittman garrisons election just name a few are also very prompt about when they start -- A minute later on some think. Unbelievable. It is a mindset it is they're probably -- extenuating circumstances every judge could face. But to -- relate like that is inexcusable. There is an effort when they do have police officers waiting to try to expedite that. This is something our volunteers watch for very closely because of the importance of those officers getting back out and doing their jobs on the street and they found that the judges. Absolutely are trying once courts starts. In some cases once court finally starts the judges generally are trying to hear those cases involving officers as quickly as possible. That's something they're very good -- However they faced hurdles to that. If the defense attorneys are not present and they have to wait for those defense attorneys to show up and -- -- some ten times take hours. So her volunteers -- Two sides at the same coin judges are trying to address police officer case his first. But boy sometimes are having trouble because of other actors in the courtroom that's their interest in about defense attorneys are the number one. Group late. Yes there often late because they could have cases in multiple courtrooms they're running around like chickens with their heads cut and I say. -- sometimes it's a problem for the police officers tell him several subpoenas for any one day. In multiple sections of court and any one time so an officer infection any as it's being sought after but that officers -- Holland section. I'm so it's it's a problem across the board and you know while the officers appreciate the judge is taking their cases first in trying to get them out in back onto the street. Are they also recognize that. That they are civilians. Who have great costs incurred because of their presence in court. Whether they -- there with the victim or with the defendant they've taken off of work they've gotten babysitters and the list goes on. -- across the at the courthouse. The timing is is an issue and New Orleans is not unusual courthouses across the country all start at 8 o'clock. But if we -- at some point in time. Start looking to going to. Coordinated court calendar so that defense attorneys. Aren't demanded to be in this in different sections the court at the same time that our officers aren't demanded to be in in multiple sections at the same time. That would certainly that would certainly create a better more efficient system. Something that you did -- this year -- was. The user friendly. User friendly and procedurally fair kind of take us there. Procedural fairness is a an evidence based practice that says if courts are respectful and helpful neutral and let people's voices be heard. That has important real world facts yet common sense but it also increases the public's respect for the criminal justice system. It deep creases -- recidivism rates which means the rate at which criminals commit new crimes. Goes down and it increases compliance with court orders in other words. Respect from the system. Begets respect for the system. So our volunteers looked at a variety of metrics. On that are based on national best practices. Linked to this idea procedural fairness. And and we -- the judges based on their observations this. Is granted it it is subjective from the volunteers perspective. But what the science tells us is that perception matters and the subjective perception of the public. About how fair the court system is. Has real world effects. Very very important and who were there. The top -- in that category. Judges -- slander and Johnson. And Pittman where the top three. According to this system. Com based on national best practices that we've devised so again it was time on bench it was. Being polite he was paying attention and showing respect. Using plain English being able to communicate very simple. Neutrality and courtroom control and transparency. Those with areas that you looked -- for this category that's right and for example. Power. Defendant supposed to follow court orders if they're not in plain English. I'm -- legalese they're not gonna understand -- and not be able to go out and follow them so that's one example of how. And these categories that you might think of -- little things have big real world consequences. And I would imagine paying attention would be. A very important you really want to think the judges hanging on the word of whoever speaking at that time. That's right people's lives and liberty are at stake in these cases. And their cases demand respect and they're gonna respect the court more. The court pays attention reduces all the distractions that courtroom and really focuses on what's going on in front of it. And by the way Angela. Our volunteers found that as a whole the bench really was trying to reach out to defendants here what they have to say. And be polite with the they found areas where the court could improve certainly some of the judges but on the whole found -- bench that was focused on many of these issues. Well that's very encouraging because even though after starting late if once they get there. They're doing the job correctly with high standards than -- it had so we'll just work on the clock thing. -- you have -- he's not that particular category which you've done this report now for how many years. Seven years I -- seven years has there been an acknowledgment by. Not just the judges but the court system of these areas where you're saying gee could improve fear and they tried to over seven years. Well this is the first report which were really drilling down on the procedural fairness issue. But in our previous reports we focused on things like efficiency and transparency. And sure enough as we discussed a few months ago and in this very room. In 2013 our volunteers did observe some real improvements in those areas in terms of judges trying to reduce the number of continuance is that is produced a number of delays. To another day for a particular case. And judges trying to. Not all of them but many of them have a more open and transparent -- well. Very appearing import our special guest talking about the just released today court watch Nolan report which was a six month study. Done by the score great volunteers. Who observe and but look at various categories of the court system with the goal is -- would say to make it better not just to criticize but to make it better. Let's talk about the issue of continuance because I think that is a layperson. I oftentimes I don't get it just seems like. Why can't we just get to trial going. And there's a lot of continuance. Then there are our previous reports have put a specific number on those continuance is. In this report were just talking about some of the top reasons that are volunteers soft for them. -- because this report is trying to tell the story of that average citizens visit to this is a criminal district court what happens what are the frustrations. What are the positive experiences. One of the frustrations that people. Experience is delays they get a baby sitter they take time off work to go to court a lot of the people and those public chambers. Our family members not just those were accused of crimes. And they go only to find out that their case is being continued to another day nothing is happening and they're gonna have to come back another time. It's also public safety issue because the longer cases take. The more likely victims and witnesses are to be lost or simply get frustrated and stop coming to court. So that's why we track these issues in the top reasons for them. And the top reasons are. In 2014. Our volunteers observed a lot of continuance continuance is -- to trials being in progress that's a pretty good reason -- trials going on nothing else can happen in the courtroom. But the next three reasons have to do with the defendant or his attorney defense attorney being unprepared or unavailable. I'd defendant who's out of custody. Maybe you posted on. And doesn't show up to court now -- or a defendant who's in custody. And isn't requested to be brought to court or maybe the custodial authority like the sheriff's office and the department of corrections. Just doesn't bring them. So those are a few of the top reasons that are volunteers -- four continue -- Well other than trial in progress the other three year unacceptable. So what kind of penalty is stare at the defense attorney just says I'm not prepared. Theoretically -- judge can force them to trial anyway but judges are hesitant to -- don't impact the rights of the defendant. It's not the defendant's fault that there attorneys prepared. So you can lecture you can use your moral authority he can certainly I'd do two more severe consequences as well as the judge. We simply ask that the moral authority be brought to bear we're not saying anybody should be kind of thrown in jail. It's kind of extraordinary circumstance the defendant is out on bail and doesn't show up for court there are. Things happen. Yeah I judge will usually issuing KPS meaning an order for them to be arrested and brought back to back courthouse. And then they go back in and have to post bail again. And usually it'll go up. Yes well that would get someone's attention about showing up. However I think instances where someone is incarcerated. There cases set for next date and between. Between that day in the next date they are released they are able to post their bail. And there's not always a process in place. At that moment in time when that person as a able to leave from the jail to say here is they subpoena here is -- notice. You need to come back on a set date. Does when they are incarcerated is not necessarily so that you need that official document that subpoena in hand. Because your incarcerated -- the the person who is housing you will bring you over. So that sometimes causes defendants to not know. That they need to be in court. We're gonna take another break we're gonna come right that we're gonna talk about the issue I just thought this is during interesting sidebars. And were also gonna talk about. What I thought was fascinating and again if you're looking at it as you just said -- of what is the experience of the person going to court. If they can't find the right court. And if they can't find the real courtroom. That's a problem and yet I think you have a great solution. One of the areas we haven't discussed we need to is not a whole part of that courtroom is. Or the deputies. Who from the sheriff's office who are controlling. And for protection but there's. Issues there. In this is the story of the good and the bad and the ugly because some of those deputies to an amazing. There are three or four deputies that handle the security at the front door and there are hundreds of people coming in there. Every morning in a rush and they handled them beautifully that are rarely. Long lines according to our volunteers. And there haven't been courthouse incidents where people bring weapons and that's a testament. To their ability whom are volunteers also found that 98 point 7% of the time. They felt safe in that courthouse. Largely because of those security screening deputies. On the other hand. Some of the deputies in charge of security in the court rooms themselves. Are well trained and legalized like watch everyone -- And in some courtrooms they've noticed some real training problems some lapses including deputies sleeping. Eating playing on their cellphones listening to music with headphones and and you know and not all of those defendants are guilty but some are and some have been charged with very heinous violent crimes. And there's a need to make sure that they are facing forward not talking not talking to their buddies in the audience not talking to. Witnesses who might be a witness against them in the audience. And really on the straight and narrow when there and that court. Well that again is an area of if you say the majority are good but if there's some that are not claiming to be retrained. How simple and make life. Let -- also talk about. We have a little bit of time that the sidebar issue I just thought was interest in the sidebar to win when they. You call the audience for the people or cannot hear what the judge and the attorneys are discussing. That's right and you know there are some really good reasons for sidebars sometimes. There may be a discussion about a child victim of a crime you don't want that to be public and name things like. Com an attorney may want continuance a delay for some really embarrassing health problem you know like I -- bola. He probably champions courtroom side. Then you might wanna -- and it's Hyde Park. But when it's every case is being discussed at sidebar and nothing's going on the record and the public has no idea. What's going on that's a problem because it erodes faith in the system. When the public can hear justice being administered here that both sides are having their say. And the chip that judges and listening to both sides and taking them seriously. -- they have more faith in it and if those discussions are at sidebar. They may think that secret deals are being worked out when they're probably not of course. And so that's why we tracked this issue and encourage perception that encouraged that the courtrooms it do you have a lot of sidebars to really try to cut down. You started your whole report with we gotta find the right courthouse because there are others in the area and signage is for. And and in yet you came up with something that just made a lot of sense to should be signs but people who have never been. Confine their way. It's not hard as it is not complicated we know that the city doesn't have a lot of money but our volunteers see people going into the wrong court house all the time. And even more concerning is our volunteer in the criminal district court has. And and transfer people with disabilities that's accessible. But it's not well marked -- volunteers have also seen people struggling up those big front steps men get into the courthouse 'cause they simply don't know. That there's an accessible entrance. Once they're in the courthouse they have to ask deputies distract them from their security duties to find out where the different courtrooms are. So we're proposing. Three maps it's not complicated one at the corners to -- broad showing neighborhood showing here's traffic court hears and a PD headquarters here's criminal district court. One at the entrance to criminal district court showing here are aware of the courtrooms are here's where you are and one. Outside elevators on the second floor of the criminal district court saying he got out at the -- here's how you're gonna reorient yourself so you can get to court on time. Perfect and before we could I don't wanna run at a time very quickly. You all both of you think that all of this can be included for our entire system and I think called dashboard yes Angela that there are. It can -- criminal justice systems across the country are coming into but they called their criminal justice dashboard and it is it is. Exactly that it looks just like the dashboard on your car but instead of your speed and your gasoline. It it is is data relating to. The agencies of the criminal justice system so as an example all of the information contained here and grants report. What time did -- we did each section of courts start what time did it and the number of continuance as reasons therefore and the list goes on. All of this data would be reported by the court. The court would be accountable not only to the community but also to itself and all of these statistics would regularly be reported on the data dashboard. And the same would be true for the public defender. That it that the district attorney the sheriff and the list goes on all of the criminal justice agencies with protested. It makes wonderful cents. I want to second what Melanie said this is something we've recommended before. What we're asking both of us I think what we're asking the criminal justice system to do is be your own watchdog. And put us out of business and let the public see what's going on yourself like that that you just said the bottom line. Want to remind everybody that you all are holding a judicial candidate forum. Yes on October 22 from 630 to eight. Court -- know the police and justice foundation and many other organizations are sponsoring a criminal and juvenile court candidate forum says that the public can come here what are candidates for these courts have to say. And start that culture of accountability. And I think for both asking force that's. October 22 tour of synagogue on saint Charles from 638. These are will be moderating and WYES will be broadcasting it on the Internet and were really excited I know this is terrific and Brent what you do with court watching Nolan and your wonderful volunteers has been a great a great thing post-Katrina. It truly hands. I say it every time I'm on your show but. This show is also an example of that community minded spirit that. We see all across new ones we we pay attention to our national politics we pay attention or baseball or football teams but we're also tuning in to listen to you talk about -- local issues you are great thank you. So much for being here's stay with the suburban have another interesting hour -- hope you'll join us it's all about when I called the new burgeoning business. Agribusiness. Talking to three great people about that hope you'll joints.