The volunteer non-profit organization Court Watch Nola issued its annual report today, highlighting a rise in court delays that plagued the Orleans Criminal District Court in 2011 and have continued into this year.
The report, compiled by volunteers from 3,000 separate court-date observations, found that two-thirds of defendants had to come back to court another day to face their charges – and that half were because another trial was taking place.
The judges requested two-thirds of the delays , the report shows.
These were all-time highs since the organization started tracking court proceedings in 2007. The group’s goal is to promote efficiency in the New Orleans criminal-justice system.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro pledged to hold 600 jury trials last year. His office oversaw 329.
That was still an increase from previous years. The report said the lag might suggest his attorneys were “struggling in 2011 to keep up with the aggressive trial schedule.”
District Court Chief Judge Camille Buras agreed that the delays are a problem that she blames on the “high number of jury trials.” She said some of the delays arise when defendants request a jury trial and the docket is already full.
There are twelve judges in the criminal courts. Their individual rate of delays, also called continuances, ranged from Judge Darryl Derbigny at 53 percent to Buras’ high of 73 percent.
“You have to look at the continuances with the overall docket of that particular section,” Buras said. “The more serious the case, the longer the continuance. Continuances don’t necessarily mean a high docket.
“A judge may only give a continuance for two weeks rather than two months. I have a very high number of continuances, but the third lowest docket in the building,” she said.
Court Watch Nola’s volunteers are professional retirees and students from Tulane University and Delgado Community College, said Brad Cousins, executive director of the organization since August.
The organization passed 10,000 observations in 2011, its fifth year of operations.