Criminal Justice
 

Simple change could add $20 to traffic tickets in New Orleans, to benefit DA

Facing a financial shortfall from the city’s proposed 2015 budget, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has come up with an idea to make errant drivers cringe: If city police would write traffic tickets using state laws, instead of municipal ordinances, his office would automatically get $20 per ticket.

At Wednesday’s City Council hearing on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed 2015 budget, Cannizzaro said that most of the state’s district attorney offices benefit from this practice.

Such a change would require no legislative action. The New Orleans Police Department would simply instruct officers to issue citations based on the state codes. Cannizzaro did not provide an estimate as to how much the change would raise for his operation.

Cannizzaro also suggested that the city take the $835,000 budgeted for traffic and municipal prosecution through the city attorney’s office and instead give that money and responsibility to his office. The District Attorney’s Office could handle the extra workload with no more than five extra employees, he said.

Councilmember Jason Williams praised Cannizzaro for suggesting money-saving measures as he asks for more funding like the proverbial wheel that needs grease.

“Everybody comes and squeaks, but very rarely do people come with new ideas,” Williams said.

The two discussed the possibility of bringing in Louisiana State Police troopers to patrol for traffic violations through the state’s Local Agency Compensated Enforcement program, which would let NOPD focus elsewhere. The District Attorney’s Office would pay for the state police.

The proposed budget would increase the District Attorney’s office budget by 3 percent, from $6.27 million to $6.48 million. However, Cannizzaro said, this would not even cover his office’s new initiative with the Innocence Project, let alone other expenses to maintain his office’s current performance.

He said told the council he could use an additional $613,000 for next year’s budget. Of that, $300,000 would provide for 4 percent raises for his staff.

The other $313,000 would make up for a shortage of one-time forfeitures that have boosted the office’s bottom line in recent years. This amount would help his office maintain its current staffing, according to an analysis by Andy Kopplin, first deputy mayor and chief administrative officer for the city.

If granted this extra money, Cannizzaro’s budget would increase 10 percent over the current year.

CRIMINAL DISTRICT COURT

City Council members also heard remarks from the judges at Tulane and Broad. The city has proposed a budget of $2,026,597 for the court, up from last year’s budget of $1,526,597. That additional $500,000 represents a 33 percent increase in the city’s share of spending at the courthouse.

Court representatives said they will request an additional $530,000 in the coming month to shore up a budget deficit for the current year.

Tommie Vassel, accountant for the Criminal District Court, said the court’s reserves ran dry earlier than anticipated. The city was alerted about this expected deficit in August, said Kopplin, and the two sides have worked together since to close the gap.

“It would have been more helpful to advise the city earlier in the year,” Kopplin said.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry asked about the judge’s travel expenses, which have received news coverage. Chief Judge Benedict Willard responded that the Louisiana Supreme Court allows up to $15,000 per judge for travel reimbursements pertaining to Continuing Legal Education courses. All judges met this standard over the past year.

Willard pointed out that the Louisiana Supreme Court requires that five of the 12.5 hours for Continuing Legal Education be fulfilled at a judicial college seminar, many of which are outside of Orleans Parish. Much of this travel is reimbursed by the Supreme Court.

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  • nickelndime

    NOPD cops’ life goal is to catch motorists doing “the dirty” (over the limit…) on the streets of this dirty city. Like they need more incentive to give citations out to motorists. Let’s face it, it is usually a helluva lot safer for cops to target motorists than it is to actually fight crime (which is high-risk and unpredictable), and now the DA wants to make it more lucrative by tacking on an additional $20 in fines. Well, I have had enough. It makes me sick to watch cops hide behind trees and parked cars, and then step out at that one moment and stop somebody who looks safe enough to pay the ticket, but will do them no harm (except with their minds). And I do not want to get started on those nauseating blinding blue lights or the cop who speeds through a red light because he’s got to get to a paid detail! Well!

  • Steve

    The DA could save his office plenty of money by not wasting it on prosecuting low level drug offenders. Sit in court any day of the week and you’ll see where that money goes.

  • Orleans Public Defenders

    This “simple solution” has some fine print. For one, traffic tickets could very well increase by $75, or nearly
    double the original cost. For another, the program the DA suggests, Local Area Compensated Enforcement, takes money away from other stakeholders who depend on traffic revenue, notably the public defender’s office. OPD receives just 16% of the DA’s local funding while handling 85% of their caseload.

    The damage such a policy would inflict on public defense in New Orleans would be devastating. Taking from the source of more than half of our funding would force OPD to close its doors and essentially bring the entire criminal justice system to a halt.

    Mr. Cannizzaro’s larger point, however, looks to be correct. For the public to have faith in the criminal justice system, public defenders, district attorneys and judges need stable, reliable and adequate funding sources. With funding perilous and Louisiana leading the world in incarcerations and wrongful convictions, it is time to look at new
    solutions. Although, it most likely won’t be so “simple.”