Criminal Justice

Judge Julian Parker orders financial bonds for all defendants in his court

As city leaders debate how much to fund the program meant to reduce the number of pretrial detainees in Orleans Parish Prison, Criminal District Court Judge Julian Parker has handed down an order requiring financial bonds for any defendant set to be tried in his court.

Parker’s order means that every defendant must put up a bond or pay a bail bondsman to get out of jail before trial — including arrestees that the Vera Institute’s pretrial services program rates as low-risk for fleeing or being re-arrested. The only exception is if Parker authorizes it in writing.

The judge’s reasoning, as spelled out in the Oct. 1 order: “There have been several career criminals, dangerous criminals, and/or multiple felony offenders who have been released from custody” on non-financial bonds.

“Think of the discrimination here,” said New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry, a proponent of pretrial services and chair of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee. “A poor defendant who happens to have his case allotted to Judge Parker’s section would not have a chance of getting … a bail that doesn’t involve paying money.”

Guidry said Parker forwarded the order to each member of the New Orleans City Council just before it started hearings on the city’s 2014 budget.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has proposed a budget of $584,000 for pretrial services; it’s included in his office’s budget and will be part of a review Wednesday morning. That is $100,000 above this year’s budget.

The budget for Criminal District Court, on the other hand, was cut by 30 percent this year. The proposed 2014 budget would keep its funding at the current level.

“I don’t know what the message was” in sending the order, Guidry said. In any case, she said, the program is supported by the mayor and the council.

Parker issued a similar order in October 2012, unreported at the time. Guidry said she did not know if the policy has been in effect since then.

Though Parker’s secretary said he was interested in commenting on the issue, he did not respond to repeated email and phone messages. Criminal District Court Judicial Administrator Robert Kazik did not respond to questions about the policy, including whether other judges have issued similar orders.

Vera program aims to base bail on flight, arrest risk

The pretrial services program, run since 2012 by the Vera Institute of Justice from Orleans Parish Prison’s Intake and Processing Center, evaluates arrestees’ likelihood of being arrested again or failing to appear in court. The program is supposed to ensure that inmates are released or detained based on that risk, not their ability to pay a sizable bail.

The program assigns each person a “risk score” based on his or her charges, criminal history and other factors. Those reports are provided to the magistrate or magistrate commissioner for reference in setting a bond.

Over the past two years, the service has been the subject of a coordinated opposition campaign by the commercial bail bond industry, a few local churches and an organization called ReviveNola, run by political consultant Kevin Stuart.

And, for the second year, the program has become a focus of debate during the city’s budget hearings. Judges with the Municipal Court and the Criminal District Court have recommended defunding pretrial services and using the savings to offset anticipated deficits to their own budgets during the current budget hearings.

Fewer inmates being released on low bonds

According to a Vera analysis, the percentage of arrestees who are assessed as low-risk and released on non-financial bonds or those under $2,500 has plummeted recently — from well over 30 percent in late 2012 and early 2013 to less than 20 percent in some recent months.

Meanwhile, as the size of Orleans Parish Prison has become a serious budget concern, the jail’s pretrial population, which reached a low of about 1,300 in April, was back up to about 1,500 in September.

“I’m not sure if that’s all attributable to a greater reticence on the part of the court. There are other things at play for sure,” said Jon Wool, director of Vera’s New Orleans office.

“There is pressure from certain groups, including the bail bondsmen, to do away with the program or diminish it,” he said. “There are certain high-profile cases, like Akein Scott, that would chill any magistrate.”

As Times-Picayune reported, the accused Mother’s Day second-line shooter had been rated low-risk after being arrested in March on five drug and illegal weapon charges. He was subsequently released on a $15,000 bond.

However, Wool said, the original recommended bond amount was $35,000. Scott spent nearly two months in jail, and a new bond of $15,000 was set in late April after all but one charge were dropped by Harry Cantrell, the magistrate commissioner, or refused by the District Attorney’s Office.

Guidry accuses judges of trying to sabotage the program

During an Oct. 18 joint meeting of the Criminal Justice and Budget Committees, Guidry accused the judges of trying to sabotage the program, according to a report in The Advocate.

Speaking at the meeting, Lori Eville of the National Institute of Corrections questioned the constitutionality of “blanket pretrial detention orders” from the court, though no one mentioned Parker’s order.

First appearances before a magistrate typically take place within a day of arrest. But in New Orleans, felony defendants then wait 40 days on average to appear before a district court judge for arraignment.

“You have a 40-day period in which someone does not have the right to a non-financial release,” Eville said.

Guidry noted that the criminal court receives more than half of a 3 percent fee paid to the sheriff from bail bond underwriters, meaning that judges, like the underwriters, have a financial stake in the bail industry.

“You have to question who is shooting at them, and what their motivation is,” she said.

She later added, more charitably, that she hopes to work productively with the court in the future. “The criminal court’s budget was cut pretty severely last year, and I advocated against that and advocated that it not be cut again. It would be my hope that we can all work together to make this program the success that it has been nationally.”

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About Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado covers the city of New Orleans and other local government bodies. He previously worked for Gambit, New Orleans’ alternative newsweekly, where he covered city hall, criminal justice and public health. Before moving to New Orleans, he covered state and local government for weekly papers in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn.

  • UNO Ph.D. 1

    Councilwoman Guidry,

    The success you speak of, was that in Philly where the courts have $1 Billion in outstanding forfeited ROR bails bonds for defendants who failed to appear ad promised. Jon Wool leaves town long before the cumulative negative effects of the VERA programs pretrial services programs are identified by proven scientific statistical methods.

  • Dennis Bonding
  • Dennis Bonding
  • UNO Ph.D. 1

    Did Councilwoman Guidry go on the VERA funded retreat to Orlando, Florida? If she did what other elected and appointed officials went? How much was the trip worth? Did they report the money on ethics reports?

  • Bro. Keith “X” Hudson

    First of all, this negro Parker is a bigoted negro, who thinks he can violate ONLY Africans Constitutional Rights and get away with it. That’s the attitude of these types of black/downtown catholics, who get these positions and show their butts for ‘massa!!!” I think the Council needs to call this negro in, and DEMAND that he adhere to the Legislative Authority of the Council and mayor!! These types like Parker are a disgrace to all the people who fought/died for Africans to obtain these positions, to be disrespected when going before this idiot!! He only does these things to Blacks! Whites put him in his place and he bows down like the negro he is.

  • UNO Ph.D. 1

    Bro. Keith “X” Hudson,
    The City Council and the City Mayor have no authority over a State District Court Judge. That is the 1st problem with your post. The next problem is the Judicial cannon of ethics which clearly states that a Judge must be impartial and can not act based on the desires of the political desires of the executive or legislative branches of government, hence the reason those political branches at the state level do not have the authority to eliminate sitting judges or reduce their pay!!!!!!
    As for Judge Parker, if more of the Judges were as tough on violent criminals as he is crime in New Orleans would go down. If more Judges followed the criminal code of procedure and case law rather than legislating from the bench crime in New Orleans would go down. Judge Parker helps those who need and want help that are not violent offenders, he runs the most successful drug court program at Criminal District Court.
    So before you speak of what you obviously do not know anything about educate yourself on the law and the facts; instead of believing the media hype and political positioning from VERA and its benefactors!

  • Bro. Keith “X” Hudson

    UNO Ph.D1, before you talk what you don’t know the City Council made the recommendation to the Chief Judge to allow the Vera Institute to implement their program in the CDC. There was an agreement reached. Parker is not the chief judge, so talk what you know. I know Parker is a house-negro who white-folks love, because he only handle Africans that come before his court. He don’t talk rough to white-folks. So, if you don’t know about this negro, stop trying to defend a house-negro!! I saw him try to handle a Public Defender, and threaten this man with jail if he didn’t operate in his courtroom. And I saw a white judge Camille Burras come down and get that Public Defender out his court room and he ain’t open his mouth!! Yes I know plenty negroes like Parker, and believe me he ain’t (blank) so save your promotion of this negro. I KNOW HE AIN’T (blank) It’s not law that a person made a financial bond, so stop trying to talk to me like your name means anything. IDIOT!!! That’s my real name, coward! Your kind(Who hide) are the worst kind of human!

  • UNO Ph.D. 1

    Bro Keith”X”,

    you are correct Judge Camille Buras is currently the chief Judge. It is an administrative position that rotates amongst the judges. She does not have the AUTHORITY to act unilaterally, ALL rules of court MUST be approved by a majority of the Judges at the En Banc meeting, which VERA was not. Further more, all rules of court MUST comply with the Judicial cannon of ethics, which allowing VERA to represent defendants without making an official court record. Additionally, VERA lawyers are having members of their firm speak with defendants who have attorneys which is a violation of the Bar Association ethics without authorization from the representing attorney.

    And of course allowing