Government & Politics

Bill backed by Mayor Landrieu would extend deadline for new civil courthouse

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has offered an enticement to judges at Civil District Court to get them to reconsider their opposition to moving into the abandoned Charity Hospital building.

Landrieu is pushing a bill in Baton Rouge that would give the judges an additional year to collect higher court fees meant to help finance a new courthouse. Under current law, the judges have to put that money toward renovations of their current building if by Aug. 15 they haven’t let bids to build a new courthouse.

The judges have collected a little over $3 million so far and take in an additional $100,000 or so per month. They have said they would bond that income stream to raise a good chunk of the $101 million to $132 million they would need for a standalone courthouse.

If the judges heed Landrieu’s wishes, the mayor could use that money to renovate Charity for the court.

State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, who is sponsoring the legislation, said he filed it at the mayor’s behest to help break a stalemate between Landrieu and the judges over his plan to have them move into one of the three wings of the old hospital building. City Hall would occupy a second renovated wing.

The stalemate was stated succinctly by Michael Bagneris, then the chair of the Judicial Building Commission, who said last fall that the likelihood of the judges moving into Charity was “zip. Zero. Nada.”

In October, Judge Kern Reese accused Landrieu of engaging in hardball tactics to keep the judges from moving to a site other than Charity Hospital.

Reese now co-chairs the Judicial Building Commission after Bagneris resigned from the bench to run against Landrieu for mayor.

Monday night, Reese offered a more conciliatory approach.

“The mayor obviously wants to continue the discussion,” Reese said. “Things had reached an impasse. Through some back-channel discussions, a request was made to us to keep an open mind. We said, ‘OK, if he has anything else to consider, we’ll consider it.’”

Landrieu did not respond to a request for an interview Tuesday. His spokesman Tyler Gamble emailed this statement: “The City supports providing Civil District Court with the flexibility to continue to collect the fees while we continue discussions on the adaptive reuse of Charity Hospital as a civic complex.”

Leger’s bill passed the House unanimously last week and is now before the Senate Finance Committee. Under his bill, the money the judges collect could be used to renovate Charity. Current law says the money has to be used for “a new facility.”

Leger said that change was made at the mayor’s request.

Reese said the judges support the bill and expect it to pass the Legislature.

In the meantime they are continuing to work with the developer they have selected for a new courthouse.

“We’re still looking at sites,” Reese said. “Until that bill passes, our deadline is still Aug. 15.”

Under a 2010 law, the judges have to solicit bids for a new courthouse by Aug. 15, or use the money they collected to repair their existing courthouse at Loyola Avenue and Poydras Street. Judges complain that it is cramped and deteriorating and say the only solution is a new courthouse.

The mayor has said it would be cheaper and better for everyone involved if they would move into the old Charity building along with city government.

Leger said he is hopeful that the judges and Landrieu will find common ground.

“We want a high-quality place so the people of New Orleans will have a courthouse that meets the city’s needs,” he said.

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About Tyler Bridges

Tyler Bridges covers Louisiana politics and public policy for The Lens. He returned to New Orleans in 2012 after spending the previous year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, where he studied digital journalism. Prior to that, he spent 13 years as a reporter for the Miami Herald, where he was twice a member of Pulitzer Prize-winning teams while covering state government, the city of Miami and national politics. He also was a foreign correspondent based in South America. Before the Herald, he covered politics for seven years at The Times-Picayune. He is the author of The Rise of David Duke (1994) and Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards (2001). He can be reached at (504) 810-6222.

  • Nick Kindel

    “The mayor has said it would be cheaper and better for everyone involved if they would move into the old Charity building along with city government.”

    When the City studied 5 options to renovate or move City Hall to a new location, Charity Hospital was the most expensive alternative. Not sure why Charity is being framed as the cheapest option for the tax payers.

  • nickelndime

    LANDRIEU AND THE NEW NEW CIVIL COURTHOUSE: Why not move city government to eastern New Orleans’ JazzLand?! Location! Location! Location! Is the word “cheaper” actually in Mitchell’s vocabulary? I don’t think so! Mitchell, et al. have sucked the public trough for so long, do(es) he/they actually understand what happens when it goes dry? Go Liberty Bank (!) and they who sit on public charter (nonprofit – yeah, right) boards (Hello, FirstLine! and Greg St. Etienne) or are the bankers for certain nonprofit charter boards and offer 6-figure lines of credit (Hello, Einstein Group, Inc.). The Board president of (the nonprofit charter board- yeah, right) Einstein Charter School(s), Ryan Bennett, is employed by FirstLine. Coincidence? (There are no coincidences.) On April 8, 2014 (not a THE LENS reporter in sight), Bennett resigned his Einstein board president position. Why? He cited too much work. Yeah, right. These guys are getting way to savvy and making sure that public meetings are being conducted like dog-and-pony shows. And whatever happened to Liberty Bank’s “Baby Ann” (Duplessis), another one of Mitchell’s Deputy Mayors? She wasn’t outed the same way as Greg. Actually, I am rather surprised that Liberty Bank has not set up a deal for the city to lease one of its buildings, like it tried to do for KIPP with Patrick Dobard and the State/RSD. Does it get any better than this? You bet it does!

  • Janet Hays

    Here’s the thing.

    In 2010 the Mayor signed off on a letter to the Judges that he supported building a stand alone courthouse and a Municipal Complex on the old Supreme Court site on Duncan Plaza per state legislation that would allow them to do that.

    Later, Mayor Landrieu reneged on that commitment.

    I do not know exactly how much building a new Municipal Complex on Duncan Plaza would cost but i would like to.

    The question though, is why did the Mayor change his mind?

    Simply put, this is a developers vs critical needs issue. The building would be more suitably renovated for medical purposes in the medical district in a way that would not cost tax-payers anything. As a mental health complex, private spaces could be leased by research organizations to provide for operating costs and debt obligation to a bonding authority.

    That would be a private public partnership I would support. IE private money going to the public purpose and not the other way around. We need to get out of the sum zero game mentality.