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

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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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