Judge: ‘Arrogance’ led to smaller facility

NEW ORLEANS — The six judges of New Orleans’ juvenile court said they were shocked to learn only recently that their new courthouse, to be constructed as part of a juvenile justice complex, will only have space for four judges.

Speaking Wednesday during the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, which received an update about the project from Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant, Judge Lawrence Lagarde said it was the Landrieu administration’s “arrogance” that led to the decision for insufficient quarters for the current judiciary.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said during a Feb. 5 ground-breaking ceremony for the complex, which will include the city’s juvenile jail, court and social services, that he’d like to see the number of juvenile judges reduced to three and would ask the state Legislature to do so during its upcoming session.

He said the number of judges is too great for the case load the court faces.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Lagarde said the new campus will be a “tremendous step forward” but that he has “grave concerns” about how Landrieu is trying to reduce the number of judges.

Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni confirmed that proposed legislation is being drafted that would reduce the number of judges.

But building a courthouse that cannot house the entire existing bench was premature because the Legislature has not yet been able to debate having fewer juvenile judges in New Orleans, Lagarde said.

“To me it borders on arrogance to do something without the permission of the body that has to give permission” for reducing the number of judges, Lagarde said. “We do the job, and I think we do a damn good job.”

Berni denied Lagarde’s claims that the administration has left the judges out of the planning process.

“They have been involved,” he wrote in an email.

OPSB president starts term swinging

NEW ORLEANS — During the first meeting of the newly sworn-in Orleans Parish School Board, board President Ira Thomas came out swinging, surprising everyone with a last-minute attempt to nullify the employment contracts of interim Superintendent Stan Smith and Deputy Superintendent for Charter Schools Kathleen Padian.

Thomas’ argument that the contracts were not legal when signed last summer fell flat when put to the vote as both amendments to nullify failed. Thomas Robichaux, who was board president at the time the contracts were authorized, said that there was nothing wrong with the original contracts and called the action “absurd.”

Thomas also surprised the other board members by introducing something that was not on the agenda: the authorization for the use of a $2 million tax credit for the construction of Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in the 6th Ward. Board member Woody Koppel expressed concern that not authorizing the use of the tax credit by Friday would have sent a bad signal to investors, potentially jeopardizing $80 million in tax credits needed for other school construction projects.

Board members submitted a letter that called for an emergency meeting, an action which by law Thomas was required to oblige. At the special meeting on Thursday, Thomas questioned the Recovery School District’s commitment to the community, with whom a partnership was required, and voted against the approval. Thomas’ attempt to thwart finance leveraging many considered a “no-brainer” failed in a 5-1 vote.

One-stop shop tour halts after departure

NEW ORLEANS — It’s been a City Hall goal for years: A “one-stop shop” where residents and businesses could go to deal with land-use and permitting issues in a single location, rather than having to run around to various offices on different floor or in different buildings all together.

The city was ready to show off the accomplishment to the media this week, but that apparently changed after Deputy Mayor Michelle Thomas resigned abruptly last week.

The city gave no reason for her departure, only saying it was for “personal reasons.”

Thomas’ time in the Landrieu administration, however, came to an end a day after WWL-TV raised questions about her engagement to and joint home ownership with a man accused of state gun and drug charges.

As deputy mayor for operations, Thomas was in charge of several key initiatives, including sweeping changes to the city’s taxi cab operations and the creation of the one-stop shop.

Asked this week if the media tour of the new office would go on as planned, City Hall spokesman Kam Buckner said it would not. He gave no reason for the cancellation of the media tour, only saying it was going to be rescheduled.

Head to headline Press Club show

NEW ORLEANS — City Council President Stacy Head will headline this year’s Press Club of New Orleans Gridiron Show.

The annual year-in-review event, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, skewers elected officials, news events and local media outlets and personalities.

This year’s Gridiron will be held March 19 at the Roux House, above Walks-On’s, 1009 Poydras St.

A cocktail reception will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the show will start promptly at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $40. Tickets can be purchased at the Press Club’s website at www.pressclubneworleans.org.

The event is open to the public. Proceeds from ticket sales go to the Press Club’s journalism scholarship fund.

Headliners in recent years have included Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.

Compiled by

Danny Monteverde

and Kari Dequine Harden