A state appeals court on Wednesday upheld a judgment against the city over its funding of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Clerk Arthur Morrell’s office, handing Morrell another victory in a long-running battle over the city’s obligation to fund his payroll.
The appeals panel, however, rejected Morrell’s claim that the city’s appeal amounted to a frivolous delaying tactic. The panel therefore refused to order the city to pay damages to Morrell’s office, but it called its decision on that point “a very close case.”
At issue was a ruling last year by Civil District Court Judge Sidney Cates IV. Cates awarded Morrell’s office $141,000, finding that the city had shortchanged the Clerk’s Office in 2012, when Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin cut its city funding by 3.8 percent as part of overall budget reductions.
State law requires the city to adequately fund Morrell’s office and says the funding “shall not be reduced by the city ... without the consent of the Legislature.”
Morrell has argued that means the city must pay to staff his office at its historic level of 90.5 employees.
The city for years has balked at the idea of a blank check for Morrell, who also claims Kopplin has refused to authorize hiring to fill more than a dozen open positions on his staff.
The appeals panel, made up of Judges Dennis Bagneris, Roland Belsome and Sandra Cabrina Jenkins, agreed that Cates was on solid ground in ordering the city to pay up.
The $141,000 judgment may not end the legal skirmish. Madro Bandaries, an attorney for Morrell, noted that the judgment applies only to funding for 2012. He said Morrell will seek similar payment from the city for subsequent years.
“We would suggest that this has settled the situation to the extent that the clerk has to be funded for his 90.5 employees,” Bandaries said. “It’s my understanding that the clerk will be moving to attempt to legally collect from the years that are missing,” he said, although he could not say how much the city would owe Morrell’s office for those years.
A spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The adopted 2016 city budget funds Morrell’s office at $3.7 million, about $370,000 below his budget for 2012.
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