Jefferson Parish’s inspector general issued a report Wednesday questioning how the parish compensates its constables and justices of the peace, some of whom report six-figure incomes from the job.
It found the parish spends at least $500,000 a year more than is legally required and that it lacks a cohesive, meaningful assessment outlining the rationale for the money it puts into the system.
The parish declined to comment on the findings, though officials’ responses to several points raised by Inspector General David McClintock’s office were incorporated into the report. They took issue with some of the calculations and methodologies, but agreed a review of the spending could be in order.
The eight justices of the peace and eight constables who operate in Jefferson Parish are elected by voters to six-year terms. The JPs handle civil claims of less than $5,000, issue summonses and can perform marriage ceremonies. The constables serve citations ordered by the court and act as the enforcement officers in evictions, wage garnishments and other orders of the court.
The IG’s report said the parish is not using the discretion it has to reduce the costs.
Looking strictly at the state’s minimum requirements for the 16 officers, it said, the parish annually overspends by $312,000 on salaries, $116,552 on personnel benefits, $15,983 on other benefits and $57,009 in the fair-market value of office space it lets them use.
On salaries, the report said the parish pays each of its constables and justices of the peace $20,400 per year, far above the $900 per year state minimum and the $3,200 per year that East Baton Rouge Parish pays. The state matches up to $1,200 of whatever the parish pays, though the jobs’ workload varies from one office to the next and the fees the officials are authorized to collect range from $20,000 to more than $200,000.
The closest monthly base salary in another parish to Jefferson Parish’s $1,667 is $750 in West Feliciana. Only eight other parishes pay more than $500 per month.
McClintock’s report said the base salaries are set “without assessing the merits of the expenditure in terms of work performed and service rendered for the parish’s benefit.”
The report also questioned whether the parish should pick up the tab for things that could be considered operational expenses, from travel and training to office space.
“It would appear, based upon self-reported income of JPs, that at least some wards generate sufficient revenue through civil filings to assume responsibility for operational costs associated with office space,” the report said.
The parish pays for office supplies and printing and professional services, which is not required by law, and even though the state authorizes constables and justices of the peace to collect fees from civil filings to cover such expenses.
The parish provides the 1st, 2nd and 5th courts with office space free of charge, as allowed by state law, though the report said there was a lack of documentation for the arrangement.
The report also said there is an inherent contradiction in how the parish treats constables and justices of the peace as employees when it comes to benefits while also acknowledging them as a separate political subdivision. It recommended the parish seek clarification from the state Attorney General’s Office.
While the system has been criticized as being ripe for abuse, the report did not examine any individual expenses or perform audits of income reported by the constables and justices of the peace.
The report was, however, spurred by information provided by the Metropolitan Crime Commission about alleged abuse of the system by former Constable Antoine “Tony” Thomassie.
As a result of the commission’s investigation, Thomassie’s home was raided by state auditors and Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies.
That investigation, which is still pending with the state Legislative Auditor’s Office, is looking into Thomassie’s travel expenses, which amounted to $94,343 over a three-year period, and allegations that he gave out as many as 70 badges for deputy constables who paid him $20 a week to carry them.
Thomassie also was the subject of several news reports on WVUE-TV that alleged he was spending time in a West Bank bar during hours he claimed to be working.
He also was accused by the state Board of Ethics late last year of using public money for personal expenses and hiring his wife in violation of state nepotism laws.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.