In his office in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Clerk of Court Arthur A. Morrell talks about the U.S. Department of Justice visit to the Louisiana Voting Machine Warehouse earlier in the day in New Orleans, La. Monday, Nov. 7, 2016.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

A state appeals court panel handed the city a win this week in a years-long dispute over its funding of Orleans Parish Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell's office.

In a ruling Thursday, the court agreed with a civil court judge that Morrell's office had failed to show that Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration shortchanged the clerk's office some $2.4 million from 2013 to 2016.

Morrell had won an earlier judgment in which the city was ordered to pony up about $141,000 that a judge found the city had withheld illegally from the clerk's office for 2012.

That judgment cited a state law requiring the city to seek legislative approval before reducing its funding for Morrell's staff. The court found that Mayor Mitch Landrieu's former chief administrative officer, Andy Kopplin, violated that statute when he held back a percentage of the clerk's office funding in 2012 and then tried to make that cut permanent.

But that ruling only applied to 2012. Morrell went back to court with a similar claim for subsequent years, arguing that the city's $3.7 million in annual funding for his office wasn't enough to cover the 90.5 employees he claims are needed to fully fund his staff.

The city countered by arguing, among other claims, that Morrell "sat on his hands for years" before challenging the funding.

Civil District Judge Sidney Cates refused to order the city to pay, saying Morrell's office failed to prove its case.

The panel of 4th Circuit Judges Joy Cossich Lobrano, Sandra Cabrina Jenkins and Paula Brown agreed, ruling that the clerk "has simply not proven he has a clear and specific right" to force the city to pay and that Cates did not abuse his discretion in denying Morrell.

Attorney Madro Bandaries, who represents Morrell's office, said the court was mistaken in relying on the $3.7 million figure in deciding what it takes to fully fund Morrell's staff under the state law.

"We're considering appealing to the Louisiana Supreme Court to see if we can bring closure to the whole matter," Bandaries said. "We stand firm in our belief that the city perpetually has shorted the funding of the criminal clerk's office."

Morrell, a former state lawmaker, first won the clerk's seat in 2006. He won a new four-year term this year when his lone opponent was disqualified over tax issues.

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