As snow covered the north shore Friday, children enjoyed a day off from school and law enforcement officials urged people to stay off the roads, but at 22nd Judicial District Court in Covington, defendants who heeded that advice and didn't show up for their trials are facing arrest warrants.
Chief Judge Richard Swartz said the court initially considered closing because of the weather. But after discussions, the judges decided to continue all matters scheduled to be heard that day, even though the courthouse was officially closed.
In fact, Swartz's order closing the courthouse mentioned the "emergency" caused by the winter weather and the "hazardous and unsafe conditions" it created, just before outlining that business would go on as usual for those set for trial.
A murder trial in Division C was entering its final day, and criminal motions were set for Division I. Misdemeanor and traffic trials also were scheduled.
It's not clear how many no-shows there were in total. Clerk of Court Melissa Henry said there were 60 misdemeanor and domestic violence cases on the docket, and warrants were issued for the arrest of 13 defendants who did not make it to court. As of the close of business Tuesday, those warrants still had not been processed.
Henry said she couldn't say how many warrants were issued for traffic violators.
The 22nd Judicial District Attorney's Office ordered the warrants, and spokeswoman Lisa Page said it is standard procedure to ask for an attachment when court is open and a defendant doesn't show.
Swartz said showing up in court is the responsibility of the individual, and if someone had a court date, they should have made a call to find out if court was in session.
He said it's his understanding that anyone who missed court Friday can get a new trial date by calling the District Attorney's Office or the Clerk of Court's Office.
Defense attorney Mike Bradley said that news releases about parish offices being closed led to some confusion. He said he called all his clients Thursday afternoon under the impression that the courthouse was closed. He only discovered later that evening that misdemeanor court would be held, and he had to make a call to get continuances for his clients.
"My biggest concern is that no one actually goes to jail for missing court on what was a snow day," he said.
St. Tammany Parish Public Defender John Lindner said his office had 10 clients scheduled and only two of them failed to show up.
"In my opinion, I don't think bench warrants should have been issued in the first place," Lindner said, but he added that he doesn't think anyone will have trouble getting a new trial.
Bradley said he hopes that information about future court closings will be communicated more clearly.
The information about the court was posted on the state Supreme Court website, next to information about the complete shutdown of the 22nd Judicial District Court's offices in Washington Parish. The information also was provided on the court's website and the clerk of court's website and Facebook page.