Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Judicial Inactivism

Which is the bigger problem, judges "legislating from the bench" or judges' confirmation/election processes? When we hear about the judicial system, outside of Hollywood celebrity trials, the wonky reporting and op-eds usually fall into one of these two categories.

In related news, we also hear a lot about the failures of the criminal and civil court systems and our litigation-happy society. In seemingly non-related news we hear about too much government spending, government waste, and government inefficiencies.

These are all Very Important Issues to consider, sometimes blown up into manufactured controversies, to be sure. But I was drifting through the deep pages of the "Crime" section in the local daily, and I think we may need to take a step back.

I don't know how many other jurisdictions this is the case for, but in Orleans Parish, around 50% of continuances are caused by a combination of Not Enough Space and Judicial No Shows.

For a city and state dealing with budget issues, and a citizenry where getting caught up in the system can be a time-consuming nightmare, the fact that 13% of continuances occur because of Judicial No Shows at scheduled times is incredibly problematic. I can only imagine how much money it costs to open court for the day, book the courtroom, pay for lawyers, subpoena the witnesses, pull police off duty to testify, organize a jury, get everyone to the courthouse, bump other court proceedings (the continuances regarding space), and then the judge just doesn't show up for work. Or shows up late and delays proceedings.

That is a huge wasted-resource multiplier for the already outrageous 13%. I can only imagine the real costs to this city and her citizenry are.

This is more troubling when you consider that many judges in Orleans Parish are elected offices, and many citizen groups focus on non-judicial elections.

The watchdog groups cited in this article shouldn't wait for a response before naming names, they should name names and then the judge can take time out of their busy schedule to respond. As a matter of fact, with the internet, the watchdog groups could set up a live, streaming feed - not unlike airline arrivals and departures - that keep real-time track of when which judges are actually at work at a particular time.

The "lack of courtroom space" issue is bad enough for a judiciary in a city with plenty of empty office space around town. I can see that renting a few floors of some downtown high-rise might be troublesome based on overcharged rents, procurement and setting up location security. But even the space issue pertains to the Judicial No Show problem: because how can you ever plan for how much space you need?

This is a kind of issue that deserves some front-page love, in every city or municipality where it is a problem. Kudos to the TP for printing it, though I don't like how far into the web pages it is. People. Need. To. Know. This. Stuff. It isn't sexy, it isn't guaranteed to generate page-views, but it is a problem and informing the citizens is an important step in fixing the problem.

Because the larger issue is the widespread but misdirected discontent in our nation's population. You can get angry at national figures and policies until you're dressing up as George Washington and playing Revolution or waiting on a pragmatic President to hand-deliver Hope and Change to your door; but there are things you can do, in your own hometown, where your voice is the loudest, that will affect the lives of you and your neighbors the most. And you can do these things RTFN.

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