SUNSHINE WEEK – DISTRICT AND MUNICIPAL COURTS
The division of the State of Louisiana into Judicial Districts is mandated by Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 14. Each judicial district must be composed of at least one parish and served by at least one judge. Municipal and other courts that were in existence at the time the Louisiana Constitution went into effect were to remain in operation unless altered or abolished by the legislature.
Reports of luxurious automobiles and other abnormal expenditures by Lafayette City Court Judge Douglas Saloom from the judicial account led us to launch an investigation late last year. Shortly thereafter Judge Saloom retained counsel and even though our investigation is ongoing we do know that the disposition of judicial fees has also been under scrutiny by Lafayette Consolidated Government. Coupled with the use of judicial funds by Lafayette City Court Judges to pay for staff meetings, which included alcohol, at fine dining establishments such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, attendance at several conferences a year including remote destinations such as Canada, purchasing in-home security equipment and establishing the “Saloom Art Gallery” at Lafayette City Court, we were interested in knowing if Lafayette City Court was the only safe haven of judicial luxury. Sunshine week was an opportune time to explore whether these types of expenditures were being made by other Judges across the state.
Our requests were sent to one Judge in each of the 42 District Courts in the State and several other area municipal courts. Only a handful of Judges reported receiving a subsidy for a vehicle or vehicles owned, leased, maintained and/or operated by the court. Those same Judges were part of multi-parish Districts which required substantial travel between the various courts and are permitted under state law to receive reimbursement within the parameters established by law.
Almost all Judges and court administrators were extremely helpful, courteous and compliant with the process. One Judge who works without the benefit of a court administrator or secretary shared his insight into judicial funding from his perspective in a poor judicial district. Another judge jubilantly offered to personally drive over an hour on a Saturday to hand deliver and discuss the requested records.
Did you know?
If a public records request is denied, or five business days have passed since the submittal of the request, the requestor may file a civil suit seeking the production of the requested records.
DISTRICT COURTS: (Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 16)
The following five requests were sent to each of the following District Courts. If the court has multiple judges some requests were directed to a single randomly selected judge.
- Individual appointment calendar of Judge XYZ for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022, including but not limited to: traditional hard copy calendars and electronically stored information on cell phone(s), computer(s) and/or other electronic devices.
- Expenses reports or listing of expense reimbursements for Judge XYZ for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022 OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE; any and all documents of expense reimbursements for Judge XYZ for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022
- Compensation received by judges for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021, including but not limited to salary, salary augmentation, stipends, vehicle subsidies, cell phone subsidies, insurance benefits, etc.
- Listing of expenditures for in-home security and/or surveillance systems for judges for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021 OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, if a listing doesn’t exist, any and all documents reflecting expenditures for in-home security systems for judges for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021.
- Any judicial orders presently in effect prohibiting cell phones, cameras and/or recording devices in courtroom and/or the courthouse.
The same five requests and one additional request were sent to several local municipal courts in the state:
- All Criminal and Civil Court Docket sheets for the month of January 2022.
The District and Municipal courts were then graded based on ten objective factors with each being worth one point, for a maximum score of ten points. Below is how the governing bodies ranked after the passage of at least thirty days from the date of the request.
Have the public bodies made information regarding how to request public records readily available and easy to find (i.e. website, etc.)?
- 4% 4%
Did the public bodies acknowledge the receipt of the public records request or provide any exemptions within three days?
- 72% 72%
Did the public bodies produce the records for inspection or provide an estimate of time reasonably necessary for production within five days of the request?
- 45% 45%
Did the public bodies accept the e-mailed requests without a demand that it be presented on a particular form, in a particular format or submitted in an alternative fashion?
- 100% 100%
Did the public bodies accept the request without demanding that a state issued identification card be provided?
- 97% 97%
Did the public bodies refrain from inquiring about the purpose of the requests?
- 100% 100%
Did the public bodies respond without employing an attorney to respond?
- 97% 97%
Were the records or information made available free of charge and/or without a request for a deposit?
- 97% 97%
Were the records or information made available by electronic means or did the custodian indicate the records could be copied using a portable scanning device?
- 95% 95%
Were the records provided by the public bodies responsive to the requests and of good quality?
- 97% 97%