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Louisiana Lawmakers Wanted to Study Shifting Court Resources. Judges Refused To Participate.

The majority of Louisiana's state district court and appellate judges have declined to take part in a study that aims to reduce the size of some court systems and potentially increase others to better accommodate population changes over the past 40 years. The judges refused to provide the National Center for State Courts, a private organization the Louisiana Legislature engaged to examine the effectiveness of the state judicial system, with timesheets that showed how they spent their working days, according to Louisiana Illuminator. Four of the five appellate courts in Louisiana refused to provide any details, claiming that the legislature was going too far in its role as an equal branch of government. 70% of the state’s district court and trial judges didn’t turn in information about their workdays. The National Center for State Courts was unable to complete its analysis without more participation from the judges. For now, it appears Louisiana spent $150,000 on a review that will be left incomplete. 

Despite changes in the state's population distribution, the boundaries for Louisiana's five state appellate courts have remained unchanged since the 1980s. As per the latest U.S. Census data, parishes south of Baton Rouge and the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain have seen population growth, while North Louisiana and rural areas of the state have seen a population decline. There has also been a decline in the volume of cases the courts hear. Data from the Louisiana Supreme Court shows that the number of filings at the appellate court level was nearly halved between 2004 and 2019. In total, Louisiana has 219 district court judges, 53 appellate judges, and seven Supreme Court justices. “It is incredibly disappointing that a large number of Louisiana’s judges blocked this important study to help ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely and that the judiciary is structured efficiently to conduct its critical work,” said Steven Procopio, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a nonpartisan think tank focused on state government spending. A task force judge hinted that her colleagues had rejected the study because they didn't trust the intentions of state legislators. “The desire of some judges to back away from the study … has to do with some sense of being victimized by the legislature,” said 15th Judicial District Judge Marilyn Castle. “I just think there is a mistrust there."


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