Traffic Court Judge Ronald Sholes resigns, says uninterested in ‘working for free’

Sholes says he'll earn more in retirement

Judge Ronald Sholes confirmed Monday that he plans to retire from New Orleans traffic court at the end of July.

Sholes, who won election to the Division D traffic court seat in 1998 after serving as a Civil District Court Judge, said he plans to step down because he will actually earn more from his retirement benefits than he would from his current take-home pay.

He also plans to explore recent opportunities to expand his private law practice and address some health concerns.

“It became clear that I was working for free,” Sholes said. “My financial planner said, ‘Why are you still doing this?’ ”

Neither Sholes nor Noel Cassanova, the court’s clerk, could state the exact figure offhand.

Because Sholes has more than a year left in his term, he will have to be replaced in a special election, which Gov. Bobby Jindal has set for Oct. 19.

In 2011, New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux issued a report suggesting the city cut back to just one traffic court judge and merge operations with municipal court, a step that would require approval from the state Legislature.

Quatrevaux estimated that those moves would save the city $2.5 million.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has generally supported shrinking the bench as well. Earlier this year he called for cutting the number of juvenile court judges from six to four and unveiled a design for a new juvenile justice complex that will only house four courtrooms.

Landrieu’s spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment on whether he wants the seat left open by Sholes to get a new judge.

Sholes ran into controversy in 2008 after a review of court records revealed that he had personally intervened in other courtrooms for traffic defendants, many of whom had ties to Adams and Reese, the New Orleans law firm where Sholes was a partner.

Though none of the cases rose above minor moving violations, the records contributed to a perception that well-connected defendants could gain an advantage over most residents in traffic court.

The year before, two clerks from his courtroom — including his niece, Angela Sholes — were indicted for embezzling more than $100,000 in ticket fines.

At the time, Sholes said he had fired both clerks long before the formal charges and let law enforcement officials know about the alleged impropriety, which was part of a broader pattern of theft at the court that led to more than a dozen indictments.