Judges forewarn council of layoffs

Facing a possible budget cut of 30 percent in 2013, the judges of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court on Thursday told the City Council that the city’s proposed budget for the court will require layoffs and cause delays to proceedings or cuts to youth services they offer.

Deputy Chief Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier asked the council during its second day of budget hearings to consider restoring the $1.1 million cut Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration proposed, which would drop the court’s funding to $2.6 million from its $3.7 million in 2012.

The administration, however, told the council that cuts to the juvenile court are necessary since the city faces increasing costs next year with stagnant revenue. Most other departments will face an 8 to 10 percent cut next year under the proposed budget.

Additionally, a state Supreme Court analysis and city-commissioned study found that Orleans Parish courts are bloated and that judges face light loads, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said. He pointed out the same information late last month during his budget presentation to the council and noted the that all courts in the city would face cuts this year because of those studies.

“We believe in this time of belt tightening we’re overstaffed at this court,” Kopplin told the council on Thursday in regard to juvenile court.

While Kopplin said the administration believes the judges can share staff, Flemings-Davillier said it would not be as simple as that.

The cuts, which all come from personnel funding, would have broader effects on the court’s youth programs that aim to prevent incarceration. Many of the existing court staff pull double duty and contribute to those programs, she said. Losing people could mean losing those services altogether, she said.

“We’re not just talking about cuts of personnel,” she said.

The cost of each program — about $52 a day for an evening session that keeps some youth off the street and $38 a day for a mentor program — ultimately is cheaper for the city than the $250 a day it costs to house a juvenile at the YSC, Flemings-Davillier said.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry said that the support for those alternative programs must be maintained so as to not provide overflow capacity to the city’s Youth Study Center, which operates as the juvenile jail.

Under a consent decree with which the city must comply, the facility is limited to housing about 32 boys and four girls a day. Losing any of the court’s youth programs could mean that judges will have to “shop” through the YSC list in an effort to swap out one juvenile for another who has committed a more serious crime.

But when the Human Services Department followed a short time later for its budget presentation, Glen Holt, superintendent of the Youth Study Center, said it’s rare that the center is at capacity, averaging between 21 and 26 juveniles a day.

Perhaps as a prelude to future council action, Councilwoman Diana s told the criminal court judges that she has an idea of how to preserve their funding, though she said Thursday was not the time to share those details.