Time to look at the courts locally

Sherriff Jerry Larpenter raises some good points in his complaint about large numbers of jail inmates having to be moved on some days into and out of court, seeking potential alternatives that might include wider use of the closed circuit video system that runs between the courts and the jail.

There is risk inherent anytime large numbers of inmates must be moved, and there is no reason to increase the odds of trouble occurring if other plans can be made saving money, time and wear-and-tear on both officers and equipment.

The sheriff’s concerns raise other questions as well about how justice is administered in Terrebonne Parish.

Our courts are split into five divisions – not counting the work that gets done in Houma City Court – all of which have jurisdiction over civil matters, criminal cases, traffic and probate. Each division gets its turn at handling each type of case with what amounts to a rotation of duties.

For judges, that system appears to work well. What judge wants to have the boring task of listening to nothing but traffic cases most or all of the year, or face on a daily basis all year an influx of criminal defendants charged with the most serious of crimes with no break. All is good in moderation, and a steady diet of one type of case.

The court system, however, exists for the good of the people, not the judges.

Our setup of judicial divisions, the actual way our courthouses are constructed and other factors leave open a valid question.

Should we more closely examine our court system in terms of how its set-up can be improved or modernized, with an eye toward streamlining the overall delivery of servies?

Rather than rotating on a weekly basis between duties, what if judges were to take a specific type of case for an entire year? Felonies could be heard in one division, misdemeanors in another. Civil cases could be relegated to one or two divisions while traffic is heard in one special place.

We mentioned construction. Only one courtroom in the parish courthouse is designed to hold a large amount of people, thus accommodating the long type of calendar one encounters in relation to traffic offenses.

We don’t profess to be experts in court administration but we can do simple math.

Keeping certain cases in one division, at least for the period of a year, could go a long way toward increasing efficiency. Court dates are calendared in such a way that months can pass between appearances for one person. That means cases are stretched out over much longer periods than they could be, thwarting continuity and increasing the perception that justice is locally relegated to an assembly line system.

We know that our judges and prosecutors are doing the best they can in a complex and crowded system. But we also believe that within that system there are some good minds that may be aching to foster improvements that will benefit everyone overall.

Perhaps out judges may wish to appoint one among themselves to look out over the many systems that exist within our state and within our nation, to determine whether the way we treat our citizens – and those who serve them in the judicial system – is according to the best rules one might have.

We encourage establishment of a judicial task force whose members can feel free to scout far and wide for potential solutions to problems of docket crowding and slow calendars. A system that has changed little from its inception can always be improved upon. Perhaps our judges might find that what we do in Terrebonne Parish is absolutely perfect and that no amount of change can make it better. But we sincerely doubt that.

A little bit of tinkering by the experts who work within the system could go a long way toward making our administration of justice at all levels safer, more expeditious and also swifter.

Readers may also have ideas for streamlining justice in Terrebonne. If so we would appreciate emails or letters outlining your ideas.

Meanwhile Sheriff Larpenter is to be commended for making his concerns known, and District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr. for being willing to look at how court appearances by jailed inmates can be better handled. We wish them luck in their search for solutions. •