New Orleans judges improperly spent public money on supplemental insurance, audit finds
In a long-awaited report on the spending habits of Orleans Parish judges, the state's Legislative Auditor found that New Orleans judges have in two years illegally used public money to buy more than $800,000 in supplemental insurance, and spent excessively on travel and lodging expenses.
The state's Legislative Auditor found that New Orleans judges have in two years illegally used public money to buy more than $800,000 in supplemental insurance, and spent excessively on travel and lodging expenses.
The report, released Monday morning, concluded the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges improperly spent $637,367 between 2009 and 2011 "to provide themselves with supplemental and additional insurance benefits." Civil and City Court judges did the same with $191,073.
The 100-page report comes more than a year after the Metropolitan Crime Commission requested that the auditor analyze whether the judges' decades-long use of their judicial expense fund constituted a crime. The money in the fund is paid by criminal convicts.
State law forbids judges from receiving any salary or compensation above that ordered by statute -- more than $130,000 a year -- and specifies that insurance premiums can be paid only at the same rate as other state employees.
But the Orleans Parish judges have paid, among other supplemental insurance plans, a company called Exec-U-Care, which reimburses deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Last October, State Attorney General Buddy Caldwell began a probe into the judges' use of the fund, though said he would wait for the legislative auditors' report before deciding if the judges had committed a crime. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro meanwhile wrote the Attorney General a blistering 5-page letter, arguing that the judges are guilty of malfeasance and gross misconduct, and should be subject to removal from office.
In the letter, he confessed that he might have also taken advantage of the supplemental benefits during his 17-year tenure on the bench.
The controversy for a time led to a stalemate at the courthouse, with judges recusing themselves from cases tried by Cannizzaro and stalling high-profile trials.
Monday's report also found that Criminal Court judges had not documented their travel expenses as required by law, and paid "excessive amounts" for lodging during training and meetings.
"Without complete travel records of detailed receipts, we could not determine the business purpose of all travel expenses," the report concluded.
Several judges on the civil bench, similarly, "incurred lodging expenses which appear excessive" while traveling for meetings and training.
The auditor also analyzed the judges' employees' times and attendance records, and found that in both criminal and civil courts employees under the direct supervision of judges were not required to document their time and attendance at work.
Read the reports here
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