Efficiency Study of Court Commissioners,
Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson:
“How Can the Court Serve the Public Through the Use of Commissioners?“
Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson,
Efficiency Study of Court Commissioners and Domestic Hearing Officers:
“An Analysis of the Domestic Early Intervention Triage Program“
“An Updated Study of the Domestic Early Intervention Triage Program Utilizing Domestic Commissioners and Hearing Officers“
Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson, State of Louisiana
Law Review Article by Professor Bobby Marzine Harges on the 24th JDC Commissioners and Hearing Officers
The Commissioners for the 24th Judicial District Court were created in the 1997 Louisiana Legislative session. The Commissioners are selected by a majority of the judges of the 24th Judicial District Court and may be removed by a majority of those judges.
One of the Commissioners has jurisdiction of criminal matters only, one of the Commissioners has jurisdiction of domestic relations and family law only, and one Commissioner has jurisdiction of domestic relations, family law and criminal matters.
One of the Criminal Commissioners and one of the Domestic Commissioners are on Magistrate duty on a weekly basis. The Criminal Commissioner on duty assumes the duties of signing search warrants, arrest warrants, setting of bonds and of committing magistrate. The Domestic Commissioner on duty assumes all domestic duties.
§717. Commissioners for the Twenty-fourth Judicial District Court
A. There are hereby created three offices of commissioner for the Twenty-fourth Judicial District Court.
B. The commissioners shall be selected by a majority of the judges of the Twenty-fourth Judicial District and may be removed from office by a majority of those judges.
C. One of the commissioners shall have jurisdiction over civil matters involving domestic relations and family law only, one commissioner shall have jurisdiction over criminal matters only, and one commissioner shall have jurisdiction over domestic relations, family law, and criminal matters. Each of the commissioners shall have been admitted to the practice of law in this state for at least five years prior to his selection as commissioner and shall have been domiciled in the judicial district for the two years preceding his selection as commissioner.
D. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this Section, the commissioners shall have all of the powers of a judge of a district court. The powers of the commissioners shall not be inconsistent with the constitution and laws of this state, the constitution and laws of the United States, the rules for Louisiana district courts, the rules of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court, and the duties assigned to the commissioners by that court.
(2) The powers of the commissioners hearing criminal matters shall include but shall not be limited to the power to:
(a) Administer oaths and affirmations.
(b) Take acknowledgments, affidavits, and depositions.
(c) Sign orders.
(d) Act on felony charges through arraignment; however, commissioners shall not accept pleas of guilty on felony charges.
(e) Accept pleas on misdemeanor charges.
(f) Hear preliminary motions prior to filing the bill of information or indictment.
(g) Fix bail.
(h) Sign and issue search and arrest warrants in accordance with the general provisions of law, including the requirement of the showing of probable cause.
(i) Find and punish for contempt of court as a district court judge.
(3) No party shall be ordered to appear before the commissioner for arraignment more than twice prior to the filing of a bill of information or indictment against that party. Nothing in this Paragraph shall restrict the authority of the commissioner to subpoena a party to appear for arraignment after a bill of information or indictment has been filed against that party.
E. Repealed by Acts 2003, No. 714, §2.
F. The powers of the commissioners hearing domestic matters shall include but not be limited to the power to:
(1) Administer oaths and affidavits.
(2) Render and sign judgments and orders confirming judgments by default in accordance with the general provisions of law, including the requirement of introducing proof sufficient to establish a prima facie case.
(3) Grant uncontested divorces.
(4) Implement interim child support and custody orders as follows:
(a) A certified copy of such orders will be provided to the parties at the time of the court’s ruling. If no objection is filed in writing with the district court judge having jurisdiction over the case, within three days of rendition and notification either by the commissioner or through service by the clerk of court, exclusive of weekends and holidays, the order shall become a final judgment of the court and shall be signed by a judge of the Twenty-fourth Judicial District Court and is appealable as any other final judgment.
(b) Any party who disagrees with a judgment or ruling of a commissioner may file written objection thereto. The objection shall be filed within three days of the judgment a ruling being received by the party either from the commissioner or by service through the clerk of court and shall be filed in accordance with the rules of the Twenty-fourth Judicial District Court. The objection shall be heard by the judge of the Twenty-fourth Judicial District Court to whom the matter was originally allotted.
(c) The judge may decide the objection based on the record of the proceedings before the commissioner or may receive further evidence and rule based on that evidence, together with the prior evidence, or may recommit the matter to the commissioner with instructions.
(d) Every order given to the parties by the commissioner or served upon the parties by the clerk of court shall contain the following notice:
This order, if not contested in writing within three days of receipt from the commissioner or through service by the clerk of court, exclusive of weekends and holidays, will be signed by a judge of the Twenty-fourth Judicial District Court and will become a final judgment of the court.
(5) Approve consent judgments.
(6) Sign ex parte and emergency orders.
(7) Find and punish for contempt of court in the same manner as a district court judge.
(8) Handle preliminary disputes concerning discovery or the issuance of subpoenas.
(9) Adjudicate any other domestic matter not specifically excluded in Subsection G.
G. Except as provided in this Subsection, the domestic commissioners shall not have the power to adjudicate cases in a contested matter of divorce, custody, permanent spousal support, paternity, or partition of community property, unless the parties consent in writing to the jurisdiction of the commissioner. Each time an action is filed with the clerk of court for the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court, the clerk shall notify the parties to that action of their right to consent to jurisdiction by the commissioners. In each case in which all the parties provide a written waiver of their right to have their case heard by a district court judge, and provide written consent to the matter being heard and adjudicated by a commissioner, the commissioners may conduct any and all proceedings on any matter pending before the court and may order the entry of judgment in the case. Each judgment so recommended by a commissioner shall be signed by a judge of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. Any party who is aggrieved by a judgment entered by a commissioner may appeal that judgment in the same manner as any other judgment entered by a district court.
H. The judges of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court shall evaluate the commissioners annually and issue a report by June first of each year as to their effectiveness and the need for continuing the offices. The report shall be a public record.
Acts 1997, No. 824, §1, eff. July 10, 1997; Acts 1999, No. 946, §1, eff. July 9, 1999; Acts 2003, No. 714, §§1 and2.
§718. Commissioners; qualifications; salary and benefits; restrictions on employment; office space; supplies; equipment; employees
A. Except as otherwise provided in this Section, the qualifications for the office of commissioner shall be the same as the qualifications for office for district court judges.
B. The salary of the commissioners shall be equal to seventy-five percent of the total salary from all sources paid to a district court judge of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. The commissioners may be reimbursed for their expenses as provided for by court rule.
C. Commissioners shall be full-time employees of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. Commissioners shall not engage in any outside business, occupation, or employment that is inconsistent with the expeditious, proper, and impartial performance of their duties as a judicial officer, nor shall they engage in the practice of law. Any question regarding the conduct of any outside business, occupation, employment, or practice of law by a commissioner shall be resolved by a majority of the elected judges of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. The provisions of this Subsection shall not abrogate or supersede any provisions of the Rules for Lawyer Disciplinary Enforcement or the Code of Judicial Conduct applicable to judges and attorneys.
D. Office space for the commissioners shall be provided by the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court, out of funds available to that court.
E. All employees of the commissioners shall be hired only upon the prior approval of employment by the elected judges of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. The commissioners and all employees of the commissioners shall be in the unclassified service of the state and shall be members of the State Employees Retirement System.
F. The salaries, related benefits, and expenses of the commissioners, and the salaries and related benefits of the employees of the commissioners, and the costs of the equipment and supplies of the commissioners and their employees, shall be paid in accordance with the provisions of Subsections H, I, J, and K of this Section.
G. Repealed by Acts 2003, No. 714, §2.
H. The funding for the provisions of this Section shall be paid from funds available to the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court.
I. The sources of funding for the commissioners and their offices and employees shall include, but shall not be limited to the following sources:
(1) Subject to the other provisions of this Paragraph, there is hereby imposed an additional fee on all persons convicted in the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court of felony or misdemeanor offenses. The amount of the additional fee shall be set by the judges of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court sitting en banc. The amount of the additional fee shall not exceed one hundred dollars. The total amount of the financial penalty to which misdemeanor offenders shall be subject, including the fee imposed under this Paragraph, shall not exceed one thousand dollars. The provisions of this Paragraph shall not apply to convictions for traffic violations under the provisions of Title 32 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, or under the ordinances adopted by the governing authority of Jefferson Parish.
(2) (a) Notwithstanding the provisions of R.S. 22:1065.1 and 1404.3, and in addition to the fee imposed by those Sections, there is hereby imposed a fee on premium for all commercial surety underwriters who write criminal bail bonds in Jefferson Parish. The fee shall be equal to fifty dollars for each ten thousand dollars worth of liability underwritten by the surety.
(b) Each commercial surety underwriting criminal bail bonds in Jefferson Parish shall submit a report each month to the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office. The report shall contain the amount of criminal bail bond liability written in Jefferson Parish and shall contain a calculation of the premium fee due. The premium fee due shall accompany the report. The report shall be due within fifteen days of the close of the month for which the report is filed.
(c) The premium fee shall be collected and deposited into a special account established by the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office for maintaining and transmitting the premium fee for criminal bail bonds written in Jefferson Parish. Each month the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office shall remit payment to the judicial administrator for the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court. The sheriff shall issue payment not later than thirty days after receipt of the premium fee by his office.
J. The judges of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court, sitting en banc, shall provide procedures for the timely collection, deposit and accounting of the additional criminal fines imposed by this Section. All additional criminal fines collected shall be remitted to the director of finance of the Parish of Jefferson and deposited into a special fund to be used by the Parish of Jefferson to defray its costs and expenses incurred pursuant to the provisions of this Section and other related judicial expenditures.
K. If any part of the provisions of this Section become dependent upon monies from the general fund of the Parish of Jefferson, the provisions of this Section shall terminate if the Jefferson Parish Council fails to appropriate sufficient monies to provide for the continuation of the offices of commissioner for the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court.
Acts 1997, No. 824, §1, eff. July 10, 1997; Acts 1999, No. 717, §1; Acts 1999, No. 946, §1, eff. July 9, 1999; Acts 2003, No. 714, §§l and 2.
The Criminal Commissioner conducts status hearings on all individuals who have been arrested by
law enforcement agencies and released from the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center (JPCC).
Status hearings are held Monday through Friday at 10 a.m. Hearings are held at 200 Derbigny
Street, Gretna, Louisiana.
While incarcerated and prior to his subsequent release from JPCC, the offender is given a written notice to appear before a criminal commissioner to learn the status of his case forty-five days after his release. That is, the individual is personally served at the time of his release with a notice to appear in court. At the status hearing, if the district attorney has refused the charges against the offender, the individual is informed of the refusal and the sureties are released of their bond obligations. If the district attorney has accepted any charges against the defendant, the defendant is arraigned on that date. If the district attorney has not made a screening decision, the matter is reset before the commissioners for status. LRS13:717 permits only one resetting after the initial setting.
There are several advantages to this arrangement:
1. Service of Process. Because the defendant is personally served with a notice (subpoena) at the time of his release from jail to appear before a Commissioner, it is not necessary for the sheriff to expend manpower serving a subpoena for the defendant to appear in court. Personal service also eliminates the use of resources in trying to “track down” the defendant because he gave the wrong address or he has moved since his release from jail. Additionally, at the status hearing, the defendants are personally served to appear in the allotted divisions after they have been arraigned or if they need to return to the Commissioner for an additional status hearing.
2. Bonds. In addition to the defendant receiving personal service, the surety is also personally served at the time of the defendant’s release, A signed copy of the defendant’s notice and the surety’s notice is attached to the bond (and power of attorney, if required), which are then placed in the court’s file. Should the defendant fail to appear, the court has the necessary documentation to forfeit the bond against the sureties.
3. Speed. If the district attorney has accepted the charge and a bill of information has been filed by the time of the defendant’s status hearing (45 days after arrest), the defendant is immediately arraigned. There is no need to wait until the division to which the case is allotted has scheduled a criminal hearing day and the defendant has been subpoenaed.
BONDS AND WARRANTS
The Criminal Commissioners set bonds and sign arrest, seizure and search warrants during court hours Monday through Friday when the Courts are in session.
A Criminal Commissioner is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to set the amount of bail. The Commissioner’s office is located within walking distance of the jail should it be necessary to go to the jail to gather relevant information about the accused upon which to base a sound bond decision. This Commissioner also reviews and approves property bonds for sureties who wish to secure a person’s release from the correctional center
There are advantages to this system:
1. To the Court. No interruption to the judge in his daily schedule of handling more
important civil and criminal matters.
2. To the Jail and General Public. Immediate bond setting without interrupting the judge or waiting until the judge leaves the bench.
3. To the Justice System. The Commissioners use a bond range chart to set bonds. This results in consistency in the setting of bonds, taking into consideration the nature of the charge and the criminal history of the defendant.
The Commissioners are also on-call to sign seizure, arrest and search warrants during the above days and times. Again this causes no interruption to the judge’s daily schedule. As to the law enforcement officer, he knows he can come to one place and find a Commissioner on duty to review the applications with minimal delay.
There is a Criminal Commissioner on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week to set bonds and sign warrants including weekends and holidays.
CHECK COURT ARRAIGNMENTS AND HEARINGS
The Criminal Commissioner arraigns all defendants who have been charged with issuing worthless checks (LRS 14:71) and have been “direct billed.” Check arraignments and hearings are held Tuesdays 11 a.m. at 200 Derbigny Street, Gretna, Louisiana.
Most check offenses, felonies and associated misdemeanors, are transferred to a special court, Division “W,” in the 24th Judicial District Court, from the originally allotted division. The criminal commissioners arraign all defendants who are charged with issuing worthless checks and then transfer the felony cases back to the originating division for trial.
Pursuant to Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure 230.1, an arrested person in custody of the sheriff shall be brought before a judge within 72 hours of arrest for the purpose of appointment of counsel. If no bail has been set, then a determination of the amount of bail is made. This is often referred to as the defendant’s “First Appearance.”
Judge Vernon Wilty, justice of the peace, acts as the committing magistrate for the 24th Judicial
District Court. The Criminal Commissioners, previous to and at time concurrent with the First
Appearance Hearing (7 am. Monday through Sunday), set bail for those accused of offenses
which carry a penalty of imprisonment at hard labor.
The Criminal Commissioners interview all individuals accused of offenses for the purpose of appointment of counsel. If the defendant qualifies for the appointment of a public defender, the 24th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office is notified by fax immediately.
JAIL ARRAIGNMENTS AND HEARINGS
The Criminal Commissioner arraigns defendants who are incarcerated in Jefferson Parish Correctional Center. The jail arraignments and hearings are held Monday thru Friday at 8:30 a.m.
One of the advantages to this arrangement is:
1. Speed. As soon as a bill of information or indictment is filed and allotted, the record is given to our minute clerk who sets the arraignment for the next day. As a general rule a bill of information is filed within 30 days of arrest.
Motions to Reduce Bonds, Writs of Habeas Corpus, and “701” Motions are set and heard within 24 to 48 hours after filing. Motions for Preliminary Examinations are set and heard as promptly as service of process on the witnesses will permit, usually within two weeks of filing.
PROBABLE CAUSE AFFIDAVITS
Probable cause to arrest a person must be established by a law enforcement officer before an independent judicial magistrate or judge by means of an arrest warrant or a probable cause affidavit.
Pursuant to Louisiana Criminal Code of Procedure Art. 230.2, the Criminal Commissioners determine whether a law enforcement officer had probable cause to arrest an individual where the officer had no arrest warrant. This determination is made without the defendant being present and consists of reviewing the Probable Cause Affidavit executed by the arresting law enforcement officer. The officer must state facts under oath to support the elements of the charges for which the accused is being arrested. The review by the Commissioner must be made within 48 hours of the accused’s arrest. A finding of ”no probable cause” results in the accused being released on his own recognizance; however, the accused is given an arraignment/status notice to appear before the Criminal Commissioners.
STAY AWAY ORDERS
“During the 1997 Legislative Session, legislation (La. R.S. 46:21322) was enacted establishing the Louisiana Protective Order Registry which will be administered by the Judicial Administrator’s Office of the Louisiana Supreme Court. The registry will encompass peace bonds, temporary restraining orders, protective orders, preliminary injunctions, permanent injunctions and court approved consent agreements issued for the purpose of preventing violent or threatening acts or harassment against another person. The legislation directs courts of Louisiana to use a uniform form for the issuance of protective orders which will be developed, approved and distributed by the Judicial Administrator’s Office.” Louisiana Protective Order Registry Handbook, Domestic Violence Reference Guide.
The Criminal Commissioners issue Criminal Stay Away Orders as a condition of bail to defendants who have been arrested and meet the following criteria:
A. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, or an offense against the person has occurred; and
B. Family members or household members are involved, which includes persons who had at one time lived together as spouses.
Stay Away Orders are also issued to all persons who are accused of stalking whether or not a relationship exists.
The Criminal Commissioner meets with the accused in the “Intake” section of Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, explaining the nature of the document and the various orders contained thereon. The Commissioner reviews the alleged facts and demeanor of the accused to determine whether a protective order should be put in place. This process takes from 20-30 minutes for each order issued. The copies are distributed as follows:
1. Original goes in the court’s record.
2. A copy is mailed to the victim.
3. A copy is faxed immediately to the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Protective Order Registry.
4. A copy is hand delivered to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.
5. A copy is personally served on the defendant while he is before the Commissioner.
6. A copy is attached to the defendant’s jail records.
7. A copy is sent to the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office.
On May 25, 2005 the Twenty-Fourth Judicial District Court adopted rules which created the Domestic Early Intervention Triage Program. The Program employs one and one half commissioners who conduct domestic abuse hearings, hear ex parte applications for immediate temporary custody and visitation rights, hear objections to recommendations from hearing officers regarding child support matters when child support is the only issue before the hearing officer, hear disputes concerning discovery and issuance of subpoenas.
The commissioners also hear exceptions and motions for extension of time. The commissioners render consent judgments and uncontested judgments, grant and confirm defaults pursuant to La.C.C. Arts. 102, 103 and R.S. 9:307.
The rules provide that any party who disagrees with a ruling or judgment of the domestic commissioner may file an objection to that ruling or judgment which shall be heard by the District Court Judge to whom the case is allotted. The party who objects must file his/her written objection within three days of the judgment of the Domestic commissioner.
Cases that do not involve domestic abuse are heard by a hearing officer in an informal setting. The Hearing officer meets with the parties and their attorney for one and one/half hours. At this meeting each party is permitted to state what they are seeking from the court and an opportunity to show why he/she is entitled to that relief. The ultimate goal is to reach a settlement on all issues. If this is not possible then the hearing officer makes a recommendation on the remaining issues to the district court judge which becomes a temporary judgment of the court once signed by a district court judge. If a party disagrees with a recommendation of the hearing officer he/she may file an objection to the ruling or judgment within three days of the hearing or notice of the ruling or judgment. The Domestic Early Intervention Triage Program provides a less combative and less time consuming procedure for resolving domestic disputes in a majority of the cases.