By Robert Rhoden, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | Posted January 18, 2019 at 05:05 AM | Updated January 18, 2019 at 07:11 AM
North Shore Judges Peter Garcia and Martin Coady were the most efficient judges in handling felony cases in St. Tammany Parish during 2016 and 2017, according to a study released Friday (Jan. 18) by the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
At the bottom of the efficiency rankings were judges William J. Burris, who retired at the end of 2017, and August J. Hand.
The study, sponsored by the Northshore Business Council, examined the eight 22nd Judicial District Court judges who handled St. Tammany felony cases, with the evaluations based on felony caseloads, percentage of cases open more than one year, and median case processing times, the study said. The judicial district covers St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
How long it takes to process cases
Overall, the processing of felony cases, beginning with the allotment to a judge, has slowed from 2014, when the MCC examined cases initiated in 2013 and 2014.
The 2013/2014 report showed an average median case processing time of 82 days. That figure increased to 112 days in the 2016/2017 study.
The increase is a reflection of changes in the types of cases being handled, said Rafael Goyeneche III, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. The number of violent crimes and weapons, cases increased from 21 percent of pending cases in 2014 to 30 percent in 2017.
Violent and weapons cases generate the harshest sentences and often take longer to conclude than other types of cases, the report said. Defendants are reluctant to plead guilty and receive long prison sentences, resulting in additional time for prosecutors and defense attorneys to reach plea agreements or bring cases to trial.
“Even though you see the numbers going up with respect to the size of dockets and the processing time… that’s because the dockets are being composed of more crimes of violence and weapons felonies,” Goyeneche said.
“The court is taking longer, not because of the judges leaving early or getting in late. Cases are taking longer to conclude.”
Regarding caseloads, or open felony cases in a judge’s division, judges Coady and Scott Gardner led the field, with 90 and 95 open cases, respectively. The court average was 121, and Hand had the lowest efficiency rating with 155 open cases, the report said.
Cases open for more than year
American Bar Association standards call for all felony cases to close within one year of a defendant’s arrest. The MCC study measured cases starting from the time they were accepted for prosecution and under a judge’s management.
Judges Garcia, Raymond Childress and Richard Swartz Jr. had exceptionally low rates of backlogged cases, each with less than 3 percent of their caseloads open for more than a year, the report said.
Overall, the court has done a good job in this area, Goyeneche said, noting that the court average was 4 percent, compared to 10 percent in 2013/2014.