Orleans Criminal Court judges handed over records Tuesday to FOX 8 News and the Times-Picayune after we jointly filed suit. The judges agreed to give us both records related to life insurance policies they purchased.
Our request was sparked by a legislative auditor report that referenced the policies, but didn't provide too many details. Now we have the details, after spending a few months battling with judges who tried to keep the public records from the public.
The judges handed over 1,700 pages of life insurance policies. What they show is that all judges took advantage of the life insurance policies. Nine of the 13 judges in Orleans Criminal Court each bought six separate life insurance policies -- all funded with public money -- that could have paid beneficiaries close to $500,000.
"I cannot envision a valid defense or explanation or plausible explanation," said Rafael Goyeneche, managing director and president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
The judges had two different life insurance policies with Transamerica, two different Guardian insurance policies, $250,000 coverage from Sun Life, and a Mutual of Omaha policy.
Let's take a closer look at one individual policy.
The judges gave themselves a universal life coverage through Transamerica. The value: up to $25,000 for each judge and $25,000 for each judge's spouse.
That means, if a judge's spouse passed away, the judge or beneficiary would have received $25,000. The money to fund that policy was paid for by the public. Imagine your boss paying for a life insurance policy for your spouse.
The monthly invoice from 2011 shows the public paid $182 for Judge Frank Marullo's universal life policy, and $123 that month for his wife's policy. Judge Julian Parker's policy cost $76 a month; his wife's cost the public $57. The only judge who didn't purchase this policy was Magistrate Gerard Hansen.
The judges also purchased a voluntary term life policy with Guardian Insurance. That provided up to $50,000 in coverage for each judge: $25,000 for the judge's spouse and $5,000 for any children. Once again, the public paid for life insurance for non-public employees.
Goyeneche said, "It sends absolutely the opposite message for what a judge and a court of law are supposed to stand for. They're supposed to stand for adherence to law, to the highest legal standards."
Since the 1990's, Orleans Criminal Court has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in life insurance premiums. But so far, the documents we received today show the judges only reimbursed about $65,000. The reimbursement checks came from the cash value of whole life policies they cancelled after the legislative auditor launched an investigation...
"Look at state law," noted Goyeneche. "State law says a judge is not supposed to receive any benefits above and beyond their salary and the benefits that are made available to every other state employee. And any other state employee that wants the type of insurance that these judges have used public funds… have to pay out of their own pocket. So I think it is entirely inappropriate that the judges have gotten away with this and have not at least voluntarily agreed to pay that money back."
The document raises some serious questions about the judges' transparency during our investigation.
We filed our request for these records in November. In December, the judges sent us summary sheets. We said that wasn't enough and sued.
Taking a closer look at that summary sheet, the judges claimed Terry Alarcon, Julian Parker and
Lynda Van Davis had no policies with Sun Life. But the invoices show that each month, the court wrote a check for $438 for Alarcon, $326 for Parker and $141 for Van Davis.
The document that the court claimed to be correct was proven inaccurate after a FOX 8 and Times-Picayune lawsuit produced records that show how judges improperly purchased life insurance policies with public money.
After that legislative audit report, the judges cancelled all policies.