New Orleans Council questions judges over FOX 8 investigation - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

New Orleans City Council questions judges over FOX 8 investigation

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New Orleans, La. - Two days after we a report about judges at Orleans Parish Criminal Court not following their own policy when it comes to lunches purchased with taxpayer dollars, some city council members want to know why. The questions came during a special budget hearing Wednesday.

Five Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judges appeared before the New Orleans City Council Wednesday to discuss the court's mid-year budget. Not long into the meeting, council woman Susan Guidry asked the judges specifically about our reports...which detailed the $20 and $30 meals purchased for juries, judges and their staff.

"I can understand where the public would have an issue with this," Guidry said.

In May, we first told you about the rib eyes, roast pork dinners and veal parmesans ordered during jury trials. After our initial story aired, the judges told us they put an advisory guideline into place which called for jury meals to be kept under $10.

At the meeting Wednesday, Guidry said to the judges, "There's been another report since that with some pretty high priced meals not for the juries so much but for the judges, attorneys, staff. Could you speak to that?".

Guidry is referring to our piece Monday night in which we explained that some judges weren't always following that new guideline, even months after it was signed.

A representative of the court told the council that $10 limit can't always be followed if a juror has a special dietary restriction, for example. But Guidry replied to that, "I'm sure no one would have a problem with that and I don't see that stated in the report its more the steaks and the like."

On October 25th, 2012, Chief Judge Camille Buras, who signed that advisory guideline, ordered lunch for jurors and her staff working a murder trial. On that day, only three meals out of 29 were under $10. Buras says the jurors and her staff had to sit through days of grueling testimony saying, "And yes, the jury was there on the fourth day of a jury trial and yes, I fed the jury, the public defenders, the prosecutors, etc."

But what Buras didn't address was Guidry's question...why in some cases, juror meals were kept to $10 but attorneys, judges and their staff were allowed to order more expensive meals. Like on August 14th, 2012 when every juror in Judge Frank Marullo's courtroom ordered a $10 meal but three sheriff's deputies and a law clerk got $18 meals.

We've tried for months to speak to Chief Judge Camille Buras about this issue, but she never returned our calls. So after she spoke publicly to the council, we decided to follow-up with her in the hallway of City Hall to get some questions answered. She informed us she'd already made a statement to the council and wouldn't answer any questions.

Another big part of our story Monday night was the money that the judges are spending to buy lunch for themselves when they meet to discuss business of the court. These are called "en banc" meetings and they're using money out of the judicial expense fund at the court to purchase these meals. We tried to ask Camille Buras about those lunches and why they're being purchased for the judges, but she wouldn't answer any questions about that either.

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