Overnight bail bond services to cease in Orleans Parish

Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell speaks to media about the change in bond services.
Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell speaks to media about the change in bond services.

People arrested in the city for minor offenses will not be able to bond out of jail overnight because of a change announced by the clerk of court Tuesday, but City Hall calls the move a political ploy.

"If someone comes in at night and they want to post bond after 11 o'clock, they'll have to stay in jail until the following morning," said Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell.

He said because of staffing shortages, he can no longer continue the 24-hour bond services.  Morrell said a bond clerk is retiring at the end of the week, another passed away, and he does not have sufficient staffing because of budget constraints brought on by the mayor's office that will prevent him from having other staffers step in. So Morrell said come Monday, the hours for bond services will be from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.

"The city is trying to run my office. I'm not a city agency, I'm an agency of the state government,"said Morrell.

Still, Morrell said according to state law, the city is 100 percent responsible for funding his office.

Deputy Mayor and city Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin admits he imposed a hiring freeze a year and a half ago to get the clerk's office budget under control, but he said Morrell has permission to hire the two bond clerks he needs.

"I told him a month ago that he can now start replacing folks as they leave," Kopplin said.

Morrell's announcement came on the eve of an appeals court hearing involving his money fight with the mayor's office. Morrell won the first round when a judge said the mayor's office had to fund the clerk's office at a level that would fund 90 positions.

It used to be political, but now I think it's personal, because what's happening now is penalizing me for suing the city," said Morrell.

But Kopplin suggested Morrell was playing games hours before the court hearing.

"It's a surprise that he would do this, but if you know that he's got arguments before the Fourth Circuit tomorrow, you can see that this is just political posturing for the Fourth Circuit case," said Kopplin.

Morrell insists he needs $4.5 million for his office and said the city is short-changing him

"If something isn't done soon, we're going to have some kind of crisis over here," said Morrell.

"Just like any other agency, he's got to live within his budget," said Kopplin.

Matt Denis of Steve's Bail Bonds said the shorter hours for bail bond services will end up costing city government money because the city has to pay the sheriff for housing each prisoner.

"It's certainly going to be counter-productive to relieving the stress on the overcrowding problem with the jail. It's certainly going to be a problem for that," said Dennis.

When asked whether he wanted to sit down with Mayor Mitch Landrieu to try to resolve their differences over the budget, Morrell replied, "The mayor is stubborn, I'm stubborn, but I have the law on my side."

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