DA wants to move cases from municipal to criminal court

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro wants to move misdemeanor cases from Municipal Court, back to Criminal Court. The decision comes as the D.A. looks at ways to save money, including possibly laying off employees, amid budget cuts.

In an effort to make up for the $600,000 recently slashed from his budget, Cannizzaro is considering all options.

"It could translate into letting anywhere between 10 to 15 employees, go," Cannizzaro said.

That is worst case scenario. As FOX 8 exclusively reported, the D.A. already decided to pull assistant district attorney's and investigators from homicide scenes. In addition, he wants to move all misdemeanor cases, for things like resisting arrest and possession of small amounts of marijuana, from Municipal Court, back to Criminal Court.

It's a switch, Cannizzaro first pushed for, a little more than five years ago.

"I just don't have the luxury of expanding my lawyers throughout the different courts in this criminal justice complex so to speak," Cannizzaro explained.

Despite the increased case load that each judge at criminal court will face, they actually welcome this move. In fact, Chief Judge Laurie White says they've all questioned why cases were even moved from Criminal Court to Municipal Court in the first place.

White says, "We saw this from the beginning as some sort of either issue to alleviate the work in this court, but there wasn't a need for it. And what it did was, it took personnel that he could be putting in our court, over in that court."

Cannizzaro initially pushed for the cases to be moved, as his office brought larger numbers of violent, felony cases to Tulane and Broad. In turn, NOPD officers were asked to issue summonses instead of making arrests for smaller crimes, to reduce the jail population. The D.A. said the whole effort was to "act smarter" and work more efficiently.

However, years later, Judge White contends, the move caused more issues, trying to share information between the two courts.

"We couldn't get the paperwork because these courts, we're still not, we're trying to get our computer systems to all work together and that hasn't happened yet," White commented.

The D.A. still has a few weeks to decide if some of his cost-cutting measures will be implemented. Bottom line, he says maintaining public safety is his number one priority.

As a result of the budget cuts, the D.A. says he will also have to move his diversion program from the building it's currently housed in, because his office can't afford the rent. He's now asking Sheriff Gusman to use a building the sheriff's office doesn't need.

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