IG says Judge Sens building 'family dynasty' at taxpayers' expense

Municipal Judge Paul Sens
Municipal Judge Paul Sens

Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens is under fire once again with the New Orleans Inspector General's office.  Ed Quatrevaux has referred his latest investigation of Sens behavior -- what he lays out as a dynasty of sorts -- to the Judiciary Commission.

"I've never heard of a case where so many relatives of the leader of the organization were working at the organization," said Quatrevaux.

Quatrevaux is talking about Municipal Court Judge Paul Sens and his 18 family members who either work or have worked in the Municipal Court of New Orleans.  Seven are still active employees: two of the judge's nephews, a niece, a cousin, a sister-in-law and a cousin-in-law. Of the 18, his son tops the list, working as a part-time office assistant in 2010 and 2011.

"It presents an appearance, an appearance of abuse that undermines confidence in government, as well as integrity in the judiciary," said Quatrevaux.

According to a letter from Quatrevaux's office to Administrative Judge Desiree Charbonnet, relatives of Judge Sens were employed at a monthly cost to the city of $39,000, from January 2010 to the present.  The overall cost during that time was just over $1.2 million.

Quatrevaux calls it the building of a family dynasty at the expense of New Orleans taxpayers.

"It's up to the Judiciary Commission to determine what rules, what laws if any were broken, and take appropriate action," said Quatrevaux.

"I've seen other nepotism complaints and allegations filed against judges dealing with nepotism, but not to this magnitude where there are 18 family members -- directly related, maybe more distantly -- but nonetheless related to one of the judges on the court," said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Goyeneche says the Judiciary Commission is going to have to determine if any of these 18 family hires violated what's called the nepotism ban, which essentially means favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship.

"But secondly, also determining if the judge used his influence to effect the hire of these family members, even if they fall beyond the definitions prohibited under the nepotism laws," said Goyeneche.

It's an investigation Goyeneche says will be treated very seriously by the Judiciary Commission, and it could be quite some time before the commission can constitute judicial misconduct.

"The judge will be invited to offer his explanation, and the commission, if they in fact go forward through this, will have to interview a variety of court employees to ascertain what the facts and the truth is with this," said Goyeneche.

"We're not going to recover as a city until we knock off all the bad things we've been doing for years and years and years and years.  We've got to change," said Quatrevaux.

Less than two weeks ago, following a series of reports by FOX 8 and our investigative partners at The Lens, Quatrevaux issued a report on the decision by Sheriff Marlin Gusman and Judge Sens to hire each other's wives. Quatrevaux says that investigation was limited, and since the hirings didn't violate the law, a more in-depth investigation wasn't worth the investment of resources.

Judge Sens couldn't be reached for comment about Tuesday's report.