Louisiana residents will be able to publicly express their opinions about the state of Louisiana's judiciary on Wednesday morning, when a joint committee of lawmakers and legal leaders holds a hearing on the issue in Baton Rouge.
The hearing comes just about a month after the Bureau of Governmental Research, a government watchdog agency, said the state could save $14 million by eliminating up to 25 "unnecessary" judges in Orleans Parish alone.
But state Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, said the BGR report will not inform the findings of the committee he helps lead. The committee -- a group of lawmakers, judges, lawyers and private citizens -- is slated to receive a report from the Louisiana Supreme Court on the state's 40 district courts and 49 city courts in February.
NOLA.com/Times Picayune reports the court is still gathering data, Murray said Tuesday, but the report is on schedule to be released before the 2014 legislative session begins in early March.
The court already released a study on the state's three parish courts in Ascension and Jefferson parishes in February 2012. But it's more than a year late in issuing a companion report on the state's five appellate courts. The 2012 report also did not include concrete recommendations for the Legislature on whether or not the number of judges in the three parish courts should be cut.
While the BGR report admitted its own shortcomings, it was released early because 80 percent of judges in New Orleans are up for re-election in November 2014. State law bans the elimination of any seat before the end of a judge's term and also requires a two-thirds vote by state lawmakers to change the overall number of judgeships in at any level.
That means legislators will have to decide during the session that begins March 10 whether to cut or expand the state's judgeships. Therefore, it's imperative that any recommendations from the court and committee come well before then.
Last year, state lawmakers approved a multi-year pay raise for the state's judges. In 2013, Supreme Court justices will see a 5.5 percent pay bump, appellate judges a 3.7 percent increase, district judges a 4 percent increase, and city and parish judges a 2.1 percent raise this year. Between next year and 2017, each category will receive a 2.1 percent pay increase.
State Supreme Court justices are now paid about $151,800 a year, appellate judges about $144,300 and district judges about $137,700. City and parish judges are paid about $66,500.
The legislative committee was created in 2011 by House Concurrent Resolution 143. The public comment meeting will take place on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. in the John J. Hainkel Jr. Room at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge.