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New Orleans Municipal Court Holds Session At Homeless Shelter

Eileen Fleming

The Orleans Parish Municipal Court is trying a unique program to help clear charges that often keep indigent people behind bars. Judge Sean Early and his staff cleared cases in an annex at the New Orleans Mission.

Lauren Anderson is a staff attorney at the Public Defender's Office. She’s been working on the project for about two months. It’s aimed at clearing some of the 34,000 warrants for the arrests of people — many homeless or mentally ill — who didn’t pay a court fine or fee.  They were released on the promise of paying. When that wasn’t done, they faced arrest.

“We don’t want to build a bigger jail, and you definitely don’t a jail that’s filled with non-violent offenders, that’s filled with people who can’t pay a $300 bond," she said. "It’s ridiculous that somebody is sitting in jail for weeks and weeks who can’t pay a $300 bond. Something that might be nominal to somebody else is more than they could ever dream of having.”     

Judge Early says the offenses handled in the Mission court don’t pose a threat to public safety.

“We’re not handling any violent felony cases here. All criminal misdemeanors," he said.

In the first session, Early dismissed several warrants, also called attachments, with an order that they serve a few hours of community service — some at the Mission. Another court session is planned there before the holiday season.

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