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Monitoring Group Finds Continuing Problems With New Orleans Courts

A nonprofit monitoring New Orleans courts says that more than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed evidence kept in a basement that flooded, evidence remains at risk. It’s recommending alternative storage be used, and other improvements inside courtrooms are needed.

Court Watch NOLA Executive Director Simone Levine released the annual report card at a news conference at the steps of the Criminal District Court on Tulane and Broad avenues.

“Ten years after Katrina, where evidence was flooded in the basement -- that Criminal District Court had flooded  --  and we lost approximately evidence of 3,000 criminal cases,  evidence still remains in the basement of Criminal District Court," she said.

She says there has been some improvement. The police department sent a refrigerator to store rape kits.

Levine says that upstairs – in the courts themselves – problems were noted.

Judges often hold private discussions with attorneys in court in what’s known as sidebars. She says that makes it difficult for victims, and more transparency is needed.  

“Even though you are trying to get over the trauma yourself as a victim over the situation that you’ve gone through and you’ve diligently shown up to that courtroom -- every single court appearance for four years -- and all you hear is a judge laughing with defense attorney and the prosecutor and not explaining everything on the record," she said. "That’s the reason why we monitor sidebars.”  

Court Watch NOLA had 200 volunteers monitoring court proceedings last year.

The group is also recommending better access for people with disabilities, more attentive court deputies and private booths for attorneys to have private meetings with defendants. It’s meeting next week with city officials to review the recommendations.  

Eileen is a news reporter and producer for WWNO. She researches, reports and produces the local daily news items. Eileen relocated to New Orleans in 2008 after working as a writer and producer with the Associated Press in Washington, D.C. for seven years.

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