Monday, July 22, 2013

The benchwarmer playbook

This past week I've been examining how Ad Hoc Judges are appointed to Civil District Court to fill in for the elected judges in the event one has to take time off.

What I've learned, I want to share with you and see if anyone else has the same concerns I do.

I had no idea that Supreme Court Justices could appoint an Ad Hoc Civil Court Judge in any parish in Louisiana at their own discretion, without public notice.

If an elected CDC (or Criminal Court) judge has to take a hiatus, an Ad Hoc judge is appointed to that division in order fill the gap.  The CDC website has a list of Ad Hoc judges and I suppose those folks have already been vetted and approved by a Supreme Court Justice.  But, apparently, anyone can be approved as an Ad Hoc judge at a SCJ's discretion.

That's kind of a big deal.  There's no public vetting process involved but that's not out of the ordinary in respect to other states from what I've discovered.  What is out of the ordinary in respect to other states is that the Louisiana Supreme Court doesn't require an order issued by a Supreme Court Justice to be stamped (time/date) by the La. Supreme Court Clerk of Court.

I went down to the La. Supreme Court last week to get Supreme Court Justice, Bernette Joshua Johnson's order that placed former CDC Judge, Nadine Ramsey, in the Ad Hoc position for Division D Judge, Lloyd Medley.  I wanted to see when she was appointed and for how long.  After a couple of back and forth trips between the administrative office and the Clerk I got the order and I was surprised to see that it was signed by the Clerk of Court but had not been stamped by the Clerk.  I went back the next day to ask why and I was told that "internal court documents don't have to be stamped".

I called the Supreme Courts of neighboring states, Mississippi and Texas, today and both require orders issued by Supreme Court Justices to be signed and stamped by the Clerk of Court.

This may not seem like a big deal at first glance but think about it for a second.  The Clerk's purpose is to make sure documents are filed properly and made legally binding, the Clerk's stamp is essentially a seal that ensures the validity of the document and at what point in time the order was made legal.  If a Justice's order isn't time stamped, the validity of the order is based completely on the signature of the Justice and whatever handwritten date is listed on the document.

I'm not suggesting anything is "invalid" about the particular document I was looking for but it concerns me that orders are issued and implemented into law with a simple signature and without the check and balance system the Clerk of Court is supposed to provide.  It seems like it could allow orders to be "retro-filed".  In other words, an order could be written and backdated.  You see my point?

Once again, I'm not suggesting that happened, I just point out the possibility that it could happen unless the order is time stamped by the Clerk of Court.  I'm not suggesting that happend in this particular case.

Incidentally, here is the order I requested.

The other thing that concerns me is why wouldn't an already designated Ad Hoc judge be used instead of pulling someone up?  I'm not sure how the process works but that's a pretty big list of Ad Hoc Judges on the CDC site....why weren't they tapped first?  Maybe they were all busy?  I don't know, I'm just thinking out loud here.  It looks like CDC Chief Judge, Piper Griffin, made the request but it doesn't specify if the CDC make their own choices for Ad Hoc or if the Supreme Court Justices make the decision.  I'm going to try and find out more about it...will get back to you.

UPDATE:  I knew other folks were looking into this as well and I was just sent this copy of the order that was requested by someone else....look closely and tell me if you notice anything:

My copy was signed by the Clerk's office, this copy isn't.  May not be a big deal but why would there be two copies of the same document if it was signed back on June 10th?  That's curious.


Anonymous said...

I believe that when you go to the clerk's office and request a copy of an order, the clerk signs and stamps signifying that you have a true copy of the original document. My guess is that the second copy above was made by someone in CDC and not obtained through the normal process.
As to the date stamp, that is done when a document is initially filed with the clerk. I have noticed in other instances that some internal orders are not date stamped. Not sure why but I think that practice is unique to CDC.

Jason Brad Berry said...

It's not's the LA Supreme Court.