Louisiana Supreme Court - 400 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70130 | Tel: 504-310-2300 Hon. Bernette J. Johnson. Chief Justice.  John Tarlton Olivier., Clerk of Court.  Sandra A. Vujnovich. Judicial Administrator
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2001 Press Releases

(504) 599-0319

  APRIL 10, 2001





Tuesday, April 10, 2001, 3:00 p.m., House Chamber

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the House and Senate, colleagues, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Good afternoon. On behalf of the Louisiana Supreme Court, thank you once again for this opportunity to speak to you on the state of the judiciary. I sincerely appreciate the courtesies shown by the President, the Speaker, and all of you for scheduling this address and for being here today.

I am joined today by other members of the Supreme Court, including Justice Kitty Kimball, who is next in line to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Other members of the Court present today are Justice Jeff Victory from Shreveport, Justice Chet Traylor from Winnsboro, and Justice Jeannette Knoll from Marksville. Justice Harry Lemmon, who is not here today, has announced his retirement effective May 16, 2001, ending 21 years of distinguished service on the Supreme Court. Justice Bernette Johnson from New Orleans could not be with us today because she is in Atlanta receiving an honorary doctorate degree from Spelman College.

Since I last spoke to you, we bid a fond farewell to Justice Walter Marcus, Jr. of New Orleans who retired in September 2000 after 27-1/2 years on the Supreme Court. We were also saddened by the loss of retired Supreme Court Justice Pike Hall of Shreveport who died in November 1999. The Second Circuit Court of Appeal courthouse was renamed recently in his honor.

This is my fourth "State of the Judiciary" address. I look forward to speaking to you every two years. My regularly-scheduled remarks represent a relatively new tradition, although prior to 1996, Chief Justices have occasionally addressed this august body. I believe our presence here serves a dual purpose of updating you on the performance of the state judiciary while serving as a reminder of the functions and nature of our respective branches of government. My own experience and that of the other Justices is an appreciation and deep respect of your role in our state government. This bicameral legislature is inferior only to the Constitution of Louisiana as adopted by the people of our state.

As legislators, you pass the laws for our state. Under the state Constitution, we are required to respect, interpret, and apply those laws, and on occasion, to determine whether that legislation comports with our state and federal constitutions.

Yesterday marked my 11th year as your Chief Justice, and I thank each of you for your courtesy and your friendship. I also would like to thank all of you and Governor Foster for your assistance and cooperation during the past two years.

I especially commend you for providing the funds to complete the renovation of 400 Royal Street. I promise that this precious landmark will become one of the great jewels in this state's rich treasury of historic buildings, and a fitting symbol for justice in Louisiana.

I also thank the legislature, especially the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, for working with the Supreme Court and the judiciary to develop the Judicial Budget and Performance Accountability Act of 1999. Because of this Act, the judiciary is now using strategic planning, performance auditing, and other tools to direct its future and to encourage continuous improvement.

I also wish to thank the legislature in advance for its consideration at this session of the need for higher levels of judicial pay. Judges' advocacy of a judicial pay raise may sound to some as rather self-serving. However, do remember that if the people of this state want a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary, adequate judicial pay is certainly a necessary component of the overall effort to achieve these objectives.

As you know, as Chief Justice I have strived to improve communications between our two branches of government. I think we've been successful in this regard, more recently with the Justices' biannual visit to this Chamber, distribution of our quarterly Court Column newsletter, and our district court Judicial Ride-alongs in which I know many of you have participated. Last fall, we expanded this program to include a Supreme Court Ridealong for state legislators. We were delighted that about 50 of you came to the Supreme Court, visited with us for a morning of informational presentations, took a tour to see firsthand the progress of the renovations of the Courthouse at 400 Royal Street, and sat in on our regularly-scheduled afternoon oral arguments. Thank you to everyone who made the trip to our Court and participated in the Ridealong. We received some excellent feedback on this program, and we hope to present it again at a future date to give new legislators (and new Justices) the opportunity to participate.

I hope you also continue to find useful the input of our Judicial Council into relevant legislation, such as bills to create new judgeships. As you know, each year the Judicial Council's Committee to Evaluate Requests for New Judgeships sends to each legislator and each court a list of criteria for creating new judgeships. The Judicial Council only approves and recommends to you the creation of a new judgeship after a team, composed of judges and staff, visits the judicial district, analyzes case-loads and other factors, and concludes that a new judgeship is warranted, based on the requisite criteria. Recommendations of the Judicial Council are supportable with statistics and are not made lightly. Thank you for respecting the recommendations of the Judicial Council and for upholding the integrity of the process.

Over the past two years, I believe Louisiana's judiciary has accomplished many positive things, as you will see in the publications that have been placed at your desks. These reports show that the judiciary has worked diligently to improve its performance in many different areas. One of the longstanding goals of the Supreme Court has been to reduce the number of attorney disciplinary infractions. Through the Court's "Committee to Study Permanent Disbarment", co-chaired by Justice Kitty Kimball and Justice Jeannette T. Knoll, the Court's "Committee to Prevent Lawyer Misconduct", chaired by Justice Chet D. Traylor, and the Court's " Ad Hoc Committee to Study Potential Changes in the Admission and Practice of Law", chaired by Justice Kitty Kimball, we are pursuing a variety of avenues to improve the quality of the legal profession.

In my opinion, a potentially far reaching reform initiative recently undertaken by the Supreme Court for our elected judiciary was the formation of a "Committee to Study the Creation of a Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee." This Study Committee was charged with studying and making recommendations to the Court on the benefits and feasibility of establishing a permanent Oversight Committee, which would serve, for the judicial candidate, as a resource and as a deterrent. The Oversight Committee would act as a resource by educating the judicial candidates on such matters as the Code of Judicial Conduct, answering ethical questions which arise during an election on an expedited basis, and reviewing actual or proposed campaign conduct and advertisements. The Oversight Committee would also hopefully deter unethical conduct by soliciting from each candidate a pledge of ethical campaign conduct, and also by reviewing complaints and taking action where appropriate. It is our hope that this Oversight Committee might help in restoring and maintaining ethical conduct in judicial campaigns.

I'd like to personally thank Senator Jay Dardenne and Representative Arthur Morrell for serving on the Study Committee, which completed its work this past Friday. I am pleased to report that the Study Committee will soon recommend to the Court the creation of a permanent Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee. The Study Committee made several other distinct recommendations, and its report will be subject to consideration by the Supreme Court conference in the very near future.

While I appreciate the chance to recount some of our accomplishments, my primary purpose in addressing you today is to ask your assistance on a very important issue - the need to re-envision, restructure, and reform the juvenile justice system of this state. Improved education and more effective juvenile justice are two keys for ensuring the future of this state. I commend the Governor and the Legislature for their initiatives to improve the state's educational system, especially the recent effort to provide higher pay for teachers. Now I think it is time for all three branches to examine the issue of the current state of our juvenile justice system and to take bold steps to improve it.

In addressing this issue, I will not elaborate on the many problems affecting juvenile courts - for example, the low level of operating and capital funding, the unavailability of effective secured detention, the lack of alternative sanctions, and the lack of treatment services for children and families. Let me begin instead by sharing with you my vision of what I believe is not only possible, but imperative as well.

I envision a revitalized juvenile justice system to be built upon a resolute, over-arching commitment by Louisiana's leaders and its people to truly put children first above other priorities, especially those children who are at risk of abuse and neglect, educational failure, societal maladjustment, and chronic criminal activity.

I envision a juvenile justice system that emphasizes prevention, assessment, early intervention, treatment, rehabilitation, and the proper development of civic values, learning competencies, and life-coping skills in children, rather than simply punishment, and, where punishment is an appropriate and necessary remedy, a system that ensures swift and effective justice.

I envision a new juvenile justice system built upon the comprehensive strategy advocated by the federal government that provides a framework for assessing and treating all children who come under its jurisdiction, including those who are abused and neglected, those who are status offenders, and those who are serious, violent, and chronic delinquent offenders.

The new system should recognize the link between child abuse and neglect and the potential for later social maladjustment and possible criminal activity. It should address the needs of abused and neglected children in a comprehensive manner from the moment they enter the system until the time they are firmly re-united with their birth families, or securely placed with their adoptive families, or reasonably adjusted to be on their own after they "age-out" of the system.

For those children who are status offenders, traffic offenders, and delinquent offenders, the new system should provide a continuum of high-quality, integrated services and graduated sanctions, including prevention, assessment, early intervention, secured detention, alternative sanctions, long-term services for treating substance abuse, mental disorders, and other disorders affecting children and their families. The system should link traditional juvenile justice elements with elements from the health, mental health, substance abuse, educational, child welfare, and community-based systems. The system should also insist and ensure that there is meaningful communication, collaboration, and data sharing among all juvenile justice agencies.

This new juvenile justice system should ensure that juvenile courts are adequately housed and funded to fulfill their rehabilitative mission.

This ideal juvenile justice system should consistently operate from a knowledge base that incorporates the best tools for planning and managing the implementation of the comprehensive strategy. The system should provide accurate, up-to-date information on the quality, timeliness, and effectiveness of all juvenile justice processes and results, including the effectiveness of each strategy in the continuum of services, including the range of progressive sanctions. The system should not act blindly in the vague hope of positive results but should use the best science to ensure that good things will result so that success can be institutionalized and failure eliminated. The system should, therefore, be totally accountable to the public and to you, the guardians of the public's purse.

Through such a comprehensive approach, I envision a reformed juvenile justice system that is not blind but knowledgeable in its application of services and sanctions, a system that is tough but not mindless, and a system whose cost-effectiveness can be measured accurately and whose expectations are firmly and unrelentingly in favor of the rehabilitation of children.

If you agree with at least part of my vision, the question I wish to pose to you today is: how do we -- the three branches of state government - along with local government, and our society as a whole -- come together to develop and implement a common vision? Many judges in this state, including myself, believe that increased state funding for our financially-strapped juvenile courts should be a major part of the reform and restructuring of the juvenile justice system. However, I realize the legislature's difficulty in jumping into that issue without carefully analyzing the costs and benefits and also without looking at the entire system. And so, let me suggest the following approach as a starting point. I request that, at this session, you establish a joint legislative study committee or a commission to envision practical ways to reform and restructure the juvenile justice system of our state. It is time that we all examine the mission and financing of our juvenile courts as well as the availability of effective secured detention facilities and services, the availability of effective alternative sanctions, and the availability of treatment services. In this endeavor, I stand ready to commit the judiciary to participate meaningfully in this process. I offer the benefits of our staff, the wisdom of our judges, and access to the best judicial think tanks and resources in the nation.

An improved juvenile justice system is, in my opinion, the state's best strategy for preventing and reducing serious crime. We all know, intuitively and from research, that the abuse and neglect of children is a major contributing factor in the development of delinquency and that delinquency is a major contributor to adult crime. For these reasons alone, we need to look carefully at this issue and to act. So let us begin. Once again, I thank you for opening your chamber to us today, for your attention to my remarks, and for your unfailing devotion to the people of Louisiana.


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