NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— On Monday, the doors of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court building were locked, with only a sign on the front doors to notify the public of its closure.
The sign on the door read:
“Criminal District Court building is currently closed. Court is being held remotely via the court’s virtual courtroom. Virtual courtrooms should be accessed at www.criminalcourt.org.”
According to a statement, the Criminal District Court Operations said operations were changed because the court did not have access to any in-custody defendants housed as OJC.
An additional statement from the Orleans Public Defenders Office says the abrupt closure disrupted the time committed to appearing in court by clients, attorneys, and their families. Officials say that the short notice makes attending virtual court “virtually impossible.”
Officials with the justice center say a meeting has been requested with Sheriff Susan Hutson. Court Operations stated that the “Judges remain committed to resuming normal court operations and are hopeful for a favorable outcome.”
Upon the announcement of the justice center’s closure, several local officials responded to the recent tragedies at the Criminal Justice Center and ongoing issues related to manpower shortages within the Sherrif’s Office.
“We need just another couple of weeks to get our permanent staffing plan in place but the events that unfolded this weekend made us have to accelerate that. So, what I asked was for some grace and mercy for the other actors in the system for the next two weeks as we get this plan in place. It could be up to two weeks but it could be sooner than that, “ said Sheriff Susan Hutson.
District “E” Councilmember and Criminal Justice Committee Chair Oliver M. Thomas, Jr. released the following statement:
“Our Sheriff Susan Hutson has recently notified partners in the Criminal Justice System that Deputy Sheriffs will be pulled away from their assigned duties and responsibilities to support the prevention of further tragedies such as those that have recently happened at the Criminal Justice Center.
The current calamities are unfortunate. I would like to pray for those inmates, their families, and the loved ones who supported them. Given the recent spike in violence and the devastations that happen on our streets, we cannot afford to shut down or slow down our court system or negatively impact families and other components of the Criminal Justice System that depend on the order and protection that those Deputies provide. I am asking for a better solution and compromise from the Sheriff while all partners convene to attempt to work this out.”
The DA’s office released a statement in response to court being held remotely :
“While we were looking forward to trying a number of cases in front of juries over the next few weeks in court, including seven this week alone, we understand the issues of safety and security in the Orleans Justice Center. When we learned of this newest emergency closure, the DA’s Office worked overnight to put a triage plan in place to continue to work to secure justice for victims and families. Sunday evening, my team began the process of reaching out to survivors and witnesses to inform them of today’s closure. Additionally, I have instructed prosecutors to continue moving cases forward through virtual hearings conducted online via zoom. We will not let this emergency closure shift our focus away from delivering justice in New Orleans, and we stand ready to do everything in our power to keep the administration of justice moving forward,” said District Attorney Jason Williams.
Soon after, Mayor LaToya Cantrell also commented on the OJC’s closure, saying:
“The safety and well-being of the inmates under our care at the Orleans Justice Center remain a top public safety priority. We look forward to Sheriff Hutson devising a long-term solution that addresses the unacceptable violence within the facility, as well as developing a comprehensive approach focusing on mental health issues.”
In the meantime, Public Information Officer Walt Pierce says the Orleans Parish Civil District Court is open and fully operating, adding that “security is being provided and the situation is constantly being monitored.”
Pierce adds the court system and Sheriff Hutson are in contact to ensure the Court is being “safely secured at all times.”