Avoyelles district attorney endorses need for proposed Justice Center

{Editor’s Note: The following is a letter from District Attorney Charles Riddle on the positive effects of the proposed Avoyelles Parish Justice Center.}

Reading and listening to voters’ concerns about the proposed Justice Center brings out many different issues concerning our entire judicial system -- criminal and civil.

Hopefully this letter will address many concerns the voters of Avoyelles have brought up. If any reader is going to vote against ANY tax, then no argument will change that person’s mind.

First, is a new facility necessary?

This question is answered easily. When considering security of those attending court, whether they are prospective jurors, civil litigants, victims of crime, judges, witnesses or an observer, security is a major issue. We have had violence and threats against individuals.

In addition, due to the 1927 building plan, the restroom facilities cause great concern with inmates having to use the same facility as the general public and where, on many occasions, drugs are transferred.

The sheriff, Police Jury and judges have made efforts to provide security upon entrance to the courthouse and inside the two courtrooms, but it not sufficient with the current facility.

This proposal provides a means to pay for 24/7 security with no costs to the sheriff and Police Jury.

The vast majority of security issues involve the third floor, where the two courtrooms are located.

No one has argued against this proposal by stating the 1927 plan fits the issues of the present day.

We have transformed a one-courtroom, one-judge system into a two-judge, two-courtroom system with an explosion of criminal activity and many more civil suits filed.

Our system today handles approximately 1,000 felonies and 1,200 misdemeanors a year. Our civil court handles about 1,500 civil filings.

This does not count the estimated 450 juvenile cases, child endangerment cases and child support enforcement by the state, which further burdens our system. We handle 4,200 traffic tickets a year.

Just 25 years ago the total number of cases was 5,000 a year. Now it is 9,500 a year.

Think of how few existed in 1928. Remember, a courtroom attendance is rarely a place where parties agree and is mostly adversarial.

The land for the center has been donated, which reduces costs. The Police Jury would be able to consolidate other parish offices by using the third floor instead of expanding beyond the courthouse.

The Police Jury will save money and allow improvements to other facets of the courthouse, rather than continue to spend money to keep the judicial portion operational.

The Sheriff’s Office will also save money by not having to provide security at the Justice Center, which will pay that costs from the sales tax.

Two other districts have done similar remodels at costs of $13 million in Beauregard Parish and $15 million in Bienville Parish. The estimated cost for the Justice Center is $7-9 million.

If this passes, the center will be completed in about three years. The two judges and I, as DA, will have the benefit of this new space for only about three years.

It is not for us, it is for the future and those that will replace us and for the public.

Our third floor prohibits any wheelchair-bound citizen from participating in the jury process or sitting at the counsel-party table. It would be very expensive to make our courtrooms handicap-accessible.

Our criminal process is very cumbersome. Our desire and law-required process is to separate the jailed inmates from prospective jurors.

Recently, we had the jurors moved to one courtroom to hold the shackled inmates in the smaller courtroom. We were able to do that, because there were no trials scheduled in the smaller courtroom.

Normally, we have to hold inmates on a separate floor, causing even more issues of transferring an inmate to court while another guard has to remain guarding the other inmates.

The proposed Justice Center would have a separate
room for inmates so they will never have to intermingle with law-abiding citizens nor use the same restroom facilities.

On this day, we had trials scheduled on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The defendants plead guilty on the Tuesday and Wednesday trials and the next day, the defendant pled guilty to the charges scheduled on Thursday.

It was burdensome to the jurors and the court system. We know that this is frustrating to prospective jurors, but there are constitutional issues we have to address in handling jury-required cases.

Just last week we had 32 inmates in one court, in addition to 45 free people accused of crimes.

If this letter has raised more questions, please feel free to call me at 318-253-6587. I will attempt to answer any questions.

Feel free to attend court on any Tuesday -- first and third Tuesdays in Division A; second and fourth in Division B. See it for yourself instead of hearing rumors. Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion.

Charles Riddle III, District Attorney

AVOYELLES JOURNAL
BUNKIE RECORD
MARKSVILLE WEEKLY

105 N Main St
Marksville, LA 71351
(318) 253-9247