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|No space at courthouse for new 4th JDC judges|
Two new 4th Judicial District Court judges will begin work Jan. 1, 2009, and in the meantime, the Ouachita Parish Police Jury will look into ways to accommodate them.
The new judges will be elected in the fall elections to judicial districts the Legislature created to accommodate a growing caseload in the 4th Judicial District Court system.
Judge Benjamin Jones once again returned to the police jury Monday during its regular meeting to discuss office space the two new judges will occupy.
He also expects the Legislature to create another judicial district for the 4th Judicial District Court within two years to handle the court's case load, which has increased dramatically in recent years.
"We will ask for a third judge if our numbers hold, which we expect they will given our current workload," Jones said. "We are a very busy court, and our numbers support a third judge."
"So, we will need three chambers by this fall, and we're asking to have it done by Oct. 31," Jones said.
Local architect Bill Land has told the police jury that it needs about 8,000 square feet to house the new judges, their secretaries and related staff.
Local realtor Bill Roark has provided the police jury with several locations near the courthouse that the jury can either rent or buy. Those facilities could house the new judges and their staff.
Police jury president Walt Caldwell and police juror Charles Jackson both say they do not want to lease a building for the court system or another parish entity to use.
Jones wants the police jury to find a way for the judges to be housed at the Ouachita Parish courthouse.
Jones said the current judges would like for the new judges to be housed on the third floor of the courthouse. At this time, though, there is not enough room for the judges' chambers. For the judges to be housed on the third floor, other departments would have to be relocated.
Police juror Mack Calhoun said he supports the judges, but he does not want any of the police jury's staff to be moved from the courthouse.
"The police jury has been here for 80 years, and the people who work for the parish don't want to move," Calhoun said.
Caldwell said he would not be opposed to relocating the police jury and its staff to another facility, but right now there isn't any facility available that could accommodate parish employees.
"I work in the court system and I recognize their needs, but we don't have any options at this time," Caldwell said. "We don't have anywhere to go."
"We want to provide them with space, but the police jury doesn't have any viable alternative at this time," Caldwell continued. "It's not just about space; it has to be something that we can afford."
Calhoun said the best option available would entail buying another building to provide additional space for these judges.
Jurors agreed to explore that option and to continue discussions with the judges on how best to alleviate the space problem.