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|OPPJ to spend $40,000 on renovations for new judges|
The Ouachita Parish Police Jury will spend $40,000 to remodel the parish courthouse to free up more space for 4th Judicial District Court judges.
The plan calls for reshuffling office space and remodeling the second and third floors at the courthouse to house two new judges. The Legislature approved the new judicial districts to accommodate a growing caseload at 4th Judicial District Court. Mer Rouge attorney Danny Ellender and Monroe City Councilman Robert Johnson recently were elected without opposition to the two new seats on the district court bench.
The police jury for months has been working with the current judges at district court to alleviate the space problem. The police jury looked into renting or buying property outside the courthouse to accommodate the judges. That option is not currently feasible, so the police jury and judges agreed on a short-term plan.
"It has been made clear that the jury does not have the money to accommodate our needs, and the court has taken that message to heart," said Judge Ben Jones, who spoke to the police jury at its regular meeting Monday.
"We met and tried to further squeeze down our request to come up with something that will meet the urgent needs of the court," Jones said.
"This is a plan (short-term agreement) that will allow us to at least get by for the present time, but we do expect to get a third judge in the next two to three years," Jones explained. "We can make this work for now, but it is not a long-term plan."
Jones said the two new judges—Ellender and Johnson—need office space by November to prepare for their first day on the job as judges, which is Jan. 1, 2009.
Local architect Bill Land has said the court needs at least 8,000 square feet to house the two new judges, secretaries and related staff.
Cost to remodel the second floor will run about $25,000. The third floor remodeling project will cost $15,000, Land said.
Police jury finance committee chairman Charles Jackson said the police jury will continue working with the judges to come up with a long-term solution to the space problem.
"We know that long-term we still have space issues," Jackson said. "I encourage the judges to continue doing the same sort of research that we've been doing - about how it's done in other districts."
"I know there's a strong desire to keep the services centralized for efficiency," Jackson continued. "We now have the opportunity to provide for the two judges, so we've got a little more breathing room to really figure out how we're going to solve the long-term issues."
Police jury president Walt Caldwell added, "Everybody is sacrificing here and I think the taxpayers will appreciate the fact that we've all tightened our belts to spend as little money as possible. While it's certainly not the best plan, it is something we can live with for the short term."