Filed Under:  Local, News, OpEd

The good life

3rd December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

No one who knows anything about the city’s politically connected and muckety-muck should have been surprised to learn last week of a new report that criticizes 13 criminal court judges for using public funds to pay for insurance for their families.

In 2010, the 13 judges held 249 supplemental insurance policies for themselves and family members. That’s an average of 19 polices per criminal court judge — 19!

The average cost of those policies was $14,509, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Why would anyone want to blow their six-figure salaries on things like supplemental insurance when they could simply dip into public funds to get this extra coverage? Why indeed.

While auditor Daryl Purpera found problems with the spending habits of civil and city court judges as well, the big sweepstakes winners are clearly criminal court judges. According to Purpera, the lucky 13 criminal court judges illegally spent $800,000 in public funds to buy what he called “excessive and unnecessary” supplemental coverage on top of their state-funded healthcare plans.

State law clearly makes it illegal for judges to receive any compensation above the judicial salary set by statute at more than $130,000 a year. It also says that insurance premiums can be paid only at the same rate as other state employees.

Two judges reportedly responded to the audit’s findings, calling the report “misleading and unsound.” Imagine that.

The two judges also sought to defend their use of public funds to buy supplemental insurance coverage as a common and time-honored practice.

Kind of life, uhhhhmm, corruption and political chicanery in local, state and federal government among judges.

In this era of accountability and transparency, we continue to catch elected and appointed officials living the good life on the taxpayers’ dime. While we’ve witnessed the downfall of a number of political insiders in recent years, we continue to see glaring examples of men and women who still think they are entitled to live idyllic professional lives with taxpayers footing the bill.

We’ve all seen this before with the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad, New Or.leans Firefighters Pension Fund, New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board and among various civil court judges.

For those who might have forgotten, a number of the city’s civil court judges saw nothing wrong several years ago with using public money to pay for gourmet meals prepared in the Civil Court Building by former New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush’s personal chef, Chef Gason. (For the record, Chef Gason did absolutely nothing wrong — he simply provided a service to a group of clients).

Over the past few years, we have read about a number of investigations that revealed how men and women elected to public office and appointed to various boards and commissions have abused their positions by using them as a license to go for the gusto. For those who don’t get it, elected officials and government appointees do not have the right to ball on the taxpayers’ dime.

Apparently, these judges’ sense of entitlement is stronger than any fear they may harbor of being forced to step down from office or prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Perhaps U.S. Attorney Jim Letten should reiterate to criminal court judges how committed he is to ending corruption and the misappropriation of public funds in the Eastern District of Louisiana. If they still fail to take heed, let the chips fall where they may.

Every day hard-working people go to work to feed, house and clothe their families, ever mindful of the fact that they must live within their means. Why should the city’s top elected and appointed officials be any different? Why should they think they have the right to live like kings and queens in a cash-strapped city with a long history of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

What makes judges who look down their noses at “common criminals” think they have some God-given right to grab everything they can get their hands on? What makes someone who takes money that doesn’t belong to him from someone’s house more of a criminal than an elected official who sees nothing wrong with simply taking thousands of dollars to buy something for himself just because every body does it and has been doing it a long time? You can’t really call this a victimless crime since the city is financially strapped and could use any surplus funds to pay for various services for residents. Draining the city’s coffers whether fines or taxes are the source of those public funds means that there will be less money available to meet the needs of the city’s poorest residents.

The problem is that the money being used to finance the lifestyles of the city’s privileged class is derived in part from working- and middle-class families who cannot afford to send their kids to a private school, purchase a home in a safe neighborhood or buy adequate insurance.

What boggles the mind is that all of this greed, splurging and wastefulness is being carried out in broad daylight by men and women who are unapologetic about getting everything they can out of the system and show neither shame nor remorse for their acts.

The things being done are all the more indefensible when one considers that civil service employees are being threatened with termination, and vigorous efforts are under way to force Sewerage & Water Board and Entergy rate hikes on hard-working residents and senior citizens.

Imagine how much money there might be for street repairs, and mental health care if local elected and appointed officials would simply stop acting as though they are entitled to take whatever they want without fear of being held accountable.

This is just more proof that although President Obama has been re-elected and local voters have weighed in on a wide variety of issues last month, there is still a lot of work to do to create a just, democratic society where every human being can enjoy equal protection under the law.

All power to the people.

This article originally published in the December 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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