News 2 investigates: Millions owed to District Court in BR
BATON ROUGE - A News 2 investigation found millions of dollars are owed to the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge. The problem stems from organizations that file civil lawsuits without paying court costs, according to state district judge Janice Clark.
News 2 found nearly $6 million is owed in unpaid fees dating back to 1979.
"They say they are political subdivisions of the state, and therefore, they shouldn't have to pay," said Clark.
Caddo Parish Government, City Light and Water of Plaquemine, Red River Parish School Board, Regional Transit Authority, Sabine Parish Police Jury and the St. Charles Parish Assessor are just a few organizations who filed suit recently but never paid up.
News 2 asked why those out of parish organizations are filing in Baton Rouge.
"They have courts in their jurisdictions, but it could be an issue of venue," said Clark.
Either way, the amount of free filings is causing a tough time for district court.
"We're unable to get jurors' lunches paid," said Clark. "The state refuses to pay in advance, so we resort to asking counsel to pay for jury lunches."
Clark believes the problem stems from the state level. She said many of the organizations received temporary legislative approval to refrain from paying court fees. For that reason, Clark is planning on attending the upcoming session to gain support from lawmakers about the problem.
"We previously had legislation filed to address this cause," said Clark. "It did not pass, so we are at a critical stage now."
Unlike most courts in other states, the district court is not included in the state judicial budget, leaving the court to rely heavily on fees to operate.
Clark expects an increase in the high turnover of employees district court already sees until the problem of free filings is addressed.