Before we ran Jim Brown’s column on Louisiana’s dysfunctional DWI laws I had no clue the topic of drunk driving would prove to be such a target rich environment but now it appears that we are well on our way to accumulating an extensive body of work on this subject which also helps explain why Louisiana’s auto insurance rates are the highest in the nation. Along those lines I offer the Slabbed Nation District Court Judge Jacques Sanborn from St Bernard Parish. Let’s begin with the Times Picayune’s Bob Warren and recount how the Judge almost killed two motorist driving drunk perhaps receiving favorable treatment in the process:
St. Bernard Parish Judge Jacques Sanborn was cited for DWI early Thursday after crashing his Dodge Charger into another vehicle in Arabi, authorities said.
State Police Trooper Melissa Matey said Sanborn, 60, of Chalmette, was brought to an area hospital with unspecified injuries after the 3:32 a.m. crash. He refused to submit to a blood test, but the trooper who responded to the crash conducted a field sobriety test and smelled alcohol, Matey, a Troop B spokeswoman, said.
Because his injuries required medical attention, Matey said the trooper “released” the judge on a DWI citation. Matey said she did not know if Sanborn was admitted to the hospital, but that the trooper understood “he was going to be there for an extended period of time.”
She said Sanborn, who was transported to the hospital by Acadian Ambulance, refused a blood test at the hospital. Matey said Sanborn failed a field test in which the person is asked to follow the trooper’s hand with just his eyes, but that the trooper could not conduct tests in which the person is asked to stand on one leg or walk in a line and turn because of the judge’s injuries.
Was anyone else struck by the fact that blood as not taken for toxicology purposes since the judge refused to give permission? Folks, over here in Mississippi we don’t need the stinkin’ permission of a drunk to gather evidence of their crime as this recent Sun Herald story by Robin Fitzgerald illustrates:
Police Chief James Varnell said a crash late Sunday critically injured a 71-year-old Kiln man and the other driver was speeding and believed to be under the influence of alcohol.
Varnell said Andrew Joseph Roberts sustained serious head injuries when his truck was struck from behind, which slammed his vehicle into a utility pole. The pole broke, leaving electrical power lines exposed.
The chief said Joseph Norman Willette, 49, of Murphreesboro, Tenn., refused to take sobriety and breath tests. Officers obtained a warrant to draw his blood for testing at the state Crime Lab.
Perhaps such a mechanism to obtain a warrant for blood testing does not exists in Louisiana but somehow I think it does based on the reader comments to the Sanborn story. And now naturally one wonders if the Louisiana State Police didn’t help put the fix in for Judge Sanborn in advance.
Of course one doesn’t check into the drunk tank here at Slabbed without undergoing a thorough background investigation and it appears to me Judge Sanborn also suffers from Politician Entitlement Syndrome too as we visit with Carl over at Tulanelink for the skinny in an old Times Picayune story that mentioned Judge Sanborn:
With a baseball cap, sunglasses and skin tanned the color of Worcestershire sauce, 34th Judicial District Judge Jacques Sanborn plopped into a seaside chair at the Tops’l Beach & Racquet Resort and admired the multi-hued vista over the Gulf of Mexico.
Simultaneously, on the bay side of the popular vacation area, about 80 of his colleagues boned up on recent developments in traffic law and death cases. They were engrossed in continuing legal education — “CLE” in the shorthand of the legal community, and the ostensible purpose of Sanborn’s visit to the Panhandle. He was there to attend what’s called “Summer School for Judges,” the biggest, best-attended event on Louisiana’s CLE calendar.
Over the course of the weeklong event, judges and lawyers have been able to earn up to 25 hours of credit, or twice the mandated annual requirement of 12.5 hours. But like most conference attendees, Sanborn wasn’t pushing himself too hard. Though he planned to stay in Florida for the rest of the week, he hadn’t registered for the second half of the program, which offers judges a chance to brush up on their courtroom skills during a three-day seminar known as “Nuts & Bolts.”
Asked whether he was playing hooky, Sanborn said he planned to attend bar association meetings later in the day and the following afternoon. But he grew testy when asked how many family members had accompanied him on his annual Sandestin trip.
“It’s none of your business,” he said. “My family is my business.”
Though Sanborn and many of his colleagues may regard their traditional week at the Tops’l or another nearby resort as a personal or family matter, Louisiana taxpayers underwrite the jaunt to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
It appears only Louisianans are the only voters in the area that believe in giving their Judges and their families all expense paid vacations as we continue:
That kind of participation makes Sandestin an expensive proposition . In 2004, it cost $238,231 to send 73 local judges to the conference, an average cost of $3,219 per judge. Included among the attendees were 10 judges over the age of 65, at which point the state CLE mandate expires. The Sandestin blowout absorbed 40 percent of the $590,591 that was spent on continuing legal education by local jurists in 2004, records show. CLE costs are covered through taxpayer dollars and courthouse fees.
Of course, not every judge goes to Sandestin each year. Records indicate that one-third of the 125 judges who have served on benches in New Orleans or the surrounding parishes haven’t been to Sandestin in the past three years. Some judges are openly uncomfortable with the arrangement.
One of them is Martha Sassone, who has handled cases in Jefferson Parish’s 24th Judicial District for 16 years. She attended the Sandestin conference only once, in her second or third year on the bench, she said.
“After that first time, I just thought it was a very expensive proposition and I made a decision I wasn’t going to use public funds to do that,” Sassone said. “I guess my philosophy is different from some other judges, but I don’t feel comfortable spending that much money on CLE, especially when we’ve laid off people in the 24th and say we have all these post-Katrina budget issues.”
Sassone stressed that she’s not questioning the spending habits of any specific judge, but from a general standpoint she harbors doubts about the week’s validity. She said she focuses her CLE on local classes and a short Biloxi, Miss., conference, called “CLE by the Sea,” sponsored by the Jefferson Bar Association.
Nor is the Sandestin conference the sort of event that might be tolerated in neighboring states. A survey of CLE practices in 10 other Southern states, from Missouri to Florida, shows that even without a financial blow like Katrina, the lavish expenditure on a Sandestin-like gathering is frowned upon.
Texas, for example, allows no reimbursement for out-of-state CLE conferences, and judges in Georgia can get reimbursement for just one out-of-state trip every three years, officials said. At in-state conferences, Georgia judges get reimbursed for meals at a lower rate than the one set by the federal government and receive only a partial reimbursement on lodging, said Rich Reaves of Georgia’s Institute for Continuing Judicial Education. Louisiana judges are permitted chow down at a rate that, in Sandestin, is almost three times the feds’ and often receive full reimbursement for their sometimes lavish lodgings.
At Georgia’s Spring Conference last year, for instance, judges got reimbursed $138 at a conference where the nightly lodging rate was $169. “That cap is imposed not by law but by budget,” Reaves said, noting Georgia can’t afford to pay big tabs.
He was astounded by both the concept of Sandestin and the amount of time Louisiana judges spend off the bench and on CLE.
“We never have anything like that,” Reaves said. “I can’t imagine anything like that.”
The judge has a kind side though and I’d be remiss in not highlighting it so lets go back to October 2007 and visit with the Chronical Book Blog which highlighted Judge Sanborn’s work with storm volunteers:
Meanwhile, we’ve been invited to a barbecue hosted by our new friend Judge Jacques Sanborn who we met Tuesday evening at Rocky and Carlo’s (see Po’Boys). He lives in St. Bernard Parish, one of the hardest hit areas by Katrina. The judge was able to rebuild his home, though at the height of the storm water reached 12 feet and completely flooded his first floor. He is one of the few people in his neighborhood who has been able to return and it was a bit eerie to drive to his home and see what was obviously a once lovely neighborhood have row after row of gutted homes and debris-laden sidewalks. Judge Sanborn has been immensely grateful to those who have come to New Orleans to help rebuild and his barbecues are well-known to many Habitat volunteers. He greeted us with open arms and a frosty Budweiser and introduced us to his whole family, who had spent the day making a wonderful dinner for us.
Judge Sanborn must have been wealthy before he was elected to the bench because them digs he rebuilt sure seem very nice as we continue:
Oh yeah, did we mention that the judge had a pool? Greg and Patrick were the only ones brave enough to test the chilly waters (well, it was actually not very chilly at all). Leslie stuck a toe or two in as well. Isn’t she cute?
Here is some of the gang posing with the Judge in the living room of his newly rebuilt home.
We’ll be following Judge Sanborn’s case as it develops.