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Poll: Half of La. voters mistrust courts

by: The Associated Press, printed Jan 1996 Times Picayune

Baton Rouge - Only about half of Louisiana's voters have much confidence in Louisiana's courts. The year-end survey for The Advocate newspaper found that 48 percent of the voters surveyed said they have considerable or complete confidence in juries, and 4 percent expressed the same opinion about judges.

That compared with 47 percent who said they had little or no confidence in judges, and 43 percent who expressed that same opinion abut juries. The rest expressed no opinion.

"People don't have much confidence in government in general and the courts are very much a part of the political system," Louisiana State University political science professor Wayne Parent said.Pascal Calogero, chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court said the similar results for judges and juries indicate disrespect of the system as a whole rather than for "just the people in the robes" he said.

The poll was taken November 27 - December 4 by Ed Renwick of New Orleans and involved 897 voters statewide with a margin of error of 3 points. Louisiana residents know state judges are elected and considered the politicians, Parent said. Although The Advocate poll focused on Louisiana courts, the response might have been influenced by the O.J. Simpson trail in Los Angeles, "law and Order" television show and criticism of the national justice system in general, observers said. The Simpson case had an effect, Parent said. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Doug Moreau said voters might be basing their opinion on what they see on television, either snippets from real trials or fictional shows. They think it's just a game, it's not about looking for the truth," Moreau said. "I'm not surprised, but I'm disappointed because I don't think that's how the system is designed to work". Jay Zainey, president of the state bar association, said the nearly even split might reflect the nature of what courts do: "The judge or jury can only rule in favor of one party."

Asked whether there is discrimination against black people in the criminal justice system, 27 percent of white people and 64 percent of the black people polled said yes. That might have more to do with how black and white people view police than what they think about juries or judges said Parent and Frank Ransbury, a Southern University political science professor. Ransburg said the apparent distrust in the courts is cause for concern. "The indictment is only the judicial system," he said. "Anytime less than half of the people have confidence in the system, you should examine it."


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