As Executive Director of Court Watch NOLA, Simone Levine advocates for accountability in the criminal justice system. With past work as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and as Deputy Police Monitor for the New Orleans Office of the Independent Police Monitor, Levine has a long history of working to make the court system more just and transparent for everyone involved.
Levine and others realized that while the police department had several different agencies monitoring it, there weren’t enough organizations looking at the system in general. Court Watch NOLA monitors everyone, including all law enforcement, judges, defense attorneys, the public defender’s office, independent clerks and the sheriff’s office. Felony, magistrate and municipal courts are all monitored. “There isn’t enough dialogue about how all these systems can work together for the betterment of the community,” says Levine. Encouraging greater transparency and cooperation among these many organizations is part of Court Watch NOLA’s goals.
“Monitoring in general allows us as a community to hold those people we elect accountable. The courts are our courts,” says Levine. Unlike many other monitoring agencies around the country, Court Watch NOLA provides community members with extensive training and teaches them how to understand their own courts. This means learning the language of the courts. Training a new volunteer can take about eight hours, with four in court and four in a classroom (prior to lockdown). Once in court, the monitors look for many different issues, including efficiency and victims’ rights.
For Levine, advocating for victims’ rights and healing is a crucial goal. In New Orleans, many the complaints filed against the police department came from crime victims and survivors who felt they weren’t treated fairly or taken seriously. In addition, creating a trauma recovery center for victims of gun violence is a high priority, as well as allocating more resources for a reliable witness protection program.
At this time, Court Watch NOLA continues to monitor bond and pre-trial release hearings, publishing the arrest changes and bail amounts for those arrested during and post-hurricane Ida. They’re also looking for volunteers, as well as donations “Anybody can join,” says Levine. “We really are excited to have anyone join from any background.” Crime survivors, college students, senior citizens and many more people from a variety of backgrounds have become Court Watchers.
To view Court Watch NOLA’s most recent annual report, to learn more about their work in the community or to find out how you can become a volunteer, visit CourtWatchNola.org and follow them on Twitter @CourtWatchNOLA and at Facebook.com/canola.