New Orleans Holds First Trial Since Katrina

Criminal jury trials began in New Orleans' state district court Monday for the first time since Hurricane Katrina flooded a stately courthouse.

By mid-afternoon, a jury had begun deliberating the fate of a man charged with stealing a vehicle.

"To do a jury trial is like the final step; it's like the ribbon cutting," said Matthew Derbes, a lawyer in the district attorney's office.

The reopening of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court building, a 1930s-era Art Deco structure, signaled the resumption of a court system largely put on hold. There are about 5,000 cases pending.

The justice system is still far from normal, said Jerome Winsberg, a retired judge sitting in for a colleague on leave. The storm dispersed witnesses, including many police officers, and flooded the evidence room.

The courthouse is still undergoing repairs, expected to cost as much as $4 million. It will be at least a year before operations are normal, said Calvin Johnson, a former judge.

Judges had been using a room at the U.S. District Court to hold hearings, but they couldn't hold jury trials there.