Monday, September 24, 2007

Embarrassing Dysfunction in N.O. Criminal Justice System

Today's Times-Picayune relays an incredible story emblematic of the challenges facing Orleans Parish prosecutors. It is a captivating and troubling read. It would be downright shocking if it wasn't EVERY DAY here in New Orleans.

Poor staff district attorney Francis X. deBlanc III (what a name) was all by himself last Friday, charged with being in three places at the same time to try three separate high-profile murder cases. This is from the Picayune:

"This was deBlanc's work pile for the day: three cases beset by delays and witness problems, all of which cast New Orleans under a national microscope because of the merciless nature of the crimes.

"As if that load weren't enough, deBlanc, 35, soon found himself facing another kind of pressure that has increasingly weighed on Orleans Parish prosecutors: judges fed up that the overworked, understaffed lawyers of District Attorney Eddie Jordan's office are holding up the courts' dockets."

"...deBlanc found himself the target of an arrest warrant issued by Judge Julian Parker, who was exasperated by deBlanc's absence from his courtroom while the prosecutor scurried around the courthouse, attending to the other cases."

The cases in question ain't for speeding. They are perhaps the most important cases currently in the court system, murders garnering national attention in which the NOPD miraculously was able to produce suspects in custody.

One case concerned the murder of Dinerral Shavers of the Hot 8 Brass Band.
Another was the trial of the man accused of gunning down five teens in 2006.
The third was the high profile murder case in which a mother is accused of giving her son a gun and instructions to carry out the shooting.

Each of the three stories, because of their more-sensational-than-usual nature, embarrassed the city in the midst of efforts to restore an appearance of order and safety to attract tourists and conventions.

So what is going on with the DA's office?

Ugh, where do we start?

Well, District Attorney Eddie Jordan seems to be at the center of a lot of controversies related to his ethics or more troubling, his basic competence in managing his office.

Way back in 2005, he cast the city thousands in damages after he was found to have improperly fired staffers because they were white.

This summer, he dismissed the case against the man accused of murdering the five teens because of a missing witness. After the witness was found by the NOPD within 24 hours, Jordan came under incredible fire from city council, with many calling for his resignation. Even his staunchest ally, C. Ray Nagin, threatened to open an investigation.

Instead, Jordan announced a sweeping reorganization of the District Attorney's office, promising immediate changes to more efficiently address the backlog of cases.

A few weeks later, those changes had done little to ease the pressure on the court system as judge Julian Parker publicly called out the DA.

Or one could point to the abrupt resignation of prosecutor Cate Bartholomew, one of the office's most experienced attorneys. Last Friday, she explained her resignation in a letter to the Times-Picayune:

While in trial on Rudolph Wade, I was also diligently preparing for the trial of State v. Eddie Harrison which was set for trial the following Tuesday, Sept. 18. Specifically, I was attempting to resolve open discovery matters.

I successfully accomplished this while in trial on the Rudolph Wade matter and received the missing materials late on Friday, Sept. 14.

For having done my job in the most diligent and efficient manner under the circumstances, I was placed in a position of defending my office's failures in front of Judge Julian Parker Sept. 18.

Then on Sept. 19, I was expected to be prepared to try a homicide case before Judge Camille Buras. Even with 10 years of experience and 117 trials, this was impossible.

Shortly before my abrupt resignation, I received a phone call from defense counsel on the trial of State v. Michael Davis stating she had not received complete discovery in that matter.

The Davis case is set for trial before Judge Julian Parker on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Hearing that, I knew I could not walk in front of Judge Parker, a judge for whom I have a great deal of respect, and explain to him the exact same failings of my office that had occurred Sept. 18.

I have had enough. My physical health and emotional well-being are not worth $80,000. Neither is my professional reputation.

And then you've got what transpired last Friday as reported in today's paper.

After Francis X. deBlanc III finished his work on one case, judge Bigelow warned him he wouldn't be helping to explain why the prosecutor's office was incapable of making its scheduled appearances. From the Times-Picayune:

"Once you're out the door, you're on your own," Bigelow told deBlanc as Jordan, the district attorney calmly sat behind his prosecutors in the front row for several hours. He remained silent as the pressure rained down on one of his top prosecutors.

Maybe I'm not familiar enough with New Orleans politics or Orleans Parish Criminal Court to read between the lines.

Why won't Eddie Jordan just resign already? None of these episodes could possibly be any fun for him. Would it have been possible for him to help out his man deBlanc? Is it customary for the DA of a major city to work cases personally? If it is, why isn't Jordan himself handling at least one of these important cases? If it is not, is it then customary for the DA to sit for hours in court as a spectator as opposed to, oh I don't know, working?

I'm serious. What is keeping Eddie Jordan in office? Who is propping him up? Does the Mayor have the legal authority to fire him?

Maybe it shouldn't be so hard to understand. Eddie Jordan's name is in the newspaper every day. He might be the most famous District Attorney in the country. He's getting the brand out there. When is Eddie Jordan launching his line of perfumes? It's a subtle scent, virtually undetectable.

1 comment:

Cait said...

Eddie Jordan is a tool.

I was watching the news last night only to learn that 1) Deuce had two surgeries in Birmingham, and 2) that yet another D.A. resigned.


I'm just sayin'.