We were shocked and saddened this week about the latest developments in the Danzinger Bridge case. Who are the worst perpetrators? The cops who tried to cover up what they had done? The U.S. Attorney’s Office for using anonymous blogs to spin their tale? Or the Justice Department, while charged with providing oversight for local U.S. Attorneys, almost turned a blind eye to what might be going on here in the Big Easy.
It leads us to ask – what kind of oversight and by whom - could have stopped this tragedy? The families of the victims will now have to relive those horrible days. The police officers will once again will yearn for freedom. And look what happened to the lives of Letten and his top lieutenants. We firmly believe that the blogging did not affect one vote on the jury. But it was clearly unethical and immoral. Judge Engelhardt acted out of total frustration.
Several years ago Allan and Danae attended a dinner hosted by the Anti-Defamation League at which Letten was honored. We could see how close Letten was to his senior staff, who were all seated around him. They were family. That’s why Letten did not turn on them with the rumors of blogging first surfaced.
The room was also filled with several hundred New Orleanians who applauded Letten’s hard work. We will always like Jim Letten, Jan and Jim Mann, and appreciate everything they did for New Orleans. But did Letten believe the old adage “anything goes” and think he was invincible?
No doubt Kenneth Polite, the new US Attorney designate, has been watching these proceedings very closely. He may have to present the government’s case at the next Danzinger trial. We’ve met Polite and think he’s a bright, young man whose success has been well-earned. We look forward to watching his style, his staffing choices and how he handles this heavy load.
October elections shaping up
Though they might have gotten off to a slow start, interest is growing in the Traffic Court and Magistrate Judge races which will be held next month.
In the Magistrate’s race, Mark Vicknair got off to a fast start, announcing as soon as Judge Hansen disclosed his retirement and garnering the Alliance for Good Government and other endorsements. Of course he is a former Alliance president, which undoubtedly helped. Vicknair thought he would have an easy race just against Harry Cantrell without an expensive runoff.
But Cantrell had to resign his job to run and has been fired up at the debates. Cantrell is friendly, gracious and obviously knows magistrate court from the inside, as does Vicknair who practiced there every day for years. And then former judge Morris Reed entered the race.
Danae attended Tuesday night’s forum by the Independent Women’s Organization (IWO). She was impressed by Reed, who has served as a police officer for many years, a judge, an assistant US Attorney, and finally now a criminal defense lawyer, Reed would bring a broad range of experience to the court. He is definitely the underdog and would have to mount a serious campaign to push himself into the runoff. But anything is possible in an off election.
As it looks now, most white voters will probably support Vicknair. Some Council District B whites and many Uptown African-American voters will chose Cantrell, whose daughter-in-law LaToya Cantrell has proven to be immensely popular and will have the easiest reelection of any of the City Council members. Reed will have to focus his efforts in his home base of Algiers and in other African-American neighborhoods.
With eight candidates, the Traffic Court race has been hard to handicap. Danae actually likes all the candidates. She thinks Demetrie Ford gave a solid presentation at the Alliance, even though Clint Smith got the endorsement. She likes the two women in the race – Marie Bookman and Nicole Shephard – both of whom we have known for decades. Electing either of them would put the first woman in Traffic Court. Patrick Giraud, son of the late Traffic Court Judge Thomas Giraud, is much better prepared in this race than when he ran for judge previously, and is well financed too. Steven Jupiter is basking in the glory of his sister, Judge Claire Jupiter.
Richard Perque’s campaign is on a roll with two new endorsements from the Republican Parish Executive Committee and IWO (who gave him a dual endorsement with Bookman). Perque struck a very positive chord with many women attendees when he announced there were too many judges (and staff) and that the city could save money by cutting the number down, a “good government” stand if we ever heard one. Was Bobby Jindal in the room? Perque, whose finance committee is headed by powerful trial lawyer Scott Bickford, will be feted at a gathering early Friday evening at Carbine Motorcars hosted by Chris Carbine, Bickford, Rob Couhig, Hugh Lambert, Bumpy Triche, Lawrence Centola and others.
Clint Smith will be in the limelight tonight at a benefit at Zea’s coordinated by one of the city’s premier fundraisers, Anne Redd. Hosts include Ed Murray, Henry Coaxum, Demetric Mercadel, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon, Daniel Davillier, Ken Carter and Dr. John Church. Smith is popular with the African-American business community and his wife, Cheryl, is an Ochsner physician.
As we always say, fundraising is the mother’s milk of campaigns. Both these guys are raising the money needed to seed their campaign’s push toward election day and could face each other in the runoff, according to some observers.
Pro Bono ball will benefit those who can’t afford lawyers
If you ever want to see a gaggle of lawyers raising money for a good cause, just attend Friday night’s Pro Bono Ball at the Audubon Tea Room. Great food, drink and George Porter too! Pro Bono’s Rachel Piercey and Loving Cup winner Mark Suprenant, who is hosting the patron party at his home, would be glad to see you. Check Pro Bono’s new website for details.
Allan Katz spent 25 years as a political reporter and columnist at The Times-Picayune, and is now editor of the Kenner Star and host of several televsion programs, including the Louisiana Newsmaker on Cox Cable. Danae Columbus is executive producer of Louisiana Newsmaker, and has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall and the Dock Board. They both currently work for the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by their public relations firm are City Councilwoman Stacy Head, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and council candidate Dana Kaplan.