Owen Courreges: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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The Preservation Resource Center recently celebrated the renovation of the Rountree House at 1421 Josephine, noting that a sketch of it is included in the PRC logo. (image via Preservation Resource Center)

The Preservation Resource Center recently celebrated the renovation of the Rountree House at 1421 Josephine, noting that a sketch of it is included in the PRC logo. (image via Preservation Resource Center)

Owen Courreges

I’ve written a lot of columns since I started to write for Uptown Messenger in January of 2011.  Sometimes I look back over them and realize: “You know, there have been some interesting developments with this since I put pen to paper.”

Accordingly, every now and again, I revisit a few old columns to provide brief updates on some of the topics I’ve written about.  Some have happy endings, some less so.

So, without further ado, I give you The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The leaning tower of Josephine Street:  In my column from November 29, 2011, I wrote about the Rountree House, a carpenter gothic structure from 1869 designed by famed New Orleans architect James Freret.  The house, which was structurally-unsound and hopelessly blighted, is located down the street from my own home at 1421 Josephine.

The Rountree House’s chronic blight was largely the result of it being tied up in a nasty divorce that had gone on for years.  The city seemed ill-equipped to compel the owners to make renovations, despite repeated HDLC fines.  I opined that “[w]ith the system as bad as it is, all we can do at this juncture is hope and pray that something gives.

I am happy to report that something did, in fact, give.  Andrea Bland of Cygnette, LLC, purchased the home this past January and is using historic preservation tax credits to renovate the property.  According to a sign on the house, it is being made into luxury apartments.  The once learning structure is now straight, and renovations are already far along.

With so many tales of historic properties being demolished, this is one story that thankfully has a happy ending.   That’s the “good.”

The constitutional-carry amendment:  In my column from June 4, 2012, I argued in favor of what was then Senate Bill 303, a proposed constitutional amendment to strengthen the state’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  The new language would describe the right as “fundamental” and subject it to “strict-scrutiny.”  It would also eliminate language that specifically authorized laws regulating the carrying of concealed firearms.

“Without the current exception for concealed weapons laws, and applying strict scrutiny,” I opined, “it will be a constitutional right to carry a handgun on your person, concealed or unconcealed.”  This is called “Constitutional Carry.”  With this, I predicted that the state’s prohibition on carrying concealed without a permit would likely be overturned if the amendment passed.

The amendment passed in December of 2012 with an overwhelming 74% of the vote.  Naturally, it didn’t immediately change any laws, but it did begin to have an impact on certain criminal appeals.

On January 28, 2014, the Louisiana Supreme Court released a ruling in one such appeal: State of Louisiana in the Interest of J.M.  J.M. was a juvenile who was charged and convicted of violating La. R.S. 14:95.8 (banning juveniles from possessing firearms) and La. R.S. 14:95(A)(1) (barring concealment of firearms).  The Supreme Court upheld both convictions against constitutional challenges.

Although I agreed with the Court’s decision to uphold the prohibition on juveniles owning firearms as consistent with strict scrutiny, I was very disappointed with the Court’s reasoning regarding La. R.S. 14:95(A)(1).  First of all, the Court was not called to rule on La. R.S. 14:95(A)(1) as it applies to adults since this was a juvenile possession case.  The Court was arguably trying to rule outside the facts before it to generate a more sweeping ruling.

Worse, the Court’s reasoning was simply poor.  It proceeded through an extremely truncated, poorly-reasoned analysis to find that the law passes strict scrutiny.  Basically, the Court argued that simply because the anti-concealment law is longstanding that the voters intended it to survive, which was presumptive and weak reasoning.

In any event, my original predictions were proven false.  The Supreme Court’s decision in State of Louisiana in the Interest of J.M. indicates that Louisiana’s strengthened constitutional protections will not be interpreted as requiring constitutional carry.  It’s based on extremely weak legal reasoning, but that’s where matters stand.  That’s the “bad.”

State Troopers gone wild:  My column from March 11, 2013, concerned an encounter that took place during Mardi Gras between two black youths and eight plainclothes state troopers.  Surveillance video showed the plainclothes troopers rapidly surround the two youths as they were doing nothing more than standing in the sidewalk.  When the youths understandably started to back away, the troopers performed a hard takedown on both of them, slamming one to the pavement.

The reason the youths were supposedly approached?  The troopers suspected them of violating the juvenile curfew.  However, neither of the youths were violating curfew.  In any event, the curfew law is supposed to be used to protect youngsters, not as an excuse for sending in eight troopers to manhandle them.

The bottom line is that the entire encounter was badly handled by the troopers, who were apparently amped up and itching for a fight.  I wasn’t optimistic for the State Police to discipline the troopers, because “even when the misconduct is readily apparent, you can’t count on police departments not to sweep this kind of thing under the rug.

I must be clairvoyant, because that’s basically what happened.  State Police Superintendant Mike Edmonson said that while he found the video “a little unsettling,” his internal investigation found no misconduct.   Ever the champion for low expectations, Edmonson essentially argued that because his troopers didn’t beat the snot out of the youths, they acted with restraint.

The Senate Judicial Committee held a hearing on the incident on April 30, 2013, but they too seemed to want to whitewash the whole thing.  Even J.P. Morrell, who had come right out of the gate as a major critic of the troopers’ conduct, seemed more apt to condemn the juvenile curfew than condemn the troopers.

The lack of political will to make the State Police accountable was understandable.  The City of New Orleans wants the State Police to help patrol the French Quarter, so even if the troopers step out of line, politicians are reluctant to press the issue.

With all levels of government failing miserably at punishing this obvious example of police misconduct, the matter naturally wound up in court.  On February 7, 2014, one of the youths, Sidney Newman, filed suit against Edmonson and State Police Sgt. Chris Jordan.  Trooper William Latham was later added as a defendant.  The suit, which remains pending, alleges that the State Police violated his civil rights.

Because Newman was not actually injured, the civil suit probably doesn’t have significant value.  However, it is important for attorneys and their clients to fight these suits to deter constitutional violations, even if it’s unlikely to compensate everyone involved or repair a system that is hopelessly broken.   And that’s the “ugly.”

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.

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