Voting is a privilege that Americans often take for granted. Millions of people in countries around the world are willing to risk their lives for freedom, democracy and fair elections. Yet thousands of New Orleanians are labeled on the rolls as “inactive voters” because they haven’t gone to the polls often enough.
Sure, some inactive voters have moved out of parish or out of state. Individuals who have passed away are purged. Yet there are still plenty of New Orleanians who end up on the inactive list because they are just too lazy to get off the couch on Election Day or cast their ballots in advance.
District Attorney Jason Williams, who pledged to redesign the city’s justice system so that it “equitably serves all people,” is among the busiest public officials in town. With criminal trials having resumed this week after a long Covid-19 hiatus, Williams is personally arguing a murder case. He is also keeping a watchful eye at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where federal prosecutors are seeking to overturn a ruling issued by the late Judge Martin Feldman that would prohibit them from using information about Williams’ prior tax delinquencies in his upcoming tax fraud trial.
Williams has acknowledged the “lawlessness and cowboy stuff happening on the streets” of New Orleans. Today’s criminal environment, or perhaps a nudge from the Justice Department, has caused Williams to dial back on such campaign promises as quickly addressing hundreds of split jury convictions, not trying juveniles as adults, and reforming what he labeled “the ineffective and unfair money bail system.” The Metropolitan Crime Commission and others uncovered a breakdown in the screening process of those arrested. Through a procedure known as 701 releases, since last June more than 800 individuals were let out of jail after charges were not filed in a timely fashion.
On what would have been Nyx Wednesday, five former members of the Mystic Krewe of Nyx instead petitioned for a class action against the krewe, its captain Julie Lea, her husband Chris Lea and related organizations. The lawsuit seeks a class action certification for all former and current Nyx members since 2016 who suffered economic damages in connection with the krewe, whose signature throw is glittery purse. The krewe has boasted of having more than 3,000 members. The complaint describes Lea’s financial dealings on behalf of the all-female superkrewe, alleging, for example, that she forced members to pay for tips and other expenses in cash and apparently pocketed the money. It details credit card charges uncovered by Fox 8’s Lee Zurik and states the krewe paid for a New Orleans pied-à-terre for the Leas, who live on the north shore.
The new District Attorney’s Office transition team held a virtual forum on Saturday (Jan. 23) for the public to discuss their concerns and priorities with the DA’s office, now led by the newly elected Jason Williams.
The theme of Saturday’s zoom meeting was “Protect Vulnerable Communities.” This is also one of the working groups in his transition team. Attendees brought up a wide range of concerns: police treatment of sexual assault survivors, policing in schools, racism in policing and the treatment of homeless people. The working group — led by Madeleine Landrieu, the Loyola Law School dean and a former judge, and Mary Claire Landry, the director of the New Orleans Family Justice Center — aims to enhance witness and victim support, address threats to vulnerable communities, increase connection to community and care, and addressing child abuse and intimate partner violence.
What constitutes the term “vulnerable communities” was left undefined, and attendees were encouraged to suggest which groups could be included.
Jason Williams was not in attendance. Rather, the representatives were there to hear concerns and suggestions from the public and advocacy groups, with the understanding that their comments would be taken into consideration when the group issued their final recommendations to Williams.
As chief prosecutor, the Orleans Parish DA holds tremendous power in a city with an extremely high rate of incarceration.
As a newly elected Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice, Piper Griffin takes the bench on Monday (Jan. 4), she said she is humbled by the overwhelming support from the community. “I want to thank the people of New Orleans for the opportunity to be of service and the trust they place in me for such an important position,” Griffin said.
Joined by her mother Betty Griffin, a retired Charity Hospital nurse; sisters Kaci and Lisa Griffin; nephew Keenan Fortenberry; and ministers Rev. Samuel Gibbs Jr. and Pastor Calvin Woods Jr., Griffin took the oath of office Monday (Dec. 28). Her formal investiture, a public event, is tentatively scheduled for Jan.
Judge Laurie White admits she has always been a little feisty. “Even as a child I wanted to free the world,” she said. A former professional boxing manager who traveled internationally with her fighters, White will put her innate pugnaciousness to use in what could be a no-holds-barred competition against seasoned capital defense attorney Dennis Moore. A 61-year old Baton Rouge native, White graduated from LSU and Southern University Law Center and served as an assistant district attorney in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. While in private practice she handled civil rights and insurance matters and also tried more than 100 criminal defense cases as first chair and litigated almost 75 judge trials.
In the race to fill the open seat in Criminal District Court Section K, three lawyers are bringing their diverse background and outlook to the competition: attorney Stephanie Bridges, best known for her 24 years as president of the New Orleans Council for Community and Justice (NOCCJ); 36-year-old lawyer Marcus DeLarge, whose family has been active in city government for half a century; and 30-year practitioner Gary Wainwright, who describes his work as “citizen’s defense.” A fourth candidate, Diedre Pierce Kelly, was disqualified by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Stephanie Bridges
A distant relative by marriage to civil rights icons Ruby Bridges and the late Dr. Zebadee Bridges, nonprofit executive Stephanie Bridges has been an advocate for youth justice for more than 30 years. The NOCCJ, the human relations organization she leads, “promotes understanding and respect among all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education.”
NOCCJ offers cultural diversity workshops and for almost 10 years provided free expungement clinics in conjunction with the Louis Martinet Society and the Justice and Accountability Center of Louisiana. Some of the young people who participated in NOCCJ programs needed expungements to give them a fresh start. While lawyers from the partnering groups completed the technical aspects, Bridges learned the basics. Longtime NOCCJ partner and former Loyola University President Father James Carter dared Bridges to enter Loyola’s Law School program.
Armed with the ruling yesterday (Aug. 5) by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, which returned control of the Orleans Justice Center to Sheriff Marlin Gusman, the sheriff said he is moving ahead with his push to build a new facility to house inmates with severe health and mental health needs and to repurpose Templeman V as a temporary facility for COVID-19 inmates. “I’m trying to save lives,” said Sheriff Marlin Gusman after Wednesday’s ruling, as he discussed plans for new or repurposed health facilities for prisoners.
Court-appointed monitors reported in July that the OPSO was in partial or substantial compliance with the majority of federal reform provisions. Though Judge Africk returned control of the Orleans Justice Center to Gusman, the consent decree continues.
On Wednesday, Gusman said his immediate concern is containing the spread of the coronavirus within the prison walls. “NOPD officers are bringing known COVID-19 positive patients to the Orleans Justice Center,” Gusman said.
Clerk Chelsey Richard Napoleon announces FREE complimentary subscriptions to the Remote Access system, including civil records and land records. This will allow the public the flexibility of anytime, anywhere and anyplace access to information in both the Civil and Land Records divisions. Current subscribers will receive a complimentary extension. Members of the Louisiana Bar can electronically file (E-File) civil pleadings using the Remote Access system. Note that if you created an account previously, it has been reactivated at no cost.
Although he has yet to formally signal whether he will seek re-election in the fall of 2020,
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro gave a rousing address about New Orleans’ many crime problems and potential solutions to a packed crowd of Second Amendment supporters at the Home Defense Foundation’s meeting earlier this week. Attendees included New Orleans independent police monitor Susan Hutson. “We have a crime problem in the city of New Orleans,” said Cannizzaro who has worked in criminal justice for more than 40 years. “Since I first became an assistant district attorney in 1978, I’ve never seen crowds as were gathered at Hynes School in January and at the Jewish Community Center. People are upset.”
Cannizzaro told attendees that a significant part of the problem can be blamed on former Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who set in motion the current police manpower shortage by failing to prioritize classes for new recruits during his first term.