District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro delivered his annual State of the Criminal Justice System speech Tuesday night. I'll post a link to the full speech below the jump, but I'd like to point out one section near the end.
Mr. Mayor — council members, I must request that you significantly increase the local funding of the District Attorney's office. Long before any of you arrived at City Hall, the DA's office became the red headed stepchild of criminal justice funding. Last year — during the budget process, we presented you with an analysis that revealed that the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office was one of the worst locally funded DA's offices in the state of Louisiana.
For more about that analysis, read our article from November, "Cannizzaro: Orleans Parish DA may be most underfunded in state."
One recent topic of interest that Cannizzaro did not address on Tuesday was the Brady rule — and how alleged violations of it under former DA Harry Connick's watch still plague the office today. The problem is explained more fully in this Gambit interview with Cannizzaro from December:
(More after the jump)
Louisiana has dozens of gun laws on the books. State Sen. Neil Riser filed Senate Bill 303, a constitutional amendment that aims to expand and protect the second amendment right to bear firearms. His bill would "require that any denial, infringement, or restriction on one's right to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for defense of life and property be subject to a strict scrutiny standard by courts in determining any violation of the right."
This afternoon, Louisiana’s House committee on criminal justice voted 9-5 in favor of the bill. The bill, according to Riser, “will give Louisiana the strongest second amendment right in the nation.” The bill's opponents fear Riser’s bill would open a door for litigation to rule those 80-plus laws unconstitutional, creating a gun-toting free for all. It now enter the House for a vote and will likely end up on November ballots where its fate will ultimately be decided by voters.
State Reps. Roy Burrell, Dalton Honore, Barbara Norton, Terry Landry and Helena Moreno repeatedly asked why Louisiana needs the additional “protection.” “I’m just trying to figure out how this gun bill is going to make Louisiana better and make citizens safer,” Landry asked, adding he doesn’t want to send the state back to “the wild wild west of this country.”
GAMBIT: You've said your office can't protect every family member of everybody that testifies.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY LEON CANNIZZARO: Correct.
G: But when the public sees how easily their family members can be done in in something like the Curtis Matthews case, what can you tell the public to make them want to testify?
CANNIZZARO: Well, I think that the public is the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system serves the public, but the public makes up the criminal justice system. If we don't have the participation of witnesses, if we don't have their involvement, then there is no criminal justice system. Again, I basically urge them to give this system a chance, to give this process a chance. You know, John Matthews was shot, I think it was seven or eight times in his own home prior to his testifying against Telly Hankton. And as a result of that shooting, he came forth and testified not once, but twice. He had a greater resolve, in my opinion, to show Telly Hankton and people of his ilk that you are not going to influence me, you are not going to intimidate me and run me away from doing what is the right thing. To me, he was a hero in that case. …
G: I don't think anyone is arguing the heroism of someone like a John Matthews. But in 2010 you urged Hankton be moved out of OPP [Orleans Parish Prison].
G: And obviously your thinking was that it was just too easy for him to control what was going on in the streets in Orleans from OPP?
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro gave one of this season's more riveting City Council presentations today (which, I'll admit, I did not attend in person. I watched it from my comfortable cubicle.), saying that in light of new health insurance costs and the loss of $800,000 in grant funding, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's recommendation to keep the office's allocation static at $6.16 million is tantamount to a $1.2 cut.
Cannizzaro highlighted the progress the office has made in the past few years. From 2008 to 2010, he said, showing statistics gathered by the Metropolitan Crime Commission, New Orleans has seen a 31 percent increase in felony cases accepted for prosecution, a 65 percent increase in felony convictions and a 211 percent increase in violent felony convictions. The mayor's budget — which according to the mayor was designed to protect public safety spending — could force the DA to replace seasoned attorneys with novices right out of law school, jeopardizing that progress.
He went on to say that, measured by several metrics, the Orleans Parish DA is already "one of — if not the most — underfunded district attorney's offices in the state of Louisiana."
(More after the jump)
On Mayor Mitch Landrieus 100th day in office, he held a town hall for City Council District A at Grace Episcopal Church in Mid-City. Landrieu, who is in the midst of conducting these listening sessions in every district, was joined on the dais by District A councilperson Susan Guidry and deputy mayors Judy Reese Morse and Andy Kopplin. In the audience were NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Council President Arnie Fielkow and dozens of city managers from almost every municipal department, all of whom took notes as members of the crowd stood and spoke about the improvements needed in their neighborhoods.
District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry and Mayor Mitch Landrieu take notes as members of the crowd speak at last night's town hall in Mid-City.
I think its fair to say weve put the pedal to the medal, Landrieu said, outlining the six priorities of his administration, which he said were developed in the many task force meetings held by the new administration. The six, in order of importance, were: public safety; children and families; economic development; sustainable communities; open and effective government; and innovation. He warned that the citys $67 million deficit would require some tough decisions and bad choices, and added that the findings from these community meetings would steer the direction of the final municipal budget.
Audience members had filled out cards with questions and comments as they entered, and moderator Vincent Sylvain handed them to Landrieu one by one. Each person had two minutes to pose a question, during which Landrieu in loosened tie and rolled-up shirtsleeves took copious notes on the most tangential of complaints on pages of yellow legal paper.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu was joined by Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas at city hall this afternoon to announce a major restructuring of the city's police department aimed at saving $15 million.
Mayor Landrieu (center) with Police Superintendent Serpas (left) and new Deputy Superintendent Arlinda Pierce Westbrook of the Public Integrity Bureau (right).
"We're going to take the fight to the streets where it belongs," said Mayor Landrieu. "And not in police headquarters where it seems to be at this moment."
Chief Serpas said the plan is designed to cut down on "bloated senior executive leadership" in the department. He said the reshuffle would create "clear lines of accountability, clear lines of responsibility, clear lines of authority," and that "we're going to be giving people jobs they deserve."
"When I got here I was surprised to find out that deputy chiefs were only supervising in some cases four or five people," he said. "For example we're not going to have one captain in charge of one person in the radio shop any more. I mean, that's gonna end on Sunday."
Serpas will cut the number of deputy superintendents fom six to four, and Marlon Defillo and Kurt Boyelas will maintain their ranks in charge of the department's Field Operations Bureau and Investigations and Support Bureau respectively. Two civilian deputy superintendents will also be brought on board: Arlinda Pierce Westbrook will move from the city attorney's office to oversee the Public Integrity Bureau, and Stephanie Landry will run the department's Management Services Bureau.
The cuts will eliminate the positions of 11 majors seven will become police commanders in their respective districts, and four will revert to police captain. 67 percent of captains in the department will be given new assignments this afternoon.
Serpas said each of the four deputy chiefs have promised not to moonlight in any other roles in exchange for their jobs, and said he is working hard to institute an honesty policy in the bureau, mentioned in this week's Gambit cover interview whereby dishonest officers can be fired.
"We're going to fight crime to make New Orleans safe, and we're going to be responsible budget managers," said Serpas. "The two things go hand in hand."
City council members praised the move, and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said he appreciated Serpas' focus on reducing violent crime. The two have been spending so much time together collaborating, he added, "that our wives are going to start getting suspicious."
The New Orleans criminal justice system has cut down from 64 days to 10.5 days the time it takes to process simple drug possession cases in the Orleans criminal court through an initiative by the Criminal Justice Leadership Alliance (CJLA).
"This is a result of much better cooperation particularly between the police department and the district attorneys office to get these things moving through the system, says New Orleans Councilman James Carter, who started CJLA in the fall of 2007 along with Luceia LeDoux, a public safety and program director for Baptist Community Ministries.
By expediting the process, Carter says it allows the New Orleans Police Department and the DA to concentrate its resources on building strong cases against repeat felony suspects, and, at the same time, release those indigent defendants that spend time in Orleans Parish Prison waiting for a determination on misdemeanor charges.
Often referred to as victimless crimes, simple drug possession can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount and whether or not there was an intent to distribute. Possession charges account for roughly one-third of the state arrests in Orleans Parish.
The Expedited Screening and Disposition initiative was started in March of 2009, and combines efforts by CJLA members, which include representatives from the NOPD, the district attorneys office and other parts of the criminal justice system. By the terms of the initiative, NOPD agreed to email police reports and field test reports to the DAs office within 48 hours of an arrest (except on weekends). In turn, the DAs office assented to make a screening decision within 24 hours of receiving the reports, the defendants criminal record and after interviewing the arresting officers.
Previously, the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans District Attorneys Office would wait until near the end of the time provided 45 days for a misdemeanor and 60 days for a felony to complete the police paperwork and to decide whether or not to prosecute a case.
For January, the initiative reports a decrease from 61 days to seven days the time required to arrest a suspect and to decide whether or not they will be charged with a crime. What has changed little is the time it takes from the filing of the DAs screening decision to a defendants arraignment in court, which stands at 4.5 days.
Carter has made criminal justice reform one of his main concerns during his time with the council.
"I'm leaving the Council soon, and, hopefully, this work can continue on into the next administration, says Carter, whose term ends this May.
The Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit concerned with improving justice systems, advises CJLA. Jon Wool, the institutes New Orleans director, will present the imitatives report today at the general meeting of the New Orleans City Council.
New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says he will continue his involvement in the District A City Council race, which is headed for a runoff on March 6. Cannizzaro endorsed former councilman Jay Batt, a Republican, in the Feb. 6 primary for the councils District A seat, which includes parts of Lakeview, Uptown, Mid-City and Carrollton. Batt faces Susan Guidry, a Democrat, in the runoff. In the primary, Guidry garnered 44 percent of the vote to Batts 39 percent.
Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton says that some of his staff lawyers, particularly those that defend clients charged with higher felony crimes including rape and murder, are so overloaded with clients that he will have to stop assigning cases to them.
That does not mean the public defenders office will stop accepting new murder and rape cases. In the short term, Bunton will promote some of his lower level staff to cover the defenses of more serious charges. He will also hire lawyers from the offices conflict panel, which is used when there is a conflict in a case such as multiple defendants on one charge or case overload, as well as asking local lawyers to take cases pro bono.
Bunton says one of his attorneys has closed 400 felony cases this year, which the chief defender says is nearly three times the national standard of 150 cases. Due to budget constraints the New Orleans City Council cut a $500,000 in funding that it gave to the public defenders for the first time last year Bunton cant hire any new attorneys even though his office is trying more cases. The public defenders office operates on a budget of $5.2 million with $2.7 million coming from the state, and the rest is generated through court fees and fines.
According to a Metropolitan Crime Commission report for the first six months of 2009, there were about 2,000 more arrests in Orleans Parish than in 2008, and the district attorneys office accepted 1,006 more cases. Bunton says the criminal justice system is performing more effectively and attributes the rising figures to competent leadership and incremental increases in the 2009 budgets for the DA and the public defenders.
Youve got dividends and to all of a sudden, given those results, start messing with that? Bunton asks. Us and trash pickup are really the only successful policy areas for the city.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter says he has told Bunton that he needs to reduce the excessive caseloads for his staff and the conflict panel.
If he doesnt comply with it, I will have no choice but to file a complaint with the (Louisiana) bar association, Hunter says.
Hunter points out that it is the states responsibility to pay for public defense, and not the city. He says the state has failed for a number of years to provide adequate funding for indigent defense, and that this is having a dangerous effect on the citys criminal justice system.
Something has to be done, Hunter says. The public defenders office is as much a part of the criminal justice system as the courts, the district attorneys office, the sheriffs office and the coroners office. If one doesnt work, it affects the other agencies.
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says the mayor's proposed 2010 budget slashes 15 percent from the $6 million the city allocated to the DA's office is 2009. According to Cannizzaro, Nagin removed $575,000 from DA funding -- in keeping with Nagin's 10 percent across-the-board cut of all city departments -- but he also eliminated an additional $300,000 to investigate cold case homicides, which the New Orleans City Council had awarded to Cannizzaro's office in June.
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