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.
During a recent interview with Councilmember James Carter, Gambit asked Carter about NOPDs current procedure of arresting anyone suspected of first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession, rather than issuing summons. Carter, who is the chair of the Councils Criminal Justice Subcommittee, said that the Council had attempted to provide the NOPD with some legislative guidance when it passed an ordinance in March 2008 permitting the issuance of a written summons instead of arrest.
[It] was to encourage NOPD not to arrest individuals on municipal violations, as opposed to giving summons for municipal violations, Carter said, referring to the ordinance (amending the Article I of Chapter 54 of the citys municipal code). The Councilman did clarify that the ordinance was intended to address all municipal violations, which includes first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession. He did, however, specify how he thought NOPD officers should handle cases involving first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession.
It should be a summons, Carter said.
In August, Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro addressed the Council, requesting they pass an ordinance allowing first-time, misdemeanor, marijuana possession cases to be prosecuted in Municipal Court rather than Criminal Court. The move, according to Cannizzaro, would relieve the Criminal Court docket of about one-third (700 cases) of its caseload, and would enable the DAs office to focus on more serious, violent crimes. It would also help with crowded conditions at Orleans Parish Prison, Cannizzaro added, if the police were of a mind to write the affidavit, rather than arresting someone for the simple possession.
Off camera, Carter can be heard saying, exactly.
Following todays announcement that by default the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a $14 million judgment for former death-row inmate, John Thompson, against the New Orleans District Attorneys Office, DA Leon Cannizzaro says his office will now have to consider the next step.
We have an obligation to pursue it to the next level, which would be the United States Supreme Court, Cannizzaro says, adding he hasnt had a chance yet to review todays ruling.
The Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals is made up of 16 judges, so eight judges were for upholding the decision by the a three-judge panel from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in December of last year had upheld a jury decision awarding Thompson $14 million in damages and $1 million in attorney fees because the DA's office failed to properly train, monitor and supervise its attorneys on evidence disclosure. Since the 16 judges were unable to come to a majority decision, the case reverts back to the ruling by the three-judge panel.
On Jan. 17, 1985, Thompson was charged with the murder of hotel executive Ray Liuzza, who was robbed and killed a month earlier. Before that case went to trial, Connick's office convicted Thompson of armed robbery in an unrelated case. Thompson's attorneys in the murder case, knowing that prosecutors would use the armed robbery conviction against him if he testified in his own defense, advised him not to take the stand in the murder trial, which lasted three days. Thompson, who had 4-year-old and 6-year-old sons at the time, was convicted and sentenced to death.
Fourteen years later just one month before he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection investigators working for Thompson discovered the DA's office had withheld blood evidence that would have exonerated him of the armed robbery. It took another four years for Thompson to win a new trial on the murder charge, on grounds he was deprived of his constitutional right to testify in his own defense. Thompson testified in the second trial, and his attorneys presented other DA-withheld evidence including police and incident reports, witness statements, and eyewitnesses to the crime. This time, a jury deliberated 35 minutes before acquitting Thompson.
Leon sez getting tough on crime means getting real about pot laws:
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro appeared before the City Council on Thursday to push for a change to the way the city prosecutes simple marijuana cases.
"Please keep in mind I am not here advocating the legalization or the criminalization of marijuana whatsoever," Cannizzaro said.
But Cannizzaro is asking that misdemeanor marijuana cases be transferred from criminal district court to municipal court.
Even Councilmember Jackie Clarkson (whom we doubt is a fan of the chronic, the doob, the Mary Jane) agreed:
"We think we have to get the misdemeanor crimes out of your way, so to speak, so you have every open avenue to attack the real criminals," she said....
"Many of the these people would be given essentially a traffic ticket and a summons to show up in court to handle their charge," Cannizzaro said.
Freeing up the courts for violent offenders strikes us as blindly sensible in a town not known for its blinding sensibility. What do you think?
The Orleans Parish District Attorneys Office announced this morning that David Lapene has resigned from the DAs investigative staff. New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Rily fired Lapene, a five-year NOPD veteran, in May for his involvement in barroom brawl at the Beach Corner Lounge in February 2008. After reviewing the case file on the Beach Corner Lounge incident and determining there wasnt sufficient evidence against the officer to warrant a battery charge, DA Leon Cannizzaro recently hired Lapene to serve as a DA investigator.
In his resignation letter, Lapene said he didnt want to be a distraction for Cannizzaros office, and wrote that continuing my employment with you could interfere with your good work in attempting to make a positive difference in this community.
Tomorrow morning from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m. the Orleans District Attorneys Office is partnering with the local United States Attorneys Office and the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriffs Office to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).
In 1984, Congress passed VOCA that created the Crime Victims Fund, which is financed through fines and fees from offenders. The fund has grown to more the $2 billion and distributed throughout the nation to assist the nearly 4 million crime victims. In Orleans Parish, the criminal sheriffs office is in charge of the Crime Victims Assistance Program.
The free event will be held at St. Marys Academy, 6905 Chef Menteur Highway, and will feature food, music and entertainment and several community groups will be on hand displaying information and resources available for crime victims. At 11:30 a.m., U.S. Attorney Jim Letten will distribute awards, recognizing victims of violent crimes and their surviving families. Letten will be joined by DA Leon Cannizzaro and other celebrity guests.
Just came from a crime meeting at Buffa's Bar & Grill that had been organized in the wake of Wendy Byrne's murder in the Lower French Quarter, a couple of blocks away. The meeting hadn't been formally organized by any group, but seemed to generate spontaneously from discussions on Nola.com's Vieux Carré and Marigny forums. More than 100 people, alerted by email and word of mouth, showed up for the noon meeting -- as did Councilmembers James Carter and Arnie Fielkow, along with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and several members of his staff.
Representatives of the NOPD were not there, and there seemed to be some confusion over whether they were formally invited. Fielkow told the gathering: "I talked to Major Hosli [Edwin Hosli, commander of the NOPD's 8th District] an hour ago, and he had to get permission from headquarters to come. Next time, make sure they have a formal invitation in advance." (Later, Fielkow said "Frankly, it is BS that even if they weren't invited that they didn't come to this meeting.")
After an introduction in which Fielkow stressed that the councilmembers and the DA's staff were there to listen, he and Cannizzaro ended up doing most of the talking, along with a few voluble members of the crowd, who were uniformly frustrated at what they said was poor police response from the NOPD, from taking reports to making regular patrols of the Lower Quarter and Marigny.
Carter called Byrne's murder "shameful and intolerable," and added, "We need visible patrols in these areas. I spoke to Maj. Hosli and that is going to happen. And the city has dispersed the people who repair lights throughout the Quarter, to stay until every light is fixed."
One resident said that she'd seen more patrols in the Quarter since Byrne's slaying than she'd ever seen, and was afraid they'd go away unless the group could come up with a concrete plan of action. But no one in the crowd seemed to know what that would be, other than creating an email and cellphone list for citizen crime reporting.
Cannizzaro spoke about the importance of prosecution, urging the crowd to make sure they come forward and file police reports in every case.
"And what if the police refuse to take a report?" asked one man.
"Then call my office," Cannizzaro said.
"So if they don't come, we should call your office?" said a woman holding a poodle, sounding puzzled.
Lord David, a blogger at Humid City, said that in his experience NOPD officers had refused to file reports on the scene. Thom Kahler, publisher of the crimewatch Web site NOCrimeline, found that ridiculous and suggested that Lord David's "attitude" may be to blame. "Do I have an attitude, too?" asked another man who said NOPD had failed to file a report on his behalf.
Writer Ethan Brown, whose wife was mugged recently, was the most direct member of the group: "What happened to my wife was the result of a total lack of police doing their job. Everyone here should go to the Metropolitan Commision Website. Less than 10% of arrests in New Orleans are made for violent offenses. The NOPD is not remotely doing its job, and yet we're constantly told to cooperate. What are you going to do," he asked the councilmembers, "to make the NOPD do their jobs?"
Fielkow proposed a solution. "Let me suggest a path. I think you need to come up with a laundry list of problems and what the potential solutions are, and I would suggest you schedule a meeting with Maj. Hosli and Chief [Warren] Riley," Fielkow said. He urged the group to come up with an action plan and bring it to him, Carter, and council president Jackie Clarkson. We would like accountability for the police to come from the top. If he won't meet with you, we will request that he appear before council, and if he does not, we will issue a subpoena.
"And if nothing comes from that, you will see the council take the next step."
As we reported in this week's issue, "Blood Money: A $15 million judgment against the DA's office has new District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro on the financial ropes, and that may be only the beginning," DA Cannizzaro continues to appeal the Thompson case, but the possibility of reversing the $15 million judgment (for wrongful conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct) is slim. And while the appeals process is going on, interest on the $15 million is accumulating.
Michael Banks, an attorney representing Thompson, says the interest rate is tied to a federal rate, and has been accruing since the initial jury verdict against the Orleans district attorney's office in February 2007.
"It's almost two years of interest, and even at just 3 percent compounded, it's at least $900,000," Banks says.
Like so many at todays Silence is Violence memorial to murder victims on the steps of City Hall, Belinda Henderson had a personal reason for being there. Her son, Gerald Howard Jr., was murdered on September 11, 2007, one of the more than 200 people killed in New Orleans that year. To date, the New Orleans Police Department has not solved Howards slaying.
No. Theyre slow in doing things, Henderson says.
The memorial, a reading of the names of the 177 people murdered in the city from January 11, 2008 to January 8, 2009, began at noon, and a crowd of more than 100 stood silently as the names were read off. Councilmen James Carter and Arnie Fielkow attended the event as did Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, and the three men assisted in reading out loud the names of the deceased.
Henderson wondered why other community leaders werent present.
The mayor and the chief of police arent out here. Where are they?
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