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An Office Adrift 

It's been a tough couple of weeks for New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan. He has no one to blame but himself. The office is adrift.

Things really came apart publicly when Jordan was hauled into federal court -- where he once strode the halls as the United States' top local prosecutor -- on civil charges of racial discrimination in the summary firing of dozens of white employees soon after he took over the DA's office. Almost all of the terminated white employees were replaced with African-American employees.

On March 30, a jury of eight whites and two blacks unanimously concluded that Jordan did, in fact, use race as a discriminating factor in the terminations. But that's only half the story.

During the trial, Jordan claimed that he really didn't play much of a role in the hirings and firings -- a claim that, on its face, was either ludicrous or an embarrassing admission. I vote for the latter. As early as his transition period, I heard reports from several sources at Criminal District Court that Jordan was accompanied on courtesy calls to judges by Mose Jefferson, brother of Congressman Bill Jefferson. The congressman is widely known to be the DA's No. 1 political padrone; his brother is a well-known political operative and an extension of the congressman. During the trial, Jordan said he delegated staffing decisions to Stephanie Butler, who works for Congressman Jefferson.

Jordan testified that race was not a factor in the terminations, yet he claimed that he wanted to make the office look more like the city it serves. He can't have it both ways. He also stated under oath that what mattered most was getting people in the office who shared his vision and who would be loyal to him.

Again, he can't have it both ways. Either the office serves the city, or it serves Eddie Jordan. As for sharing his vision, I suspect he has accomplished that goal, although that's a sad commentary.

What I mean by that is this: Jordan's vision is, at best, myopic. Look at the record of his office since he took over. Accused murderers -- even one caught on videotape -- are routinely released for alleged lack of evidence or witnesses, or charges against them are seriously downgraded. Defense attorneys who have practiced in the building for decades say their job is a lot easier these days. It's not supposed to be that way.

Let me make one thing clear: I think the DA's office should reflect the city it serves. That is, a clear majority of its employees -- at the staff level as well as in the courtrooms -- should be African American. But a wholesale firing of people who have worked at the office for decades and who know how to make it function smoothly, whatever their race, is not a prudent way to run any office. Jordan could have achieved his worthy goal by attrition, over a period of six months to a year, which would have allowed the new hires to be trained by experienced professionals. That also would have spared Jordan the embarrassment of a $1.9 million loss in federal court.

Another embarrassment came as Jordan's top investigator of deadbeat parents, Richard Chambers Jr., was outed as a deadbeat dad himself -- to the tune of $11,000. Chambers was a candidate for constable of First City Court at the time. Coincidentally, his father is the treasurer of Jefferson's political organization, the Progressive Democrats, which further evidences the congressman's reach into the DA's office.

Here again, Jordan embarrassed himself by initially claiming he saw no problem with Chambers continuing in his job because there was no "state action" pending against him. That is, the DA's office had not been requested to pursue one of its own. Chambers finally left the office last week.

What has emerged from all this is a picture of Eddie Jordan as an emperor with no clothes -- an ironic portrait in light of his penchant for natty attire. He's a very nice man. He's articulate and poised. He puts a great face on the office. Unfortunately, recent events have shown him to be utterly clueless on some very big issues. That's a dangerous thing in a district attorney. With crime out of control, our city needs more than a face man as its top prosecutor.

click to enlarge District Attorney Eddie Jordan claimed he didn't play much of a role in the hirings and firings in his office -- a claim that, on its face, was either ludicrous or an embarrassing admission.
  • District Attorney Eddie Jordan claimed he didn't play much of a role in the hirings and firings in his office -- a claim that, on its face, was either ludicrous or an embarrassing admission.
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