Edwards last month began serving a 10-year sentence at a minimum-security prison in Texas after exhausting appeals of his May 2000 conviction on racketeering and fraud charges in connection with a riverboat licensing scandal. Two years ago, Lee surprised federal law enforcement by publicly declaring he wanted to be among "the first" to visit Edwards in prison, if the appeals courts failed to overturn his conviction on fraud and racketeering charges.
"I have not had a chance to visit him," Lee says. "I just got the paperwork and I mailed it back (last Wednesday). It's a very prolonged process. If the paperwork is approved ... it is my intention to visit him more than once."
Lee says he makes no apologies for his continued admiration and friendship for Edwards. "I'm going to do my thing," he says. "He was my friend before he got in trouble. And just because he got into trouble, that has nothing to do with our friendship. Some people understand it; some people don't. Some people say you are the top law enforcement officer, you shouldn't associate with a crook. I understand that."
Lee also dismisses any suggestions that he supported Dale Atkins for district attorney because her opponent was Eddie Jordan, the former local U.S. Attorney whose office sent Edwards to prison. "You have never heard me criticize anybody for prosecuting Edwin Edwards," Lee says.
The sheriff says he decided to back Atkins after she crossed the parish line to visit his office. "I like Dale Atkins," Lee says. "She came and talked to me about ideas, about the good working relationship the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office has with the Jefferson Parish District Attorney's Office. I said for the last 10 years there have been three assistant district attorneys sitting in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's office working on high-profile career criminal cases. She was very receptive and I just took a liking to her."
Lee says District Attorney-elect Jordan is "very bright" but adds: "He's going to find out that being district attorney of the parish of Orleans is a lot more difficult than being U.S. Attorney for the [federal] Eastern District of Louisiana."
No Peanut Candy for
"Stick a fork in me -- I'm done," says Ed Lombard of his job as New Orleans Clerk of Criminal Court. Complete but unofficial returns showed Lombard defeating attorney Sidney Cates IV by 39 votes in a bitter election for a judicial seat on the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Confident that his judicial victory would withstand the re-count demanded by his opponent, Lombard says the governor would have to call an election for the clerk's seat within one year.
Lombard -- who was just re-elected to a four-year term as clerk after defeating Hazel Reed in the Feb. 2 municipal elections -- admits he no longer had the "fire in the belly" for the office he has held for 28 years. "I'm getting older," says Lombard, 56. "The window of opportunity was closing. I wanted to do something else with my brain. I don't care if it's making peanut candy."
The clerk is the chief administrator of criminal court and parish custodian of voting machines. The job is a four-year-term with an annual salary of $85,600, with responsibility for 100 employees who serve at the clerk's pleasure, and an annual operating budget of $3.5 million.
Lombard, incidentally, won his first election as clerk on a recount. At the age of 27, he upset incumbent Dan Haggerty when officials noted there were more votes cast for clerk of court than in the race for district attorney. Back then, ballots were counted by hand, and a recount revealed that a police department employee had erroneously counted a stack of votes twice. The recount showed Lombard as the narrow winner. On April 1, 1974, Lombard was sworn into office with three other "reform" candidates: District Attorney Harry Connick, now 76; Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti, now 64; and Coroner Frank Minyard, now 73.
"I think we are all guilty of staying a little bit too long," Lombard says. Everyone, that is, except Foti. "Charlie still has energy, dreams ... and innovative programs. Charlie still has fire. Frank's fire was gone a long time ago." Minyard could not be reached for comment at press time. Minyard fought off two other physicians to win re-election earlier this year to a four-year term as coroner. Connick announced his retirement in March.
Mulling Mike's Motivations
Why did Republican Gov. Mike Foster take sides in a battle between two Democrats for district attorney of Orleans Parish?
Foster backed Clerk of Civil Court Dale Atkins' losing campaign against former local U.S. Attorney Eddie Jordan, prompting speculation that the governor was seeking political revenge against Jordan for the feds' embarrassing grand jury probe of Foster's 1994 campaign ties to David Duke. (Foster was never charged by the feds, but paid a $20,000 fine to the state ethics board for failing to report the campaign purchase of a mailing list from Duke, who is still under federal investigation.)
Last week, Foster press secretary Marsanne Golsby said that the governor was unavailable for comment, but would certainly deny the Duke probe had no role in his endorsement of Atkins. "The Duke issue has been dead around here for years -- thank God," Golsby says, adding that the governor backed Atkins "because she came up here and asked for his support and because other friends of his recommended her."
Also last week, Foster refused to say who he would endorse in the Dec. 7 runoff for the U.S. Senate seat between Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu and Republican challenger Suzanne Terrell, both of New Orleans. Foster supporter U.S. Rep. John Cooksey of Monroe finished third on Nov. 5. Golsby says she has no list of the other candidates Foster supported around the state.
"He goes and freelances a lot," she says. "He is the governor, and I am only his press secretary. You can't ever tell what he is going to do. You sure can't tell what he is going to do based on party. It usually goes to a principle, a relationship -- not a deal or an agreement on philosophy."