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New Wrinkles 

The federal investigation into corruption in the Jefferson Parish courthouse continued last week as subpoenas went out to more than a dozen judicial and political figures. It's clear that the probe known as "Wrinkled Robe" still has some wrinkles to be ironed out.

At a minimum, the news absolutely disproves the notion advanced in some quarters that the feds are singling out African-American politicians for criminal prosecution. In the Jefferson scandals, only one black individual has been charged and convicted -- Judge Alan Green -- whereas more than a dozen white people have faced a similar fate.

Moreover, all of the subpoenas that went out last week appeared to be directed at white politicos -- judges, the parish president and (sources say) more than a dozen attorneys. It stands to reason, of course, that any investigation into alleged wrongdoing in Jefferson Parish would focus more on white politicos than black ones because Jefferson is overwhelmingly white. The obverse is true in New Orleans, where a probe of contract dealings during the Marc Morial administration has thus far turned up indictments against a handful of black political players. The only fair conclusion is that the feds are turning over stones where they find them; whoever scampers out is whoever was hiding beneath the stones.

In addition, it must be noted that subpoenas do not mean that someone is under investigation. Rather, it means that investigators believe the recipient might have evidence or knowledge that the feds want. Thus, news that Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard received a subpoena should not be interpreted as a sign that he's a target, or even a subject, of the investigation. It simply means that federal investigators want to know what he knows.

Broussard served as campaign chairman for District Judge Kernan "Skip" Hand of Kenner, who also received a subpoena last week. Broussard acknowledged that the subpoena seeks records relating to contributions to Hand's campaigns by Bail Bonds Unlimited, the now-defunct bail bond company owned by Louis Marcotte and his sister Lori Marcotte, both of whom have pleaded guilty to Wrinkled Robe charges.

The Marcottes and Bail Bonds Unlimited have been a common thread in the Wrinkled Robe investigation. The feds have portrayed the company and its operators as having had a corrupting influence on Jefferson judges and jailers. Hand's attorney last week said the subpoenas seek records of any contributions, payments or gifts to the judge from the owners or employees of Bail Bonds Unlimited or from the company itself. The attorney, Mike Ellis, said Hand has done nothing improper.

Others who reportedly received subpoenas include Court of Appeal Judge Susan Chehardy, District Court Judge Joan Benge, and a dozen or more Jefferson attorneys. More subpoenas are expected in the coming weeks, and sources say at least one more judge will receive a subpoena.

Coming less than two months after Green's conviction on mail fraud charges, last week's subpoenas gave rise to speculation that Green may now be cooperating in the investigation. There's no way at this time to prove or disprove such talk. We do know that some other judges already were in the sights of federal investigators before Green's conviction, and it's known that both Marcottes have been cooperating with the federal government since their guilty pleas. The Marcottes and Green are all waiting to be sentenced. Passionate Advocate Passes There aren't many civil rights pioneers left -- persons who worked in the trenches in the 1950s and 1960s to promote racial equality and to build bridges between black and white Americans. Clarence Barney Jr. was one of them. He served as local leader of the Urban League for three decades and played a pivotal role in improving race relations before, during and after that time. Among his many achievements was becoming the first African-American chair of the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors.

Above all, he was a warm, sincere man -- and a passionate advocate for the cause of human rights and economic opportunity. He died last week at the age of 70. He will be sadly missed.


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