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'Get It Together'|
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales met for about an hour last week with leaders of New Orleans' troubled criminal justice system, including DA Eddie Jordan and Police Chief Warren Riley. "[Gonzales] basically told them to get their act together," a source said of the Wednesday night meeting inside an eighth floor conference room at the downtown headquarters of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. The source said Gonzales took aim at two well-publicized problems during the closed-door meeting -- a backlog of drug cases due to squabbles over narcotics testing protocols and the so-called "701 releases" of criminals who are not charged in a timely manner as required by state law. "[The general] said he doesn't understand why these matters can't be worked out," the source said. Gonzales was in town last week to announce plans for the federal funding of a proposed domestic violence shelter and for expert training for local witness protection and victim assistance programs. Gonzales also noted that the NOPD will soon have a federally funded crime lab on UNO's Lakefront campus. -- Johnson


Cops Still in Trailers
Is Police Chief Warren Riley planning to ratchet up his efforts to get NOPD out of a network of FEMA trailers -- after tornadic winds ripped through the metro area last week? "No comment," the chief said, managing a smile. Almost 18 months after Hurricane Katrina, NOPD's headquarters, three district stations, the homicide division and other special police units are still being run out of FEMA trailers, which are highly vulnerable to damage by tornadoes, emergency officials say. None of NOPD's trailers were damaged by last week's twisters, which killed one person, injured 36 others and wrecked dozens of homes -- including some FEMA trailers. At press time, city recovery czar Ed Blakely was scheduled to meet with Riley, DA Eddie Jordan, Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman and state and local judges concerning plans to rebuild facilities of the courts and the crippled criminal justice system. -- Johnson


Nagin's 'Future' Campaign
Mayor Ray Nagin, who won re-election to a second and final term last May, has a campaign war chest of more than a quarter-million dollars for a "future," unspecified "major office," according to state campaign finance reports. The city charter prohibits Nagin from running for a third consecutive term. Hizzoner had $258,833 in campaign funds on hand by the end of 2006, according to reports filed Feb. 6 by Nagin and David White, the mayor's campaign treasurer and close friend. That amount included $333.20 in "excess funds" transferred from his 2006 re-election campaign to his "future" campaign fund. Among the mayor's post-election contributors was the usual array of architectural, engineering and consulting firms that have long bid on city contracts. Also listed: disaster recovery businesses. Nagin's post-election expenditures for 2006 included $1,500 to a Carnival supplier for the Washington Mardi Gras ball, which the mayor attended earlier this month, and a $1,000 campaign donation to state Sen. Francis Heitmeier, the reports show. -- Johnson


DA Disputes Our Math
A spokesperson for New Orleans DA Eddie Jordan says information in a Jan. 30 "Scuttlebutt" on homicide data gives a "misleading" picture of the prosecutors' performance in 2006. Jordan spokesperson Dalton Savwoir Jr. objected to the conviction rate calculated by this newspaper, which was based on the 162 murders recorded last year. The article noted that the DA's office last year accepted 20 of 37 cases brought by New Orleans prosecution in 2006 -- an acceptance rate of 54 percent. Of the four homicide cases Jordan's office prosecuted in 2006, three resulted in guilty verdicts for a 75 percent conviction rate. Our article stated that the DA's conviction rate fell to less than 2 percent when compared to the 162 murders that took place last year. Savwoir objected to our methodology. "It is misleading to base a conviction rate on the 162 murders that occurred, all of which were not solved (by police)." The DA's office should be evaluated on the outcome of the 20 cases it accepted for prosecution in 2006 -- and the remaining cases are in various stages of the system, Savwoir says. On average, it takes two years to prosecute a homicide case, from arrest to adjudication, he adds. -- Johnson


LABI Lobbying Locals
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, a major force at the state Capitol, is now lobbying local governments to approve an ordinance to exclude local sales taxes from manufacturing machinery and equipment. The City of Shreveport and various boards in Caddo Parish recently voted to lift the tax as an incentive for a motor vehicle manufacturer. Lawmakers voted to phase out the state sales and use tax on manufacturing equipment in 2004, but they gave local governments the option of keeping their portion of the tax. LABI President Dan Juneau says these taxes keep businesses out of Louisiana. He says a new competitive edge in north Louisiana could push other parishes to follow Caddo's lead. "Local governing bodies recognize the economic benefit that eliminating these onerous taxes has on their communities," Juneau says. "I would hope that other parishes and municipalities will follow suit so that the entire state of Louisiana would be truly open for business." In eliminating the local taxes, Shreveport and Caddo joined councils in Jefferson Parish, New Orleans, Lake Charles and Ouachita Parish. -- Alford


Search for Dead Delayed
Seventeen months after Hurricane Katrina, the search for the dead is still not over. In fact, it has yet to resume after being halted this past summer. Unspecified "problems" have prevented the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office and St. Tammany Parish search and rescue teams from canvassing the swampy Michoud area in eastern New Orleans, according to John Gagliano, chief investigator for the Orleans Parish coroner's office. "Houses in Michoud have not been searched," Gagliano confirmed last week. A citywide search led by New Orleans firefighters ended in June. Estimates by both Orleans Coroner Dr. Frank Minyard and State Medical Examiner Dr. Louis Cataldie put Katrina's death toll in Louisiana above 1,500. But, during a November budget hearing at City Hall, Minyard told the City Council that the Michoud area had not yet been canvassed. In December, Gagliano said the search for remains would resume after the holidays. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), which clashed with the city over funding issues tied to previous searches, is not involved in the proposed search of the Michoud area, says Gagliano. -- Johnson


Same Issues, Different Take
What would life be like if state government were run by a female majority, rather than the other way around? Technically, Louisiana isn't far from that. Arguably the two top politicos in the state are Democratic women -- Gov. Kathleen Blanco and senior U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. When Blanco was elected the first female governor in state history in 2003, a special conference dubbed "Louisiana's Women Leaders" was quickly initiated. The conference returns to Baton Rouge on the second weekend of March and boasts several unique offerings, such as a theatrical showcase of historical women from the 18th to the mid-20th centuries. Attendees should also expect many of the same topics covered at any testosterone-filled political gathering: economics, employment, education, training, health and safety. The major difference might be in how women approach those issues. "Women's issues are people's issues," says Phyllis E. Mayo, the governor's advisor on women's policy. "When we gather, I am always amazed how quickly we can find common ground." -- Alford


Demos Woo Country Folk
The Democratic Policy Committee, an arm of the national Democratic party, released a report last week to little fanfare regarding how President George Bush's developing budget would impact rural Louisiana. The Demos claim "W" is pushing an agenda that favors white-collar pockets and punishes farmers and mom-and-pop businesses. "President Bush and his spin doctors are trying to justify his tax cuts at the expense of rural Louisianans," says Louisiana Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington. "Several of these initiatives on the chopping block are critical to (their) well-being." Specifically, the report argues that the president's cuts in funding would be harmful. President Bush proposes cutting $1.4 billion from various local law enforcement programs and $146 million from rural health programs. His budget would also slash funding for economic development initiatives specifically benefiting communities of 3,000 or fewer residents. "Republicans should join Democrats in combating this reckless and irresponsible assault on rural Americans and work to craft a budget that builds up all working families," Whittington says. -- Alford


That's Why They're Called 'Caricatures,' Chief

Before a civil service trial began last week, a couple of NOPD cops looked over the shoulder of an observer who was reading The Times-Picayune. The cops noticed an editorial cartoon of Police Chief Warren Riley -- as Riley himself sat on the witness chair a few feet away. The Valentine's Day portrait by T-P cartoonist Steve Kelley depicted Riley and DA Eddie Jordan glowering and refusing to look at each other. Bent arrows litter the ground at their feet. Hovering overhead was a "love angel" calling for help with the two estranged crime fighters: "Requesting backup," the angel said into a cell phone. As his subordinates stared at the cartoon, the real Riley smiled upon seeing it and said, "I don't think I'm that overweight." The accompanying editorial admonished Riley and Jordan to set aside their differences for the good of the city -- or step down. -- Johnson


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