Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Say it ain't so, Keva.

An article in this week's City Business alleges that the city has seen an increased number of felony prosecutions since Keva Landrum-Johnson has become acting D.A. because of an increase in felony prosecutions for marijuana possession, rather than because of increased prosecution of violent crimes. Since I consider this a serious matter, I'll ask you to read the entire article and draw your own conclusions before reading any more of what I have to say. It's a short article.

The most obvious point is that Landrum-Johnson should have made herself available for comment, we get Steven Singer's view much more forcefully presented than Landrum-Johnson's. Also, part of the story is already dated:
Some say Landrum-Johnson’s decision to buck history and charge marijuana users with felonies is a political decision meant to assist in her run for Orleans Criminal District Court Section E judgeship. By prosecuting thousands of marijuana possession cases as felonies, Landrum-Johnson can then go to the voters of New Orleans and claim she is “tough on crime,” Scharf said. She can point to the massive increase in felony prosecutions under her tenure without explaining that those prosecutions were for people holding joints and not guns, he said.

Another member of the DA’s office who stands to benefit from the increase in felony prosecutions is Melanie Talia, deputy chief of the DA’s Screening Division. She is running for the Criminal Court Section J.

Landum-Johnson's opponent dropped out of the election. Of course, she had no way of knowing that would happen, and I will find out everything I can about Melanie Talia and Darryl Derbigny; I know how I'll probably end up voting.

I don't want to get carried away lambasting Landrum-Johnson on the basis of one article, but I don't think her spokesman's statement adds up:
her spokesman Dalton Savwoir said that while he agreed there has been an increase in second and third offense marijuana felony acceptances, the increase is not attributable to a change in policy.

“Rather, the increase is a result of the fact that during 2008, it has become easier to obtain certified copies of prior convictions (that are) required evidence (to prosecute) second and third offense marijuana cases,” Savwoir said.

In other words, Savwoir said, clerical malfunctions that prevented the DA from seeking felony prosecutions of marijuana cases in the past have been rectified.

There hasn't just been an increase in marijuana felony acceptances compared to 2006 and 2007, but an increase over prior years. As poorly as the D.A.'s office may have functioned before Katrina, I find it hard to believe that there was better access to 20 year-old case files in 2008 than in 2004.

You can learn more about Darryl Derbigny at http://www.judgederbigny.com. When Darryl ran for judge the first time in 2003, his opponent was the First Assistant DA and this same scenario played itself out.

Personally, I think that DAs should not be allowed to run for office while maintaining their positions and getting paid with public money. It creates, at the least, a gross appearance of impropriety.

Can you imagine a scenario where a DA/candidate in the screening division agrees to dismiss a case for a lawyer and then says, by the way, how about buying some tickets for my fundraiser?
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