When it comes to murder rates, America surpasses the developed world at some five per 100,000 people. New Orleans has more than ten times that number. For every 1,700 people in the Crescent City, one will be murdered. These figures were based on last year’s numbers. The murder rate so far this year is way ahead of last year’s. So it’s the bad guys vs. the good guys in the criminal justice system, right? Maybe not.
New Orleans has always pushed the limit of what is acceptable to those running government and to its citizens. The city is often referred to as a corrupt third world country and the most northern of the Caribbean nations. But in recent months, the bottom seems to have fallen out of the criminal justice system itself. A headline in the Times Picayune recently blared across the top front page: “We’re the Evil Empire Right Now,” referring to the New Orleans Saints scandal over “bounty gate.” But the headline could well apply to the criminal justice system, both state and federal, throughout the greater New Orleans area.
The system that is supposed to protect the citizens of New Orleans is rife with corruption and incompetence. New Orleans is the “city that care forgot.” In too many instances, those who are charged with safeguarding and serving, have betrayed their mission to see that the public is protected, and that justice is done. A recent report in The New Statesman observes: “Something terrible lies at the heart of New Orleans - a rampant, widespread and apparently uncontrollable brutality on the part of its police force and its prison service. The horrors of its criminal justice system from decades before Katrina and up to now lie somewhere between, with little exaggeration, Candide and Stalin’s Gulags.”
The nation watched with disgust as a number of police officers were recently tried and convicted for murders during Katrina along with a widespread cover up and false testimony. But the city’s dysfunctional anti crime system goes far beyond a corrupt police department. As columnist Jordan Flaherty writes: “What Justice Department officials will find in New Orleans is a systemic problem of corruption that has its roots in pre-Katrina times and that’s going to require more than just a new police chief or a restructuring. Part of the city’s troubled system includes the district attorney’s office, the U.S. Attorney and the city’s independent police monitor…” The New Orleans police department has weathered one scandal after another for years, with virtually no improvement.
The city district attorney’s office has been plagued with a litany of prosecutorial misconduct. It seems like a month doesn’t go by without the U.S. Supreme Court lashing out at the local D.A.’s office for withholding evidence showing the innocence of one defendant after the other. A number of the wrongly convicted have sat on death row for 14 years or more while prosecutors sat on evidence that would prove that the conviction was wrong. Yes, someone should be jailed, but in these cases with blatant prosecutorial misconduct -- and there are many -- the real criminal is the prosecutor, who violated his oath and his duty to seek justice.
Now, Justice Department prosecutors, themselves, are under scrutiny. A few weeks ago, in a front-page story, the Times Picayune reported that the FBI has problems in the Crescent City. “Robert Isakson was once the fair-haired boy of the FBI in New Orleans. Thirty years later, the public corruption squad he once ran is investigating him,” said the paper.
But wait, there’s more. A rogue prosecutor in the New Orleans U.S. attorney’s office has ignited a firestorm of controversy and criticism. Sal Perricone, who resigned in disgrace, has been accused of compromising a number of criminal investigations by using assumed names to attack a number of New Orleans officials. In doing so, he is further accused of revealing confidential grand jury information and other secretive data, all part of ongoing investigations. Perricone played a stupid game of hardball that may well have crossed the line and make him a target of a major criminal investigation.
One of Perricone’s alleged postings, according to the Times Picayune, was about a former New Orleans Mayor who is under investigation by the prosecutor’s office. The posting said: “For all of you who have a penchant for firearms and how they work, (former Mayor) Ray Nagin lives on Park Island.” Does the posting urge someone with a gun to go after the controversial former Mayor? And if so, isn’t this a serious crime of inciting a felony? Another day in the continuing saga of blatant and corrupt prosecutorial misconduct in New Orleans
At least, one might say, we have the federal court system to ensure protection and oversight. Not so, say those who closely watch the 5th Circuit Court of Apeals based in New Orleans. The Fifth Circuit regularly leads all appeals courts throughout the country in having its decisions overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an expose’ of the Fifth Circuit’s recent rulings, the Times Picayune quoted both Justices on the Supreme Court as well as prominent law professors who regularly lambasted verdicts handed down in New Orleans. University of Houston law professor David Dow said it seems clear that the Supreme Court “has lost confidence in the Fifth Circuit’s handling of capital cases.” And recently retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner was equally blunt in criticizing the Fifth Circuit saying it was “paying lip service to principles of jurisprudence, and that often the Fifth’s reasoning, “has no foundation in the decisions of this court.” Far from being a judicial watchdog, the Fifth Circuit judges are every bit a part of the problem themselves.
More on federal judicial incompetence in next week’s column. The bottom line is that there is real trouble in River City that is not going to be solved merely by a local effort. Is there a quick fix? No. Can New Orleans work itself out of a self inflicted dilemma?
Yes, but it will take a much greater committed action than is now taking place. Let’s talk again next week.
"The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government." George Washington
I might add, false justice, or the lack of its administration by those charged with it, is its destroyer.
Peace and justice.
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the nation. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am central time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.