Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Rebuilding the Public Trust

At a time when the City of New Orleans needs to rebuild public faith in its institutions, two high profile public corruption cases may do just the opposite. This weekend the Times-Pic reported:

“Orleans Parish prosecutors on Friday cut a plea deal with a corrupt Civil District Court judge who was ousted in 2003 after ordering his employees to sell tickets to his fundraiser or risk losing their jobs. The judge also told at least 18 lies when questioned under oath about his misdeeds, state investigators concluded.

The plea bargain guarantees that former Judge C. Hunter King won’t spend a single day in prison and could eventually have a spotless criminal record.”

This was a deal cut by D.A. Eddie Jordan, who has been under fire for opening the prison doors through his inability to prosecute accused criminals within the sixty day period mandated by the state criminal code. Jordan already has a suspect record on public corruption cases, having passed on prosecuting former Rep. Cleo Fields, despite videotape of him stuffing his pockets with Edwin Edwards’ cash. Now the NOLA paper reports:

“When Jordan’s prosecutors secured a two-count indictment of perjury and payroll fraud, legal experts called it a ‘slam dunk’ case, since the judiciary commission had essentially laid out the hard evidence and served it to prosecutors—complete with King’s admission to lying under oath.

But instead of trying King, Jordan’s team decided that the felony guilty plea was justice enough, according to a prepared statement that did not mention the fact that King was allowed to plea guilty under Louisiana Article 893, which provides for the eventual dismissal of a conviction.”

A minor detail, that. It turns out the Feds may fare little better in their case against Rep. William Jefferson, of freezer notoriety, but he can thank the former GOP House leadership for their misguided assertion of Congressional privilege. Again, the Times-Pic reports, Jefferson hopes to run out the statue of limitations clock as the results of the search of his Congressional office face a Constitutional challenge in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The perception of widespread public corruption has long dogged New Orleans. However, evidence that supports that preconceived notion will hinder rebuilding attempts, as American taxpayers will be reluctant to keep sending funds to a corrupt local government.