NEW ORLEANS - In a recent interview, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro blamed high staff turnover and lowered 2019 conviction rates on the City, arguing they were the result of lower budget allocations in the years 2017 and 2018. Councilmember Jason Williams, who chairs the Council's Criminal Justice Committee, has issued the following response:
"It's unfortunate that our DA has chosen to continue this pattern of deflection. The funding he references was restored in his 2019 budget, yet his conviction rates continued to plummet, and more attorneys left in 2019 than 2017 and 2018 combined. If the DA wishes to cast blame, he should look elsewhere.
The notorious indiscriminate acceptance of all charges and haste with which his office has tried and disposed of cases has made us a global capital for exonerations of the wrongfully convicted without improving public safety. He is simply accepting far more cases than he should, which ultimately results in a lower percentage of guilty verdicts. This is not producing better results for his prosecutors or for public safety. Rather, it is diluting the impact of local prosecution on crime and overworking the few lawyers he has left. They are working hard, but they are not allowed to work smart and efficiently.
There is increasing public awareness of his office's inequitable legal practices and skepticism about the improprieties of his policies. When the focus of your lead prosecutor is the quantity of convictions over quality, you often leave line attorneys in the position of having to put on bad cases that they know are not right. Young lawyers go to the prosecutor's office because they want to do good for the city they live in, and when they realize that it is not the mission of the leadership there, they leave in frustration.
His lawyers are not just leaving because of the pay. They clearly know the salaries when they apply for the job. They are also not leaving because of the long hours. They knew there would be long hours when they applied to law school. They're leaving because they are not treated with the respect young professionals deserve, and they are asked to do things that they simply cannot stomach."
Councilmember Jason Roger Williams, At-Large