Shakeup or Shut Down?
Interim New Orleans District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson has announced her top staff appointments, but the highly anticipated shakeup of upper management at the DA's office lost much of its drama amid the office's struggle to meet payroll last week. In fact, Landrum-Johnson announced her choice for first assistant in an interoffice memorandum dated Nov. 6. Val Solino, a 22-year veteran prosecutor at the office, will replace Jordan's First Assistant Gaynell Williams, who was reassigned as chief of the juvenile division. Solino recently served as an executive assistant to ex-DA Eddie Jordan Jr. Landrum-Johnson also tapped career prosecutor Paulette Holahan as chief of the screening division, the post Landrum-Johnson herself held before becoming DA on Oct. 31. As First Assistant, Solino will run the office's daily operations; all other supervisors in the 200-employee office will report directly to him. 'Val is the logical choice because of his experience," says Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission. Some critics of Jordan hoped that Landrum-Johnson would 'clean house," starting with Williams, who was Jordan's top aide during his nearly five years in office. Goyeneche defends Landrum-Johnson's appointments: 'It remains to be seen if all of her decisions are going to be right, but right now she really needs the support of the public." Williams took a leave of absence to run for a vacant Criminal Court judgeship in the Oct. 20 primary election, finishing third. She then returned to the DA's office. Landrum-Johnson and Solino handled Williams' first assistant duties during her absence, in addition to doing their own jobs. The DA's 200 employees, including more than 80 prosecutors, are not protected by civil service; all serve at the pleasure of the DA. Johnson
Interim DA Scrambles
Interim DA Keva Landrum-Johnson continued efforts to keep the office afloat late last week, networking with other key players in the local criminal justice system. Those efforts came as a team of national experts vetted the operations of the state's chief local prosecutor. Landrum-Johnson told the private Metropolitan Crime Commission's board of directors last week that her three top priorities are finding $3.4 million to pay off a federal judgment that threatens to shutter the DA's office, moving out of temporary offices and back to the DA's building on South White Street, and the prosecution of violent felons. One board member requested a list of office supplies and other resources that Landrum-Johnson needs to function more effectively; the new DA said she would provide that at a later date. Meanwhile, an assessment team from the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) arrived to examine the DA's operations, a request made by former DA Eddie Jordan Jr. before he announced his resignation Oct. 30. The NDAA report should be made public at the end of January, MCC president Rafael Goyeneche says. The nonprofit New Orleans Police & Justice Foundation is picking up the $25,000 expense tab for the weeklong visit by the five-member NDAA team. The foundation disclosed last week that it hired Jordan as a 'consultant" for an undisclosed amount. The once-secretive arrangement expedited Jordan's decision to resign. Johnson
'Bully Tactics' Work
Senior students in a government and public policy class at Isidore Newman School undoubtedly learned a lesson in politics this week. The class had decided to video a skit spoofing the American Society of Civil Engineers' 'peer review" (officially dubbed the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force, or IPET) of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' role in Katrina's levee failures. Sandy Rosenthal, founder of the watchdog group Levees.org, wrote the script, which satirically brought out a number of interesting points, such as how the Corps paid ASCE members for their work on the review and even gave them awards prior to the review's release. The spoof was posted on the Internet video site YouTube and immediately became a hit. However, when ASCE learned of the video, the organization sent a letter to Rosenthal and copied administrators at Newman School demanding the video be removed from Levees.org's Web site because it allegedly implies that the ASCE engineers were 'bribed or corrupted" by the Corps. Rosenthal decided to pull the video because she felt her organization didn't have the resources to fight ASCE. When asked about the students' reaction to the ASCE letter, Rosenthal said she hadn't spoken to them directly, but added that the students no doubt realize now that, 'when you make statements, no matter how true they are, you are taking some risk. ASCE used bully tactics and they succeeded in intimidating children." Winkler-Schmit
Pou Defense 'Gift Ideas'
Thanks to state Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. 's failed prosecution of Dr. Anna Pou, we can now add 'criminal defense fundraisers" to the long list of New Orleans traditions altered by Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, a criminal defense fundraiser typically meant the sale of homemade cakes, box suppers or a musical benefit at a neighborhood barroom " all to help a struggling family hire a lawyer for a loved one facing serious criminal charges. Since the Katrina-related prosecutions of Dr. Pou and two nurses collapsed in August " a grand jury refused to charge the trio for the deaths of four patients at Memorial Medical Center " supporters of the popular surgeon have mounted a distinctively upscale campaign to pay her legal fees. With the help of the New Orleans public relations firm of Beuerman Miller Fitzgerald, selected works of fine art, jewelry and handmade pottery are being marketed as 'beautiful holiday gift ideas" to benefit Pou's defense fund. The hoi polloi at Tulane and Broad may find most items out of reach, but many of Pou's patients would no doubt be glad to do some Christmas shopping for the good doctor's benefit. Among the items for sale are pearl earrings ($600) and an 'Opera-length Baroque pearl necklace with a 14-karat gold clasp ($1,000 to $1,200)" handcrafted by Pou publicist Virginia Miller. Both are available only at Oliveaux, 5422 Magazine St. Meanwhile, artist Evelyne Clinton has pledged 20 percent of all proceeds from select paintings (priced $1,200 to $3,600) to Pou's defense. Finally, handmade ceramic plaques by the surgeon's artisan friends are now on view ($125-$150) at www.supportdrpou.com. Pou still faces civil suits in connection with the Memorial case. She was unavailable for comment last week, receiving an award from a medical association, Miller said. Johnson
Racial Politics Redux
If the Jena 6 incident wasn't enough to garner Louisiana more than its share of racially charged headlines, several elected officials have offended black constituents with their comments. Beleaguered state Rep. Carla Dartez, a Morgan City Democrat who was in the throes of a tight runoff last week, recently referred to a black campaign worker as 'Buckwheat." While the comment itself was jarring enough, the slur was directed at an African-American grandmother whose son is the NAACP president in Terrebonne Parish. Eunice Mayor Robert 'Bob" Morris, meanwhile, is being picketed in his hometown for allegedly using the 'N" word when addressing a police officer. All of this is culminating as civil rights leaders are looking to Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal, a Republican, to do something " anything " about race relations. Jindal's team says he is trying to balance his various transition councils, but nothing specific has been offered. Meanwhile, a survey released last week by the Pew Research Center concluded that only one in five African Americans believe race relations are better now than they were five years ago. Alford
Boasso Out, Not Over
State Sen. Walter Boasso, a Democrat from Chalmette who was expected to ride into the political sunset after finishing third in the Oct. 20 gubernatorial primary, may not be as absent from the political scene as some thought. Last week, he hosted Capitol press corps members for dinner and drinks at Mansur's Restaurant in Baton Rouge. While he told The Advocate he isn't interested in running for Congress, he avoided answering questions about his future gubernatorial ambitions. Alford
Subpoenas All Around
Being an elected official in Louisiana these days is a tough gig, especially if the number of subpoenas being doled out is any indication. The most embarrassing serve goes to U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Metairie, who has been subpoenaed by the so-called 'D.C. Madam." Deborah Jeane Palfrey, whose hooker stardom is eclipsed only by that of Hollywood's Heidi Fleiss, wants the once-moralizing Republican senator to testify in open court on Nov. 28 about his apparent trysts with one of her 'escorts." Vitter has already admitted to using the service " and to a 'very serious sin in my past" " but don't expect him to offer any scandalous details under oath. The Louisiana Board of Ethics, meanwhile, is trying to subpoena House Speaker Joe Salter of Florien, Senate President Don Hines of Bunkie and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Heitmeier of New Orleans. All three are Democrats. The generally toothless watchdog board wants heavy political hitters to testify about Johnny Rombach, the former legislative fiscal officer who allegedly gave himself a retroactive pay raise, car allowance and overtime salary perks. State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon also says he has been subpoenaed by the legislative auditor to hand over records related to Citizens Insurance, the state's insurer of last resort. Like the others, Donelon is fighting the subpoena. Finally, in New Orleans' Senate District 7, Republican candidate Paul Richard subpoenaed his opponent, David Heitmeier, for a civil deposition in a lawsuit he filed over campaign finances. Alford
Letten: Stay in N.O.
Despite the city's lackluster recovery, violent crime and various high-profile public corruption investigations, local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten last week took a reporter's challenge to list three good reasons for residents to stay in New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina. 'First, the city's incredibly rich history and beautiful architecture," Letten said. Second, he added, 'Walk down almost any street and you will walk into someone you know or someone you grew up with. New Orleans is "Mayberry' with big buildings. It is tight, close and very provincial and cultured in a good way." Third " 'How can you leave a city that is great for the first two reasons during its greatest struggle for its very existence as we know it?" The persistent violent crime rate is the most oft-cited reason by residents who have left the city. Unlike Mayberry, New Orleans remains on pace to repeat as the nation's murder capital, despite the unprecedented partnerships of local and federal law enforcement agencies. Progress is more palpable in federal anti-public corruption efforts. Letten refused to discuss several reported federal probes of local elected officials. However, he said, 'I am extremely energized and excited about Robert Cerasoli, the city's new Inspector General." With adequate assets and autonomy, the new city watchdog can help local government avoid wasting millions of dollars by screening city contracts up front, Letten says. A successful IG will help the city's image and improve its business climate, he adds. Overall, Letten says of the recovery: 'We have to think of these struggles as opportunities for change." Johnson