New Orleans elects DA facing federal tax charges
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A lawyer awaiting trial on federal tax charges was elected the district attorney in Orleans Parish on Saturday.
New Orleans City Council President Jason Williams received 58% of the vote in a runoff, defeating former judge Keva Landrum.
Williams promised a significant shift in the district attorney’s office, saying he will stop using Louisiana’s habitual offender law to increase sentences, create a civil rights division to review old cases for misconduct by prosecutors and never try juvenile offenders in adult court.
“Tonight you folks have bestowed upon me an incredible honor, one that I will not now or ever take for granted. I thank you for that trust that you put in me,” Williams said in his victory speech, according to The New Orleans Advocate/The Times-Picayune.
Current Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro decided not to run for a third term. He is a law-and-order prosecutor who pointed at the fall of the murder rate in New Orleans as one of his biggest accomplishments.
Critics said he used questionable tactics like coercing witnesses into interviews with documents labeled as subpoenas even though they weren’t approved by a judge.
Williams finished second in the Nov. 3 election, but managed to overtake Landrum despite her lead in fundraising and endorsement by New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Williams has no prosecutorial experience and takes over an office that had its budget slashed amid a backlog of cases and the possibility hundreds of prisoners serving life sentences after being convicted by split juries will demand new trials.
Williams also has his own legal problems. In June, he was indicted in federal court on 11 counts of tax fraud and other charges. Williams exaggerated business expenses to avoid paying taxes for several years, authorities said.
Williams was just following the advice of his tax preparer, his lawyer said.
But in New Orleans, a district attorney facing his own day in court isn’t all that unusual. Two of the city’s last four elected district attorneys — Harry Connick Sr. and Jim Garrison — were also tried and found not guilty on federal criminal charges, the New Orleans newspaper reported.
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