Magistrate judge candidates exchange charges on eve of election

Harry Cantrell, one of two remaining candidates for Orleans Parish Magistrate Court judge, sent a flier on the eve of Saturday’s election describing his opponent as a “bleeding heart” for supporting a pre-trial services program that aims to rid Orleans Parish Prison of nonviolent inmates.

The flier features one of the city’s most iconic crime images: a surveillance-camera image of a man, out on bond on a gun charge after being handed a low-risk rating by the program, opening fire on a second-line parade.

“You remember the Mother’s Day shooting,” Cantrell’s flier warns in all-capital letters, next to images of a syringe and a gun.

The city’s pre-trial services program, run by the New York-based Vera Institute of Justice, has become a flash point in the years-long struggle to restructure the local criminal justice system. The program’s critics, led by bail bondsmen and many judges, have adopted Akein Scott, the Mother’s Day shooting suspect, as their poster child for Vera’s alleged failures.

Even so, Cantrell’s evoking of the ghastly scene still surprised many, for it was Cantrell who set Scott’s low bond that helped put him on the streets.

Vera had given Scott a low-threat ranking, but that was just a recommendation with no legal authority. Cantrell, as a magistrate commissioner, set his bail at $35,000.

Vicknair’s campaign said Cantrell was trying to pass the blame.

“It was Harry Cantrell who misjudged Akein Scott,” the campaign said in a statement. “It was Harry Cantrell who made it possible for Scott to be free on the day of the Mother’s Day shooting.”

The Vera program has been one focus of the City Council’s budget hearings over the last few weeks, with the Landrieu administration insisting that the only way to rein in the costs of court-mandated reforms at the jail is to drastically slash the number of inmates held there. The Vera program is one way to release more prisoners.

Cantrell’s opponent, Mark Vicknair, is a dogged defender of the program.

“What about the victims, Mr. Vicknair?” the Cantrell flier asks. “You have to wonder what kind of bonds a ‘Bleeding Heart’ like Vicknair will put on violent offenders.”

But Cantrell stepped back from those remarks on Friday, saying he isn’t even against the Vera program. “I don’t have a position on it,” he said. He refused to say whether he would offer his support to the program if elected judge.

The flier also included a photo of Morris Reed, the third candidate in the race, who lost in last month’s primary. It said Reed is supporting Vicknair and called him a “politically bankrupt perennial candidate,” then added: “Also there is an old saying, ‘You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.’”

Vicknair this week let loose an attack ad of his own, ticking off Cantrell’s alleged sins as a lawyer: His law license was suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court, and he’s been sued for malpractice, negligence, breach of contract and failing to pay his bills. His wife took out a restraining order against him.

Cantrell said the restraining order was a routine action during a divorce. He added that even though his license was indeed suspended, the punishment was deferred in favor of probation and he was allowed to continue practicing law. He said he could not recall the specifics of any lawsuits against him.

District D race gets a second candidate

Joseph Bouie, a Southern University at New Orleans professor who once did a stint as chancellor at the school, plans to announce a run for the District D seat on the City Council next week.

It will be Bouie’s first run for elected office, though he’s been an outspoken member of SUNO’s faculty, particularly since Hurricane Katrina and the debates that followed over the school’s future.

Bouie will be running to replace Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who will have to give up the district seat because of term limits; she plans to run for one of the council’s two at-large seats.

State Rep. Jared Brossett, a political protégé of Hedge-Morrell, is also running to replace her in District D.

Councilwoman wants lemony-fresh smell back

Hedge-Morrell knows what the lemony-fresh scent sprayed around the French Quarter used to smell like, and she hasn’t smelled it in years.

The District D councilwoman grilled Sanitation Director Cynthia Sylvain-Lear at a budget hearing Wednesday about changes in the deodorizer the city’s trash contractor uses in and around the Quarter.

The historic district, she said, used to be “rinsed down with the lemony-fresh Disney stuff,” and if the service is still in the contract, “it’s not working.”

The lemon scent was first introduced in 2007 by former contractor SDT Waste & Debris Services, owned by celebrity trash guy Sidney Torres IV.

Sylvain-Lear said deodorizing is still in the contract, now held by Progressive Waste Solutions. She said the formula had changed in recent years, but adjustments have been made.

Hedge-Morrell, however, said her nose can’t be fooled. “I can tell you the way it was done before,” she said, “and how it’s being done now is totally different.”

And no lemony freshness means no letters of praise from visitors, she said.

“It was working,” the councilwoman said. “We got compliments from all over the world. People were writing us letters telling us how great it was, so instead of going back and trying to invent another formula, just find out what the old formula was.”

If the lack of lemony freshness wasn’t enough, the contractor, Progressive, is “not going down Pirates Alley and certain places where we know people like to relieve themselves,” Hedge-Morrell said.

The issue, it was decided, would be looked into further.

“I really think we need to revisit that because it was so nice to have people writing letters to the editor and to talk about how clean and how Disney-like the French Quarter was, and I really haven’t heard that in the last three years,” Hedge-Morrell said.

Lawyer strikes out with St. Tammany judge

Three times this week, defense attorney Danny Abel tried to get St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed recused from cases Abel is defending, and three times Ad Hoc Judge Walter Rothschild denied the motions.

Abel — who has filed a long and eye-popping list of legal claims alleging shenanigans in the St. Tammany justice system — was in court for hearings on two misdemeanor cases and one felony trial he is defending. In each case, Abel has alleged that Reed’s office is pursuing the prosecution either out of racism or despite conflicts of interest.

Rothschild wasn’t buying any of Abel’s claims, however, repeatedly telling the pugnacious lawyer that nothing he presented backed up his claims. At one point, Rothschild admonished Abel for repeatedly accusing the District Attorney’s Office of fraud, saying that making the allegation in the absence of any evidence was irresponsible.

Rothschild — who was hearing the various matters because all of the judges in the 22nd Judicial District have recused themselves — also refused to compel Reed to testify in response to subpoenas issued by Abel. He told Abel that he couldn’t subpoena Reed until he had given Reed a hearing to fight the subpoena’s issuance.

“You can’t put the cart before the horse,” the increasingly exasperated Rothschild said. He also denied a motion to change the venue of one of the misdemeanor trials, which will be tried without a jury. “I am trying this case; it doesn’t matter where I am trying it. Your client will get a fair trial,” Rothschild said.

In August, a federal judge ordered Abel to pay the legal expenses for St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain, whom Abel had sued on behalf of a woman who claimed the Sheriff’s Office had kept religious items it seized from her home in a 2008 raid. The suit was very similar to a second one, and U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance ruled that the woman’s lawyers “unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings.”

Compiled by Claire Galofaro, Chad Calder and Faimon Roberts III