As two hosts of a WBOK-AM radio program chatted live with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro on Friday afternoon about his office’s most recent high-profile defeat, a surprise listener called in.
The very judge Cannizzaro was criticizing was on the line to defend his decision, live, on the radio.
Criminal District Court Judge Ben Willard launched into a spirited defense of the not-guilty verdict he rendered for a New Orleans police officer accused of beating a handcuffed civilian.
Midway through his remarks, Willard said live on air that he was at WBOK’s front door, and asked that they let him in.
They did not.
Cannizzaro was the invited guest of hosts Paul Beaulieu and John Slade; the topic was Willard’s acquittal a week earlier of Officer Jamal Kendrick, who faced a charge of malfeasance.
For 10 minutes, Cannizzaro, Beaulieu and Slade questioned the judge’s decision. The trio seemed in agreement: A camera mounted to the dashboard of Kendrick’s cruiser appeared to show the officer slapping a civilian six times as he lay handcuffed and face-down on the pavement.
“We have Judge Willard on the hotline, I think,” Beaulieu said. “How are you, sir?”
“I’ve been better, sir, I can tell you that,” Willard says. “But I can tell you right here and right now I’m doing fine. My conscience is clear. It’s always been clear.”
He went on to detail his reasoning: The man in the video refused to come to court.
The judge issued a material-witness bond for his arrest, and still he didn’t appear. Willard was “shocked, surprised and appalled” that the state failed to get him there. Without the man, the judge reasoned, he could not identify the victim and thus could not prove that the officer had actually battered him.
The hosts asked Cannizzaro to respond, but Willard kept talking.
“Wait, just, I didn’t cut you off,” Cannizzaro interjected.
“Please, please, please, judge,” the hosts said.
Cannizzaro managed to get in that all the state had to prove was that the officer had battered a human — any human.
Willard also said that three other officers could be seen in the video, but that none of them was charged. Cannizzaro retorted that Kendrick is the only who smacked a handcuffed man.
“I’m at the front door if you gentlemen would like to let me in,” Willard announced.
One of the hosts said no, and they soon cut the line.
Willard said Wednesday that he had called the radio station to clarify the case from the point of view of someone who’d been in the courtroom all day. He said he believes criticism of his decision to acquit Kendrick is unfounded, and that the press is intentionally trying to raise his “hateability scale.”
Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor, said that although judges can’t discuss pending cases, they’re not bound to keep quiet after a verdict is rendered.
“That the judge called in was quite unusual,” Ciolino wrote in an email. “His comments, however, did not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct given that the case is over. Odd, but not unethical.”
La. Democrats’ leader no fan of Serpas
As the official leader of Louisiana’s Democrats, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson is technically on the same political team as New Orleans’ Democratic mayor, Mitch Landrieu. But she obviously does not think much of his police chief.
Under fire recently over apparent glitches in the way his department tabulates crime statistics, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas has stoutly defended himself, brushing off suggestions that the NOPD might be significantly underreporting serious crimes citywide or thefts in the French Quarter.
Peterson isn’t buying it.
In a Twitter message Wednesday, she posted: “This sounds familiar ... same thing he did in Nashville!”
That’s a reference to the chief’s previous role as superintendent in Music City, where critics and some news reports have suggested crime statistics were inaccurate.
And in case anyone was unsure where Peterson stood, she added a series of brutal, if perhaps repetitive, hashtags: “#Fraudulent,” “#misrepresentation,” “#dishonest.”
Brossett to make run for District D seat
It has been one of the worst-kept secrets in New Orleans politics for months, and now state Rep. Jared Brossett is ready to make it official: He is running for the District D seat on the City Council that his political mentor, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, will give up next year.
He will formally announce his candidacy Nov. 7 at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.
Brossett was Hedge-Morrell’s chief of staff before he was elected to the District 97 seat in the state House in 2009. He succeeded J.P. Morrell, Hedge-Morrell’s son, who had been elected to the state Senate.
J.P. Morrell, in turn, had won the House seat in 2006 when his father, Arthur Morrell, left the Legislature after more than 20 years and became clerk of Criminal District Court.
Brossett is an honorary member of the Morrells’ personal and political families, and his victory in 2009 in effect kept the Gentilly-based House seat in the family. Now he wants to do the same with the Gentilly-based council seat, which Hedge-Morrell has held since early 2005.
Hedge-Morrell, who is barred by term limits from running for her district seat again, is expected to run for the at-large seat that Jackie Clarkson will have to give up next year because of term limits.
Brossett is a lifelong New Orleanian who graduated from McDonogh 35 High School and Xavier University.
Compiled by staff writers Claire Galofaro, Andrew Vanacore and Bruce Eggler.