In Orleans Parish, the District Attorney is an elected position, with the office holder serving as the chief prosecutor in the parish. He or she is responsible for managing the prosecutor’s office, investigating alleged crimes in cooperation with law enforcement, and filing criminal charges or bringing evidence before the Grand Jury. Four candidates are vying to become the next Orleans Parish District Attorney.
Keva Landrum is a former criminal court judge, who resigned from the bench to run for District Attorney. She is also a former assistant district attorney who led the office as interim DA in 2007.That experience gives her a unique perspective as she vies to become Orleans Parish top prosecutor, she says.
While she has seen some progress around reform, Landrum says that as DA, she wants to “stand at the helm” of the conversations about criminal justice reform and “move the city forward.”
“I believe I am the only candidate in this race with the experience needed to deliver on meaningful criminal justice reform, while prosecuting violent criminal, both of which I have a proven track record of doing successfully throughout my career,” says Landrum. “ As a former district attorney and chief judge of Criminal District Court, I understand the importance of prosecuting violent criminals and pursing justice for victims and their families. I have also seen the toll an unfair system can take on our community.
If elected, Landrum says she is committed to reforming the bail system by using a pre-trial assessment tool to determine which defendants pose a real risk to the community and those that return to the community, jobs and families as they await trial. She beliefs bail reform must be fair, while also protecting the community and victims, she says.
“People are innocent until proven guilty, and the purpose of bail is to ensure that individuals return for future court appearances,” she says, adding that as a deputy chief and chief judge in criminal court, she led efforts to strengthen pre-trail services.
City Councilman at Large Jason Williams currently serves as the chairman of the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, where he is leading the effort to examine the allocation of funding across the criminal justice system in Orleans Parish.
And if the commission charged with this task determines that money could be cut from DA’s office and used to help strengthen mental health or job training programs across the city, Williams says he will be just fine with that—even if he is the next district attorney. That is just how committed to criminal justice reform the lawyer and lawmaker is, he says.
“I have focused on criminal justice reform. We have brought many. We have reduced the size of the jail, but I believe the DA’s office is where we can really change the next 300 years.”
He says that transparency will be key to his administration if elected.
“That transparency piece will be about putting all the DA’s information to the public—who we’re charging, who we’re not charging, who we have hired in office, are we hiring in a way that is representative of the community—putting all that on my website, on a dashboard so that the public can see on any given day how we are doing.”
Williams says she will abandon the overuse of the state’s habitual offender law and ensure that trials and plea bargains, especially, are fair and not driven by coercion or pressure.
“When the defense is having a conversation with an ADA about a plea bargain, they will be having a real conversation—not one where a defendant is faced with a bad choice and a worse choice,” says Williams.
Williams was first elected to the City Council in 2014.
He has been a police officer, an attorney, and a criminal court judge. And with those experiences, retired judge Arthur Hunter asserts there is no candidate in the race better prepared than he to become the city’s next District Attorney.
“I am running because I want us to be a safer city,” says Hunter. “I also want us to be a smarter city by reducing recidivism, which means putting programs to together for people who commit non-violent offenses, putting them on a different path.”
Still, Hunter says he will be tough on violent offenders and that his background gives him insight on how to tackle the issue.
“I was a former police officer, so I know what we need to do be safe. I am going to work with NOPD and we are going to create special crimes unit, and we are going to target those drug gangs and violent offenders because they are not only killing each other, but innocent people as well,” he says. “We’re going to use common sense. I am not going to prosecute simple marijuana possession cases. I am going to devote those limited resources the DA’s office does have to serious crime.”
Hunter vows not to rely on the state’s habitual offender law to seek enhanced charges at trial or force plea bargains in cases of non-violent offenses.
He has outlined several other policy changes that would take effect on day one if he is elected, including not seeking bail or objecting to ROR requests for offenders not deemed a danger to the community or a flight risk; working with victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse to overcome fears about testifying, and never use the threat of subpoena or jail to force cooperation; and waiving the District Attorney’s portion of the filing fee for expungements.
Morris Reed says he wants to be New Orleans’ next District Attorney because the office needs to be reformed. And he says no other candidate will bring the experience he will bring to the office.
Reed has served as a criminal court and traffic court judge and is a former federal and state prosecutor. Reed headed up the Civil Rights Unit for the U.S. Attorney Office, Eastern District of Louisiana and he is a former NOPD officer. He was the first director of the city’s Office of Municipal Investigations.
He wants to bring accountability to the criminal justice system as the next DA.
“I feel very strongly about what the culture of the next generation of the District Attorney’s office is going to be like, and I want to bring 50 years of experience in the criminal justice system—one where I have prosecuted and jailed roque police officers for killing innocent citizens. I feel very strongly about civil rights.”
Reed says he will establish a Civil Rights Division in the DA’s office if elected. Respect and protection of all citizens will be his goal.
“We are going to prosecute major drug offenders. I worked the largest drug case ever to be prosecuted in this district—200 tons of cocaine, street value $50 million. There hasn’t been one worked like that (since) and that was 20 years ago. We are going to have expertly trained ADA’s dedicated to prosecuting major narcotic offenders.”