Sunday, November 05, 2017

Zombies and monsters

Hugo Holland is the prosecutor/lobbyist who succeeded at watering down this year's criminal justice reform package during the legislative session. He has a fascinating origin story.
The incident that cost Holland his job started in December of 2011, when he and another prosecutor, Lea Hall, falsified documents in an attempt to obtain eight M-16 rifles for themselves through a Pentagon program that gives surplus military equipment to police departments across the country. Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator said that the two prosecutors ordered the guns without his knowledge, and that he wouldn’t approved if they had asked.

This raises the question of why a couple of prosecutors would want a cache of M-16s in the first place. Back in 2009, Hall and Holland formed what they informally called the “Zombie Response Team.” It began as a bunch of prosecutors who got together on their days off to shoot guns and engage in tactical training. It eventually morphed into something quasi-official. Citing deposition testimony, the TV station KTBS reported in 2015 that the prosecutors had “equipped their vehicles with emergency lights and sirens, pulled motorists over, conducted surveillance work and accompanied police officers when warrants were served.” Some members of the “team” also began wearing SWAT-like clothing during work hours, and had designed a patch and license plates with the zombie team’s logo. (One member of the team is now a district court judge.) KTBS quoted from the deposition of one Caddo prosecutor who found it all pretty disturbing: “I went to law school. I’m supposed to go stand in court. I’m not supposed to be at crime scenes … I’m thinking about how stupid it is that they want to go out and play cop.”

He didn't stay "fired" for long. In fact, you could say it was, as the cliche goes, the best thing that ever happened to him.  Holland quickly resurrected his career. And, much like a zombie, perhaps, it became all the more terrifying.
But that forced resignation would prove to be a boon to both Holland’s career and his bank account. Holland recently told the Advocate that he was idle “for about two days” after his resignation before he began to receive freelancing offers from other DAs. Even Caddo, the same parish that fired him, quickly hired him back on a contractual basis. By the end of 2014, a year and a half after his resignation, six parishes were paying Holland between $8,000 and $24,000 to prosecute or review cases. He made at least $126,000 from freelance prosecuting in 2014, already more than the $120,540 he made during his last fiscal year as a full-time prosecutor.
From there it only gets worse. Holland's lobbying on behalf of the Louisiana Distict Attorneys has blunted or beaten back most statewide efforts at sentencing reform, has preserved the death penalty in Louisiana, and placed greater fiscal stress on the state's already underfunded public defenders. It has also greatly supplemented his "freelancing" income. That Post feature itemizes Holland's various billings he has charged to taxpayers along the way in the employ of this or that Parish DA.

In short,  Holland is a monster and a major obstacle to true criminal justice reform. There's much more in this article to keep as reference. I'd encourage you to bookmark it.

For example, there is this helpful summary of the exploits of our friend Leon.
Orleans Parish DA Leon Cannizzaro, for example, has often been touted as a reformer. In 2014  He set up a conviction integrity unit in the office to work with the New Orleans Innocence Project to uncover wrongful convictions. Given the legacy of Harry Connick, that seemed like a welcome break from the old culture.

But Cannizzaro hasn’t strayed far from his predecessor. Since taking office in 2009, he too has been accused of withholding exculpatory evidence in murder cases. His office was recently found to have been knowingly (and illegally) issuing fake subpoenas to intimidate witnesses, and was just hit with a lawsuit on the matter. He has also recently come under fire for locking up rape victims to compel them to testify, and faced accusations that he had a defense investigator arrested in retaliation for that investigator’s exposure of misconduct in Cannizzaro’s office.

As much of the country talks about decarceration, Cannizzaro has locked people up at a rate far exceeding even his punitive predecessors. New Orleans has seen a 15 percent increase in state prisoners since he took office, even as the state’s overall prison population dropped by 5 percent. Cannizzaro too spoke out againstreforming the state’s marijuana possession laws, and once used the state’s habitual offender law to argue for a life sentence for a man arrested for stealing $15.

A report published last year concluded that Cannizzaro “chooses to transfer children to adult court in almost every possible instance,” including children with mental disabilities, and children who played a minor role in the alleged crime. And a 2015 report from the Phillips Black Project found that only Los Angeles handed down more life sentences to juveniles than New Orleans in the past five years.

Cannizzaro eventually stopped asking for funding for his innocence unit, and the entire project was scrapped barely a year after it started.  Since then, when defense attorneys have produced witnesses who recant their testimony in potential innocence cases — often attributing their wrongful testimony to threats from police officers — Cannizzaro has had those witnesses arrested and charged with perjury. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Connick himself recently wrote a letter to the editor praising Cannizzaro.

Monsters everywhere.   In a recent interview with NOLA.com Governor Edwards suggested there won't be much effort to push further on this year's incomplete criminal justice reforms in the next legislative session.  Which is to say, the monsters are winning.

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