New Orleans District Attorney Resigns
NEAL CONAN, host:
Right now, New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan is calling it quits. He resigned today, citing a $3.7 million lawsuit against his office as the reason. The case involves several former employees were fired shortly after he came to office. Jordan is African-American. The plaintiffs are white. They won their suit and alleged that they were victims of discrimination.
Last week, a federal judge refused to delay payment in the case, meaning the assets of the D.A.'s office could be seized. And that's just one of the scandals that Jordan has faced.
Gwen Filosa is a reporter with The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. She's been covering the story and joins us now from her office. And it's nice to have you on the program again.
Ms. GWEN FILOSA (Reporter, New Orleans Times Picayune): Oh, thanks for having me.
CONAN: And tell us a little bit about the details of this lawsuit against Eddie Jordan.
Ms. FILOSA: This lawsuit - it actually stemmed from one of his first official acts as district attorney. When he took over the helm in January 2003, within weeks, he fired scores of support staff workers and investigators - not a single lawyer - but people who've worked there for decades.
All of them were white except for one person who is Hispanic, but they are all replaced by black applicants. And they sued, citing a civil rights violation that race was used as a factor. And one jury found Mr. Jordan liable for discriminating and - that the initial judgment was $1.9 million. But between appeals and interests and court costs and other things, it has ballooned into 3.7 and counting.
CONAN: And counting because fines are adding up every day that they don't pay it.
Ms. FILOSA: Correct, the interest is - this is a past due judgment right now.
CONAN: And the federal court order ordering this, they can seize the assets of the district attorney's office, no?
Ms. FILOSA: That is correct. The plaintiffs on a week ago today, on Wednesday, they filed the right court motions and got a writ. They got the legal authority to direct the U.S. Marshals Service to go in and seize anything from payroll accounts to - I mean, the order is so sweeping. It's on property land.
CONAN: And at this point, what does the mayor say about this?
Ms. FILOSA: The mayor says that Mr. Jordan's resignation changes nothing. The city can afford it. And there's still is no answer. The state - even our local delegation here, legislators say, hey, it's the city's fault. The governor is not interested in sending money.
Ms. FILOSA: It is still a mess. It's still hanging over the city. And Mr. Jordan's resignation, while it may please certain groups of people, it doesn't change the fact that that office owes its people $3.7 million.
CONAN: And counting and the mayor also was quoted as saying he wouldn't pay it because the city couldn't afford it and also that he didn't want to set a precedent. What does that mean?
Ms. FILOSA: That keeps coming up. The mayor said that and another people -other players have said, oh, this sets a precedent, because this isn't the only jury verdict - there is a $14 million verdict hanging over the office from a wrongful prosecution suit in federal court that happened. That was over a case that the former D.A. Harry Connick out cheated - that one hasn't gone through appeals. The difference is the 3.7 is - it's past due. It's an anvil over the city. The 14 million is still…
Ms. FILOSA: Yeah. As is those other appeals - and you never know, but there - the mayor - he actually mentioned the $14 million yesterday and said, well, we can't set up a staff like that, but as a precedent.
CONAN: Well, I don't know what's going to be done about this, but in the past, federal court orders in the South had a lot of resonance, during the civil rights movement, and elected officials had declined to enforce the federal court orders had found themselves in a lot of trouble.
Ms. FILOSA: Correct, correct. I think it being in the federal jurisdiction, it's so much different. I mean, the state of Louisiana has lots of enforceable judgments hanging over in state court and they decided whether they're going to pay or they're not. But when it's a federal judgment, I mean - this thing is already signed. The plaintiffs' attorneys, the fired people that - their lawyers called this a self-imposed moratorium, not collecting.
CONAN: And this - Eddie Jordan came to office, having been the person who have convicted former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards of corruption. Yet, he leaves office, well, under siege.
Ms. FILOSA: Correct. He swept into office as the former U.S. attorney with the name recognition and the man who laid claim to putting our corrupt governor into federal prison after others had tried and failed at the federal level. Easily elected by 52 percent of the vote in 2002, taking over an office ran for 30 years by Harry Connick, swept an office - I mean, strode in there as this new era, and then leaves under this cloud of total criticism and…
CONAN: Well, this discrimination case not - hardly the only thing. There was the case of the armed robbery suspect who took shelter in the district attorney's house.
Ms. FILOSA: Correct, that's something that's still is - that hasn't gone away yet. And his live-in fiancee said that she knew this young man - his name is Elton Philips, he's still at large, I believe, as of this morning. Mr. Jordan said, oh, I didn't know who it was. And I didn't think of any - didn't think of doing anything about it. He said his resignation had nothing to do with it, but it was a bizarre incident recounted in detail by the local press. And it wasn't very pleasant for him.
CONAN: A lot of the comments on your newspaper's Web site have been unequivocal in their demands that the district attorney step down.
Ms. FILOSA: It certain has set off a storm of people who say, oh, this was a longtime coming. He's just been - it's been one, sort of, disaster after another, of murder cases, high-profile murder cases falling apart, witnesses disappearing, only to be brought in by the police the next day.
Although the office gets plenty of prosecutions - they were a violent city with no shortage of murder trials. But at the time when we're the highest murder in the nation right now and Mr. Jordan is just, been such a quiet presence ever since he took office that people does want more answers.
CONAN: And at one time, as you said, the swept into office, looked at - looked on this man with a future, maybe not so much now.
Ms. FILOSA: Yeah. This was his first ever time running for elected office, and he easily won it. He came from the federal system and found himself on the gritty corner of New Orleans where things are just much different than they are in federal court. And this seems to clearly be the end of his political career.
CONAN: Gwen Filosa, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.
Ms. FILOSA: Thank you.
CONAN: Gwen is a reported with the "Times Picayune" in New Orleans, and joined us from her office. And stay with us. We're going to be talking about the mid-season Super Bowl.