Throughout the race for Orleans Parish District Attorney, three of the four candidates have done their best to convince voters that criminal justice reform is at the forefront of their agenda. All have made it a point to distance themselves from the current DA, Leon Cannizzaro. But who are the candidates, and what are their stances on the specific issues that matter to you?
This piece is not intended as an endorsement of any specific candidate. Instead, it is an attempt to provide voters with important information on the candidates’ background, history, platforms, and beliefs. For voters hoping to achieve any measure of criminal justice reform, the race for DA is pivotal, as the District Attorney’s office serves as the central point for every aspect of the local criminal justice system.
Throughout her campaign, Keva Landrum has made a point to emphasize that she is the only candidate with prosecutorial experience – something she believes will be necessary for reforming the DA’s office. Landrum’s prosecutorial experience began under the controversial Harry Connick, Sr., whose policies and practices have been widely criticized.
In 2007, Landrum became Louisiana’s first woman DA – where she instituted a tough-on-crime policy of charging marijuana offenders with felonies if they had a prior conviction. However, on the ACLU’s survey of DA candidates, Landrum stated that as DA, she would not prosecute individuals for simple marijuana possession. Instead, she would send those cases to municipal court to be prosecuted by the city attorney.
As a criminal court judge, Landrum maintains that she never issued material witness warrants for victims – a highly criticized policy of Cannizarro’s office – she did issue them in other cases. However, records show that in at least two cases, Landrum issued material witness warrants that would allow victims to be jailed.
Landrum has repeatedly stated that if elected, she would create an independent unit staffed with experienced investigators and prosecutors to pursue allegations of misconduct by police officers. She has pledged to enact a policy of transparency, independence, and impartiality while investigating complaints of police misconduct, and would reject criminal cases built on police misconduct.
Landrum boasts a number of endorsements in this race, including those of the New Orleans Advocate|Times-Picayune, the Gambit, and Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
Arthur Hunter has served 23 years as a Criminal Court judge. Before that, he served a short stint as a New Orleans police officer. In his time on the bench, Hunter gained a reputation as a reformer. He welcomed a hearing to strike down nonunanimous juries but stopped short of issuing a final ruling. He did, however, strike down a New Orleans law that made begging illegal as unconstitutional.
As a Criminal Court judge, Hunter concedes that he did occasionally sign off on material witness warrants. In at least one case, the warrant was issued for a victim of an alleged domestic violence incident. However, there is no record of that witness having been jailed. Hunter claims that as a judge, he had no choice but to issue warrants if they were brought before him under the Louisiana Revised Statutes 15:257 (Code of Criminal Procedure), saying that the statute leaves no room for judicial discretion.
Hunter has told the ACLU that he believes the rate of incarceration can be reduced by up to 40 percent and that a 50 percent reduction in pretrial incarcerations is also possible. Hunter also stated that he believes the habitual offender law “almost always leads to excessive sentences,” and pledged not to use it for nonviolent offenses.
Hunter has stated that as DA, he will request independent investigations into injuries and killings caused by police action. In addition, Hunter stated that he plans to prosecute any such cases in the Orleans Parish DA’s office, as he does not trust those cases to be properly handled in the Lousiana Attorney General’s office. He has also said that he will make a list documenting police officers accused of dishonesty, perjury, excessive force, and other misconduct available to the public.
Hunter also boasts a number of endorsements, including The New Orleans Tribune, the Independent Women’s Organization, Forum for Equality, the New Orleans Firefighters, and Voters Organized.
New Orleans’ current City Council President is a former criminal defense attorney. In addition, Williams served only three months on the Criminal Court bench before being appointed to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Williams is an unusual DA candidate, as he is currently indicted on felony tax fraud charges. While a dismissal hearing is scheduled for late October, the case is expected to go to trial in January. Williams has contended that the case is a political move by Cannizzaro, similar to when Cannizzaro announced an anonymous criminal complaint against LaToya Cantrell while backing her opponent Desiree Charbonnet in the mayoral race.
Williams is the only DA candidate to pledge “yes” to all pivotal issues presented on the ACLU’s Civil Liberties questionnaire, as well as the only candidate to have adopted the People’s DA Coalition’s entire policy platform. However, it is worth noting that Williams was a financial supporter of Cannizzaro during his previous campaign. In addition, Williams has accepted campaign money from controversial figures such as charter school promoter Leslie Jacobs and real estate developers Pres Kabacoff and Aaron Motwani. In addition, Williams has stated that he would advocate a return to NOPD task force policing, in spite of those task forces having been discontinued due to questionable policing tactics.
Williams is endorsed by the Alliance for Good Government and the New Orleans Coalition.
This will be Morris Reed Sr.’s fifth run for Orleans Parish District Attorney, however, finding any information on his campaign, policies, or platform is difficult. Reed has no campaign website and isn’t active on social media. Reed did not respond to the ACLU’s Civil Liberties questionnaire and he did not attend the People’s DA Coalition DA Candidate Forum or the candidate forum hosted by Step Up for Action.