Over the two plus years Nowdy and I have done this blog I’ve had occasion to take employees of news organizations out to the woodshed from time to time for sloppy reporting. Notice I did not use the term journalist or journalism as such implies a level of professionalism which is invariably missing when I bring the wood. With few exceptions my poison missives are directed at the national financial media, which in reality is a collection of well read parrots and whores such as AP reporter Ieva Augstums or Reuter’s Kevin Drawbaugh (The brothel over at CNBC is another post). After reading my poison posts invariably I’ll get an email from a real journalist with the question along the lines did you email them for clarification before you ripped them? While I don’t normally waste valuable finger time with financial reporters that should know better I will go out of my way for the local press and that brings us to today’s topic of Craig Codina, a serial drunk driver that I introduced to the Slabbed nation early this month where I profiled the politics of drunk driving in Jefferson Parish and identified the unqualified political hack responsible in former Parish President Aaron Broussard’s daughter in law Norma. And it is with Craig Codina’s recent plea to his 4th drunk driving offense, the one that finally killed an innocent motorists that we’ll visit with next. Times Picayune employee Michelle Hunter filed the story:
Craig Codina, a multiple DWI offender from Destrehan, pleaded guilty Monday to vehicular homicide and third-offense DWI in connection with two separate Metairie car crashes.
Codina, 26, also pleaded guilty to first-degree negligent injuring before Judge Conn Regan in Gretna’s 24th Judicial District Court, according to Trooper Melissa Matey, spokeswoman for the State Police.
The homicide and negligent injuring charges stem from an Aug. 1 wreck on Airline Drive in Metairie that killed Sandra Stevens, 30, of New Orleans, and severely injured Santos Garcia, 28.
Codina pleaded guilty to third-offense DWI as well as careless operation of a motor vehicle in connection with an October 2008 accident on Causeway Boulevard in which he crashed into the back of a vehicle driven by a teenager. She was not injured.
Despite the fact that the August fatal wreck was Codina’s fourth arrested for driving while intoxicated, he was booked only with second-offense DWI for both that crash and the Causeway Boulevard wreck.
That’s because the Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office was erroneously informed that Codina’s first conviction in St. Charles Parish in 2001 was for underage DWI, which can’t be used to enhance penalties for subsequent offenses.
The mistake came to light after a Times-Picayune article in August about Codina’s record. Codina actually pleaded guilty to first-offense DWI in 2001. Prosecutors upgraded the charge in the October 2008 crash to felony third-offense DWI, after learning about his past record.
Regan sentenced Codina on Monday to 30 days in parish prison for the careless operation charge. Neither Codina, nor his attorney, David Motter, could be reached for comment Thursday.
Codina and his attorney David Motter were not the only folks unavailable for comment as I sent Ms Hunter an e-mail seeking clarification of the paragraphs I highlighted above:
I read your story on Craig Codina and was confused by this paragraph.
“Despite the fact that the August fatal wreck was Codina’s fourth arrested for driving while intoxicated, he was booked only with second-offense DWI for both that crash and the Causeway Boulevard wreck.
That’s because the Jefferson Parish district attorney’s office was erroneously informed that Codina’s first conviction in St. Charles Parish in 2001 was for underage DWI, which can’t be used to enhance penalties for subsequent offenses”
Assuming the St Charles Parish DWI was not counted should not his Causeway accident been a second offense DWI and the Airline Drive Accident a third offense? The story implies one DWI was lost in the shuffle as it relates to his last accident.
We’ve covered Mr Codina’s case recently on our legal affairs blog Slabbed and would like to highlight your story but I want to make sure I get it right before I author the post. Thanks.
I never received a reply.
Now folks I think everyone understands the Connick family name is huge in the New Orleans area but that is not an excuse for a newspaper to shirk its journalistic responsibilities and go into the excuse making business for elected politicians. You see even accounting for that lost St Charles Parish DUI the October 2008 accident on the Causeway was #2 and the fatal accident caused by Codina 10 months later would be #3. I’ll admit an assumption inherent in my logic is that it should not take 10 months to prosecute a repeat offender DUI, especially one involved in an accident but maybe we’re just oddballs here in Mississippi that way as the pace of our system is a tad quicker.
I continue to be amused by the fact that both the first Times Picayune story on Codina from August 2009 and the latest one profiled above still managed to elicit no on the record comments from the woman in charge of DUI prosecutions in Jefferson Parish, Norma Broussard. That is not always the case however and Norma’s availability to the press evidently depends on the subject matter. For instance when the success of the red light camera program was trumpted to the public, Times Picayune reporter Colley Charpentier managed to score some commentary from good ol’ Norma:
While the cameras have been catching red-light runners for months, accused motorists are now getting their day in court. Officials at 2nd Parish Court had their first scheduled red-light camera citation hearings March 26. In 1st Parish Court, camera cases are just beginning to appear regularly on the traffic court dockets.
There are usually 25 to 30 cases set for hearings, but actual trials like Winkler’s are rare, said Norma Broussard, director of the district attorney’s Parish Court Unit.
“A lot of them end up pleading guilty once they see the video,” she said.
On a recent evening of assigned hearings, ticketed drivers met with a prosecutor during a pretrial meeting to go over the evidence, including the photographs and the video clip, which many motorists have never viewed. The mailed citation instructs drivers how to check the video online, but few seem to do so, Broussard said.
Once motorists ask for a hearing, they risk almost doubling their ticket with about $100 in court fees imposed if they cannot convince the traffic hearing officer of their innocence.
Despite a warning about court costs on the back of the ticket, few people seemed to know about that, either. Drivers who pleaded guilty at 1st Parish Court the same night as Winkler’s trial were flabbergasted.
“Why is it so high?,” Jimmie Nelson, 56, of Harvey, asked the clerk when told that she would have to pay $214. “This is totally ridiculous.”
Of course Richard Rainey at the Times Picayune took a second look at those red light cameras and the reasons for the high court fees comes into sharper focus:
Councilman Chris Roberts wants to end Jefferson Parish’s controversial stop-light camera program after learning that the contractor plans to pay a politically connected consultant part of the $20 million so far collected in fines.
Redflex Traffic Systems of Phoenix, Ariz., arranged to pay Bryan Wagner, a former New Orleans City Council member, 3.2 percent of the cash it expects to make off fines from drivers at 11 intersections adorned with cameras, according to a Redflex letter to parish attorney Tom Wilkinson.
Roberts said he will ask his colleagues Wednesday to suspend the program, which has collected more than $19.7 million in fines since its October 2007 inception.
Under the camera program, drivers caught running stoplights must pay $110 for each offense. Redflex’s contract with the parish states the company is to receive $48.50 from each of the first 100 tickets issued monthly by each camera at each intersection; $22.50 for each of the next 50 tickets; and $13.50 from every ticket after that.
The rest of the money is split among various parish government agencies.
But all the revenue, including Redflex’s share, is tied up in escrow after several drivers challenged the parish in court over the cameras.
Bunkse said the company had agreed to pay the Baton Rouge consulting group Courson Nickel $45,000 to lobby the Legislature and to pay Wagner an annual percentage of the company’s earning from the Jefferson contract. The letter also stated that Redflex intends to keep its arrangements with Wagner and Courson Nickel in place this year.
In December 2006, the council picked Redflex over another Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions, to run the camera program. Before the deal, Redflex hired Wagner, who brought in his associate, Julie Murphy, who is married to 24th Judicial District Judge Robert Murphy. Julie Murphy and Wagner also work together as insurance brokers for Bryan Wagner Insurance.
Once again we see someone connected to 24th District Chief Judge Murphy (who we previously profiled for giving curatorships to Aaron Broussard in January) profiting from dealing with the parish in his wife Julie. How far the money is being spread is anyone’s guess but does anyone else see a potential conflict of interest involving a sitting judge whose wife is making money from the criminal justice system? It was Mr Lawyer who stopped in with us last Saturday to take me out to the woodshed that provides the color:
Additionally, appeals from Parish Court, where Ms Broussard is a supervisor, and where much of her prosecuting experience was garnered, are heard first by the 24th Judicial District Court, which does not report appeal decisions.
I bet there is a reason they don’t report their appeals decisions. So here it is folks, we have Murphy’s wife making money from the tickets related to the red light camera program and any appeal ends up in the 24th judicial district where her husband is the Chief Judge. Judge Murphy gives a sitting Parish President curatorships, Broussard’s daughter in law goes into hiding whenever tough questions are asked while the Times Picayune makes excuses for a DA that allowed a serial drunk driver to remain on the streets for 10 months after his second offense DWI and the guy ended up killing someone while driving drunk. I could be wrong but it appears there is also a Connick and a Murphy in that Jefferson Parish corruption woodpile. Former Judge Joan Benge should not be the only one to have her portrait removed from the 24th Judicial District Courtroom.
Here at Slabbed we’re very content to piggyback off the local media. However, it appears when it comes to peeling back all the layers of corruption and double dealing in Jefferson Parish we may have to take the point.