OP Criminal District Clerk’s race drilldown: Old line political hack v newcomer

Over the past several weeks I’ve taken an interest in the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court election which pits old line political hack Arthur Morrell against Robbie Keen, an Alabama transplant that ran the National Institute of Justice’s Orleans Parish Post-Conviction DNA Testing and Evidence Project which was tasked of organizing the disaster otherwise known as the Criminal Clerk’s evidence storage and tracking system. If you’ve heard of the Booker Diggins saga (Nowdy’s archival post on The State of Louisiana v Diggins can be found here) then you know Ms. Keen despite the fact she was behind the scenes. Let’s start with Claire Galofaro’s story for the Advocate from September 2013:

This history of the Diggins case reads like a legal thriller: When he returned to the courthouse last spring, after decades in prison, he was at first greeted as the latest example of prosecutorial misdeeds under former District Attorney Harry Connick.

Indeed it does as a man found guilty of rape and robbery almost walked free:

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro agreed to scrap Diggins’ conviction and let him plead guilty to a lesser crime that would have set him free on credit for time served.

Diggins believed he would leave prison that day.

Marullo scoffed at the deal and refused to accept it.

He ordered that Diggins stand trial again.

Just weeks later, an 11th-hour search requested by Cannizzaro turned up the rape kit itself, thought to have been lost for 20 years, on a shelf in a back corner of the courthouse attic. Prosecutors tested the DNA and found that, indeed, it belonged to Booker Diggins.

The Louisiana State Police’s crime lab found that one in 38,000 people might have left that DNA. The Innocence Project had the DNA tested, too, by a California analyst, whose results were even more damning.

That testing indicated Diggins was the only person on Earth who could have left that sample.

Who was responsible for finding that old rape kit? Robbie Keen as John Simerman explained the multi year saga to find it in today’s Advocate:

The first requests came as early as 2008 from Diggins’ attorneys with the Innocence Project in New York, said senior attorney Vanessa Potkin. Later, in 2012, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office made at least 10 requests over a six-month period. The response was the same each time: The evidence couldn’t be found.

Cannizzaro’s office finally agreed to scrap the conviction and let Diggins plead guilty to lesser charges and walk out of prison. But Judge Frank Marullo balked, ordering a new trial instead. So Cannizzaro’s office took another stab, asking Keen to search for the rape kit.

Nothing turned up on the “Beast” system when Keen’s staff and New Orleans police searched it. According to logs of the system from 2012, which Keen provided to The New Orleans Advocate, Morrell’s staff had never bothered to check the new computer system.

Keen said her staff then visited a warehouse, where a dusty log book contained an evidence card on the Diggins case. A copy of the card, provided by Keen, contains a handwritten notation showing the evidence was in the courthouse attic, where one of her staff then found it tucked away on a shelf.

If Morrell’s staff had looked in the log book, “it would have gotten them in the area,” said Keen. “They did not even go into the attic to look for it. They did not even get out of their chairs.”

Exactly. The jobs at the Criminal District Clerk’s office are all “at will” the translation being they are the fruits of the election victory passed out to friends and family of the Criminal District Clerk.  The results are quite predictable as the above illustrates.

Speaking of predictable, Slabbed obtained Arthur Morrell’s December 2013 campaign finance report and did some analysis in response to unusual contribution patterns I noted therein.  Turns out the vast majority of Morrell’s campaign cash came from his own employees and his outside law firm as the table below illustrates:

Breakdown of Arthur Morrell’s campaign contributors by donation. Click to obtain pdf file of data table. Source: Slabbed New Media content contributor

Mr. Morrell’s December 2013 Campaign Finance reporting form filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration can be found here.

The unusual patterns show at the top of the data table.  First everyone gave to the Morrell campaign on the same day if you take the campaign finance report at face value with two of Morrell’s employees making multiple donations on the same day.  It is those multiple donations that caught the eye of the fabled Slabbed research team mainly because it could possible fit a common campaign ca$h scheme Aaron Broussard used with his top management team: Ye old promissory note.

You see folks Broussard, as a condition of employment, would force his underlings to sign promissory notes which represented the amount of money he expected them to raise for the next election.  One could pay off the note oneself or gather contributions from outside sources and “bundle” them under one name.

By bundling I don’t mean those ads encouraging people to combine their phone and cable teevee no sir.  By bundling I mean Strawman Political Contributions, a topic Slabbed literally pioneered in our Louisiana political coverage.

I want to be clear I am not accusing Arthur Morrell of any illegal acts because there is no smoking gun to indicate that.  However, the data patterns indicate we have what an auditor would call “an elevated risk indicator”.  See former Civil District Court Judge C. Hunter King’s documented record of shaking his employees down for campaign case.

All I can say is that musta been one heckuva of a Christmas party over at the Criminal Clerk’s office with Morrell’s own employees playing the role of Santa Claus for their boss, upon whom their jobs depend.

All that said life still can’t be too shabby for Morrell’s peeps evidently enjoy certain taxpayer funded perks as Robert McClendon explains for for NOLA Media Group:

Tuesday evening’s forums, held by the Alliance for Good Government and the Orleans Parish Republican Executive Committee, threw the candidates’ styles into sharp relief. Their differences can be summed up by the answers they gave to two questions at the Alliance for Good Government forum.

Each was asked to give one-word answers to the following questions:

  • Do clerk’s office employees need government vehicles?
  • Should the clerk of court be elected or appointed?

Morrell said yes to both: The office does need city vehicles and the position should be elected.

Keen said no to both: Employees don’t need city vehicles, and the position should be appointed.

The New Orleans republicans endorsed the democrat Morrell over the independant Robbie Keen. As I always said there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the mainstreams of both political parties as it is all about being on the inside of the state, federal, local treasury dispensing perks like taxpayer funded vehicles to their political supporters. It shows in the endorsement IMHO.

Seems to me this race provides a stark contrast of a theme Slabbed has pushed since the DMR scandal broke whether Mississippi having a legacy political hack as State Auditor leading an office that no longer does any auditing or Louisiana where the Criminal District Court staff is too lazy to get off their asses and look for evidence in a rape case.  Keen, an outsider, faces tall odds going against the New Orleans political machine but if there is an an example of an office that could use some fresh blood the Criminal District Clerk’s office exemplifies it.

Slabbed will be covering this race.

One thought on “OP Criminal District Clerk’s race drilldown: Old line political hack v newcomer”

  1. Given the fact that Cannizaro takes a rather dim view of constitutional rights, one has to harbor a sliver of doubt as to when the sample was taken.

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