It was in the fall of 2006 that I attended my second funeral for a person killed in an accident involving a drunk driver but this time it was extra tough as the victim was a 5 year old girl that was killed on US Highway 98 in Marion County when a drunk driver rammed into the back of the SUV driven by her daddy. The force of the impact caused the SUV to flip several times after it went into the median. Momma was also in the vehicle and her legs were crushed. At the time the surgeons did not know if one of her legs could be saved. She couldn’t come to her baby’s funeral due to those injuries. As I approached the family and the casket I was worried as I didn’t know what words of comfort I would offer to the family. All I could do was shake my head when I got to the front of the line as I was uncharacteristically at a loss for words. “The funeral home did a wonderful job for my baby” her dad remarked to me as we gazed at her in the casket. Indeed they had as half her face had been crushed in the accident. To this day I don’t think he has recovered from that loss.
Jim Brown rekindled those memories for me with his recently published column that took Louisiana’s courts and DAs to task for not enforcing the existing DUI laws. In response to that column we were pleased to have the Avoyelles Parish DA stop in with us begging to differ with the premise of Jim’s column but we also noted that Jim stuck to his guns in his reply. Curious as to the real cause of the problem I sent out some email inquiries to several of the Louisiana based lawyers that we count as regular Slabbed readers and that input, along with my remembrance of a fairly recent story involving a repeat DUI offender in Jefferson Parish resulted in this post where we’ll explore the politics of the DUI as it exists in Jefferson Parish.
Let’s begin by backing up to August of last year and the case of Craig Codina, a serial drunk driver who finally killed someone in his fourth alcohol fueled accident as Paula Devlin reported for the Times Picayune:
When State Police handcuffed Craig Codina last weekend for plowing his truck into the back of a car on Airline Drive, sending the other driver to the hospital and fatally injuring a passenger, it marked his fourth drunken-driving arrest in just eight years.
In fact, the 25-year-old Destrehan man is scheduled to appear in court this week for trial in the third case, a frighteningly similar crash in which he is accused of smashing into the back of a teenager’s car on Causeway Boulevard in October.
Yet in last weekend’s fatal collision, Codina was booked only with second-offense DWI, and State Police say his license was not under suspension.
Codina hasn’t been the beneficiary of any special treatment. He has been prosecuted, convicted and punished like most other DWI defendants in Louisiana. Yet he was still driving on a valid license last weekend because of delays in the judicial system and because of the way state law is written.
And that doesn’t sit right with Lisa Cannon, the mother of the victim in Codina’s third DWI case, nor with Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“I don’t understand why they keep letting these repeat offenders out, ” Cannon said. “Obviously, there’s a problem after the second time. Now it’s his fourth, and he’s finally managed to kill somebody. It’s a shame.”
Ms Devlin managed to speak with several official sources in an attempt to find out how a serial offender could slip through the system. However the one person not quoted for this tragic story was the lady in charge of prosecuting DUIs in Jefferson Parish in former Parish President Aaron Broussard’s daughter in law Norma, a lawyer known for being long on ability to secure positions requiring much legal experience while being short on actual trial experience as one of our readers remarked after running searches on West Law and PACER for us:
What’s really astounding is that as a lawyer, she had only 2 published opinions. Assistant DA’s generally have their names on hundreds of opinions because they handle such a large volume of cases and so many criminal appeals are lodged.
As a tax lawyer or real estate lawyer, you would not expect many published opinions. But if a lawyer does any kind of civil or criminal litigation, you can expect to accumulate several published opinions over years of practice. It seems she’s managed to do virtually nothing as a lawyer.
Actually Norma’s name turned up in 3 cases, 2 as a lawyer and one as an agent of process and it is with that last case that we will delve a bit deeper as it reveals some connections to the Chehardy law firm. The text is from the West Law document on the case Firestone Financial v Team Vending:
Plaintiff Firestone Financial, Corp. (“Firestone”) filed this suit on February 13, 2004. One week later, plaintiff’s counsel mailed a stamped copy of the Complaint and personal service waiver forms by certified mail to the registered agent for service of process for defendant Team Vending, Inc., Norma B. Broussard. Thereafter, on March 8, 2004, Team Vending’s registered agent listing was changed to identify defendant Paradela as its agent for service of process. On March 19, 2004, plaintiff sent waiver forms and stamped copies of the Complaint to Paradela.
The first thing I’ll noted was it seemed strange someone working at the DA’s office would serve as the registered agent of a private company but a reader alerted me to the fact that before Norma went to work for Paul Connick she was an associate at the Chehardy law firm. In fact they must like Norma a good bit at Chehardy as they still have her web page up that lists her as an associate on their website. Known for only hiring experienced lawyers with years of experience and a readymade book of business, Norma managed to score a position at Chehardy Sherman with little to no experience. That makes sense as the firm has long standing ties to Norma’s father in law, disgraced former Parish president Aaron Broussard and they most likely hired her as a favor to him.
Norma had bigger plans though and once Aaron Broussard mended fences with Paul Connick after the 1996 election (Broussard supported Jack Capella) the entire Parish Government including Connicks office morphed into a place where nepotism for the Broussards and their extended political family became the norm, with experience and qualifications taking a back seat. Norma for her part attempted to parley her position with DA Connick’s office into a Judgeship and it is there we stop next as the campaign ads tell the story.
I laughed at the first commercial because little did Ms Miller know at the time the true extent of the damage done the Parish by Aaron Broussrad and his ilk. Norma Broussard lost the election.
So how does a 4 time DUI loser manage to prowl the streets of Jefferson Parish driving drunk until he killed someone? I think we’re all learning some simple, hard and ugly truths about the politics of DUI’s in Louisiana.
Several readers contributed to this post with a special hat tip to Jim Brown for kick starting the conversation.