More shenanigans in chambers
Judge Julian Parker handcuffs a public defender Francis deBlanc Friday in Orleans Parish
Judges’ fight puts New Orleans prosecutor in cuffs
by Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
Friday November 21, 2008, 9:53 PM
A routine hearing in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court devolved into a tug-of-war Friday, with two judges tussling over the attention of a prosecutor — who ultimately ended up in handcuffs.
Friday afternoons are typically quiet at Tulane and Broad — but the fireworks kicked off about 3 p.m. in Judge Julian Parker’s courtroom. Parker was set to hold a status hearing in the case of Vanessa Johnson, who is accused of giving her son a gun he used to murder an acquaintance.
The troubled case, which hinges on the uncertain testimony of one witness, has been delayed several times.
Assistant District Attorney Francis deBlanc waited to handle the hearing.
DeBlanc, however, was needed upstairs. He was the key prosecutor in a days-long murder trial in its final throes in Judge Camille Buras’ courtroom.
Buras wanted deBlanc; Parker refused to give him up.
Buras marched into Parker’s courtroom, and the pair chatted in his chambers for a few minutes before she stormed out.
“C’mon Mr. deBlanc, you have a murder trial to tend to, ” Buras said, motioning for the prosecutor to follow.
Parker rose from the bench and pointed at him.
“Mr. deBlanc, you walk out that door and you are going to jail, ” he said.
DeBlanc, a veteran prosecutor, sat in his chair, shook his head and sighed. Buras told him to leave. He began to rise.
Parker shouted to his courtroom sheriff’s deputy: “Put him under arrest. I’m giving you an order.”
The deputy handcuffed deBlanc, marched him across the courtroom and sat him in the jury box. Across the aisle, a handful of handcuffed criminal defendants in orange prison jumpsuits watched with wide eyes.
Buras retreated to the hallway and said she was calling the criminal sheriff. Parker went on with an unrelated case.
DeBlanc stared into his hands and into space while his murder trial awaited upstairs. At 3:30 p.m., about 30 minutes after deBlanc was handcuffed, the district attorney’s chief of trials, Joseph Meyer, walked in and met with Parker in his chambers.
Again the court docket paused as inmates smirked.
Meyer emerged from the room and motioned for deBlanc to leave and the prosecutor scurried out of the courtroom. The court remained in recess until about 4:20.
Meyer then stood before Parker and acted on behalf of deBlanc in the status hearing in the murder case against Johnson. Meyer said they planned to push forward with the case.
“If you are sincere about that, ” said an agitated Parker, “then I’ll take this case up next Wednesday.”
With deBlanc upstairs, handling his higher-priority murder trial, Parker scheduled the Johnson murder trial for Wednesday at 9 a.m.
Reached later by phone, Parker, who is unable to comment on any case in his courtroom, said it is imperative that cases move swiftly through the criminal justice system.
In the past few years, there have been “too many delays, too many continues” by the district attorney’s office, he said. “Criminal cases don’t get better with age, ” he said. “We need to speed things along.”
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said it’s common for prosecutors to juggle simultaneous cases in separate courtrooms.
As for the handcuffing of a prosecutor, Cannizzaro noted, “It’s not the norm.”
“We like to keep lawyers, especially the prosecutors, out of handcuffs, ” he said.