Judged asked to stop DA from giving info on case allotment

By By Johnathan Manning / American Press

A local attorney has asked a state district court judge to order the Calcasieu District Attorney’s Office to stop providing

information to the Clerk of Court about where cases are to be allotted.

Cases in the 14th Judicial District Court are randomly allotted, but are also allotted according to court rules — if a defendant

has a previous or pending case, the new charges follow the earlier charge.

Prosecutors said they provide information that the clerk does not have or is not readily available, at the clerk’s request.

Defense attorneys have cried foul and claim that gives the District Attorney’s Office an unfair advantage.

Attorney Wilford Carter, who recently

stepped down after 21 years as judge, filed a motion requesting Judge

Sharon Wilson

to order the District Attorney’s Office to “cease and desist from

directing the Clerk of Court of Calcasieu Parish from making

manual assignment of criminal cases.”

The issue has already been before Wilson, who replaced Carter in April. Carter, who represents five of the defendants in a

recent drug bust, “Operation 27,” said the defendants should remain in Wilson’s Division F, following the April 29 arrest

of Norvell Harris. Harris, one of two main co-defendants, had previous cases in Division F.

Prosecutors argued that if the cases

were transferred, the co-defendants — nearly 40 people have been

arrested — should follow

Tyrone Thomas, who has previous matters in Judge Kent Savoie’s

court, because he was the first person arrested in connection

with the drug sting.

The April 21 arrest did not have the same complaint number as the other “Operation 27” defendants. Thomas was arrested after

leaving the home of Harris, according to a motion filed by the District Attorney’s Office.

“Detectives believed and later confirmed that T. Thomas had met with N. Harris to purchase cocaine,” the motion reads. Thomas’

arrest was out of the “same nucleus of operative facts” as “Operation 27,” it reads.

Defense attorneys argued that the co-defendants should follow Harris, who was arrested April 29, along with Hayward LeCompte

and Hollie Harris, on the complaint number shared by most of the defendants.

Wilson ruled in May that the majority

of the defendants are to stay in her court. Carter also asked her, at

the ruling, to

order the District Attorney’s Office, to stop giving information

about allotments to the Clerk of Court. Wilson issued an

advisory ruling against the practice, but would not make a ruling

because that was not the nature of the motion filed at the

time.

Carter filed the motion to cease and desist on June 6.

“This action by the District Attorney’s

office has the appearance of impropriety and gives the district

attorney an advantage

in the assignment of cases that the defense does not have and has

the effect further of violating the… defendants equal protection

and due process law,” Carter wrote in his motion.

District Attorney John DeRosier said his office provides the information at the request of the clerk’s office, because the

information is at the district attorney’s “fingertips.”

“We simply give the information to the clerk of pendings and priors, the clerk allots these cases,” DeRosier said. “That is

what happens, Mr. Carter apparently does not understand that.

“The purpose of it is to make sure

cases are allotted to the correct division. We don’t care what division

to which a case

is allotted. I don’t care what judge it goes to. We just need to

make sure it gets allotted to the right division so we don’t

get ready to go to trial a year down the road and a defense lawyer

files a motion to try and put the case off by saying ‘you’re

in the wrong division.’ That has happened many times and we don’t

want that. That’s a tactic.”

Finding the information without the help of the District Attorney’s Office would be “burdensome,” Kay Miller, supervisor of

the minute clerks, said, “because we don’t have all the information available to find out if there’s a prior or a pending

and to find out if it’s an open file or a closed file.”

Miller does not believe the information creates an appearance of impropriety, she said.

“I think it will come out in the wash,”

Miller said. “If we did it wrong, anybody can figure it out — the state

or defense

or judge. All they have to do is look up and see if there are

priors or no priors and tell us to re-allot. We get re-allotments

all the time. But we do not re-allot because the DA tells us to,

we only re-allot by court order.”

“We just want to do what everybody wants us to do. We don’t take issue with the allotment. We’re just trying to follow the

local court rules the best we can. We’re not lawyers and I do have a concern over if the clerk has to do the research, if

it’s making us act like lawyers and figure out a legal situation.”

A former Clerk of Court employee

testified during the May 15 hearing that she followed the instruction of

the District Attorney’s

Office, even if she believed the information was incorrect. She no

longer is employed by Clerk of Court, having left of her

own volition, Miller said. The woman now works at Carter’s law

firm. When reached by phone at his office, she did not comment

further.

“I took issue with (her testimony), because that’s not what I believe I told her,” Miller said.

Miller said she told the employee that

if they did not know the information the clerk’s office had to be a

“fact,” to follow

what the District Attorney’s Office provided. If mistakes were

found in the information from the District Attorney’s Office,

the clerk’s office went against that information, Miller said.

DeRosier said he has been pushing for allotment by date of offense — defendants would be placed in the division of the judge

who is on duty when the offense occurs.

Carter has said in the past that he would also like to see a change to that method of allotment.

A side benefit is that it would allow the District Attorney’s Office to know which division the case will be in so that the

assistant district attorney from that division may visit crime scenes of homicides, DeRosier said.