By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has retaliated against a critic by releasing numbers that he says show Judge Laurie White to have the poorest attendance record of the Criminal District Court’s 12 judges.
White last week accused Cannizzaro of regularly orchestrating “pick and pleas” in his courtroom when he was a judge as a way to boost his jury trial count.
Under a pick-and-plea arrangement, a judge knows a defendant is ready to plead guilty but empanels a jury anyway, only to promptly dismiss it.
Cannizzaro, who has been scolding judges to conduct more jury trials, denied White’s insinuation that his own record was bogus.
White reported for work on 73 percent of workdays over the past year, according to figures Cannizzaro’s office supplied to The Lens. He claimed that was the court’s poorest attendance record, but his office did not immediately release statistics racked up by White’s judicial colleagues.
“In order for us to be effective with regard to the cases, the judges have got to, at the very least, show up for work,” Cannizzaro said.
White responded with a three-page statement today questioning Cannizzaro’s numbers, and accusing him of “communicating via the media” instead of taking up the issue with her in person.
“The DA’s scrutiny would be better served on the training of his young Assistant District Attorneys,” White wrote.
Cannizzaro confirmed that release of judicial attendance records was prompted by criticism from White and a fellow judge, Lynda van Davis.
“I was a bit offended when some of the judges over there assailed me — assailed me personally and professionally,” Cannizzaro said. “I know we did what we did.”
Cannizzaro’s office drew attention to the contrast between his record as a trial judge, and Judge White’s, challenging The Lens to review any year of his time in court, against White’s most trial-intensive year, 2010, when she held 23 jury trials.
“I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves,” Cannizzaro said.
The criminal court docket shows that in 1989, for example, Cannizzaro tried 80 cases, which went all the way to jury verdicts. Only two of the cases that year involved guilty pleas after a jury had been empanelled, making them the only two of Cannizzaro’s cases that could have been pick-and-pleas.
White wrote that Cannizzaro’s numbers, which he began collecting last March, failed to acknowledge that six days when he marked her absent from court were holidays and that she was absent from court for five days near Christmas because Cannizzaro’s office brought no cases to her court. She further noted that she was in court on April 22 when Cannizzaro claims she was absent.
White spent five days lobbying in Baton Rouge in 2010, and attended five continuing legal education courses over a total of 12 days. She also attended a one-day conference on racial diversity in Washington, D.C. White was sick five days in 2010, and took 19 days of vacation, she wrote. She said she has taken 13 days of vacation so far this year.
“We define a work day as when the Governor has not declared a state holiday,” said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman. “If the court decides to declare more holidays, that’s beyond our control. But it would not have affected her ranking as the lowest-attending judge.”
Bowman said prosecutors were ready to go to court on the days over Christmas, and that White was offering “just another excuse” for not showing up.
“Perhaps she was there on April 22,” Bowman said. “However, our records indicate no motion hearings, no trials, no pleas, so I don’t know what was being done in the two hours that she was in the courtroom on that day.”