During his 33 years on the New Orleans Criminal District Court bench, Judge Frank Shea’s prevailing concern was one thing: speed. In the newspapers, Shea was written about under headlines like “‘Speedy’ is his name,” “Justice is swiftest in Shea’s court,” and “Verbose lawyers beware.” In 1990, a man was convicted of murder in front of Shea in a trial that lasted 90 minutes from jury selection to sentencing. The Times-Picayune noted that it may have been the fastest murder trial in modern history. 

During Shea’s career, Louisiana went from having the 13th highest incarceration rate in the nation to the second highest. The overall prison population in the United States increased by nearly a million prisoners, and Louisiana locked up over six times as many people in 1996 as it did in 1963.

In this episode – part of The Section G Project – we look at Frank Shea’s career, some of its historical context, and talk with Judge Calvin Johnson – a man who watched Shea operate for over 20 years, became his political rival, developed some strong feelings about him: 

He was as… I hate to use a trite word like ‘racist’ because it doesn’t necessarily convey who this man actually was, he was mean. He was mean spirited, he was evil. The evilness of this man, you could feel it when you were in his courtroom.

Watch The Lens next week for the next episode of The Section G Podcast.

The Section G Project is supported by the Ella West Freeman Foundation and listeners like you. Show your support for The Lens today at thelensnola.org/donate.

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...