Friday, March 12, 2010
Louisiana Justice Institute Co-Director Tracie Washington Wins Victory Against Attempts To Silence Dissent
Yesterday, The Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) of the Louisiana Attorney Discipline Board announced that it had completed its investigation and has formally dismissed the complaint filed by the ODC on behalf of The New Orleans City Council against Louisiana Justice Institute (LJI) Co-Director Tracie Washington.
The ruling, which found no basis in fact for the charges attempting to disbarr Tracie Washington, is a victory for all who would seek to struggle for greater transparency in New Orleans city government. However, this victory has not come without sacrifice to LJI and the greater New Orleans legal advocacy community. Even now the ODC has left open a threat to "re-open the case" if this dismissal is "blasted" all over the news.
Background: In October 2008, LJI launched Project Transparency (NolaPublicRecords.org). We did this because access to information, especially about our government and its activities, is a crucial part of citizenship, and it is a human right. Members of the public demand access to unclassified documents their tax dollars have been used to produce.
In December 2008, LJI made a request for the emails of several city council members, their staff, and members of the Nagin administration. Our intent was to support research and provide information to the public. And our research proved what we suspected all along: roving quorums of councilmembers, divided along racial lines. The reason New Orleans local government has become ineffective and growth stymied is due in no small measure to the racial tension exhibited amongst City Council members, petty bickering, and tribalism one would expect in viewing Survivor - not local government.
But our councilmembers and their attorneys fought Louisiana Justice Institute at every step of the way - all the way to the State Supreme Court - to keep you from having full access to these records.
Yesterday's ruling from the ODC follows a September ruling from the Louisiana State Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruling agreed with The Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board's (LADB) Hearing Committee Report and Recommendation, which found absolutely no grounds to the charges against Tracie and LJI. In fact, one LADB Hearing Committee member wrote, in this case "New Orleans City Government is using its influence to attempt to crush an opponent with ethical charges when the real battle is over its own incompetence and ineptitude. With scant evidence of any harm caused by the public release of three emails that bear no resemblance to privileged documents and with no evidence of future harm posed by Tracie Washington, the LADB, by its prosecution of this matter, has become a weapon of the city government and an instrument of harm to the public."
The New Orleans City Council, in its petition to the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel, submitted misleading statements and outright lies to the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana, all in an effort to punish and silence Tracie Washington and Louisiana Justice Institute for daring to challenge these government officials' obsession with secrecy, closed government, and good ol' boy politics of the 50's and 60's.
This is not just about Louisiana Justice Institute. Baseless attacks like these are an attack on all who would struggle for greater openness and transparency from their city government.
We applaud today's decision, we will fight any efforts in retaliation, and we pledge to keep advocating for openness and transparency from our local government.