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 ( 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.


Anonymous said...

Is this a blog committed to free speech or not?

If this is about transparency, then let's have it, starting with you.

Where do you get your funding from?

Who actually got the emails to you? Was it White?

Who actually pulled them? Was it Boyd?

Did the mayor know and approve that handover?

Are you aware that the public records law contains not only the right to exclude and redact a wide range of irrelevant material - look it up it's true - but also provides penalties for the illegal taking of public records outside the scope of what is permitted there and the procedure laid out. No, going to a public employee and their taking public records outside the procedure laid out is not legal. Nor is it moral or ethical.

As a lawyer, Ms. Washington, you are obligated to turn over any privileged material that comes into your hands - did you do that or not?

The very young poeple that work in your office deserve to know that such questions exist and you should provide them, the wider professional community, and the citizens an answer. Because right now the way thsi looks is that a non-profit funded by corrupt political interests used you as a willing tool to illegally take private and privileged communications, morally and unethically, for their uses.

Here's something else for you to ponder: the political syndicate you have signed up with (regardless of your causes, whether in opposition to them or not, look who this whole fiasco profited, them) - Spears, Nagin, the Jeffersons, Riley - have been defeated. This in the end has inured against you. You may never face a penalty for all this - heck this is Louisiana, come on - but you have done irreparable damage to your name. That you can never recover.

Anonymous said...

Correction to 2nd to last paragraph:

Because right now the way this looks is that your non-profit directed by you and funded by corrupt political interests was used by those interests as a willing tool to illegally take private and privileged communications, morally and unethically, for their uses.

Really, does anyone at LJI take this blog and its grand pronouncements seriously? Take this opportunity to ask questions within your own organization and to answer questions publicly to the larger citizenry. If you don't this whole thing is just an old school, Old Regular New Orleans political joke in the corrupt tradition laid down throughout this City's past.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but the more and more I read of this the more and more incredulous I become:

"And our research proved what we suspected all along: roving quorums of councilmembers, divided along racial lines." ---- ????

Give one example of this.

The projects vote was UNANIMOUS.

Typically Cynthia Hedge Morrell voted with Fielkow and other caucasian members of the Council.

James Carter *often* did.

Many votes were unanimous throughout Fielkow's and Clarkson's tenure as Council president and they strove to achieve such unanimity.

AND *IF* that was the goal of your "research" the best way to determine that would have been to obtain - through normal channels and legal procedures - the emails and records of ALL councilpersons and Blakely's and not just Jeff Thomas'.

If that was "research" the methodology was very flawed.