NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The district attorney for Orleans Parish and a veteran City Council member are at odds over the transfer of some juvenile offenders to adult court, and on Tuesday, it played out publicly.
"The meager budget of my office is presently under threat for reduction because some believe that I prosecute too many 15- and 16-year-old murderers, rapists, and armed robbers in adult court," said DA Leon Cannizzaro.
He brought up the rift before hundreds in attendance at the Metropolitan Crime Commission luncheon at a downtown hotel. Cannizzaro gave a speech at the luncheon, and his remarks about juvenile offenders whose cases get moved to adult criminal court followed the release of a letter he sent to Councilwoman Susan Guidry. It was dated Feb. 22 and focused on a draft resolution fashioned by Guidry, who chairs the council's Criminal Justice Committee.
"It's a very disappointing letter, and I'm frustrated to sit here and respond to it. The facts are quite clear," Guidry said in her office Tuesday afternoon.
The resolution calls upon Cannizzaro to reduce the number of juveniles prosecuted in adult court, asks him to re-evaluate current juvenile transfer practices in his office, and calls on the district attorney to use "a rigorous and comprehensive screening process before a child is transferred to adult criminal court."
Guidry and other believe too many juveniles are ending up at the Criminal Court building at Tulane and Broad.
"That default position of sending the juveniles to adult court is not increasing our public safety here in New Orleans," she said.
"We do not transfer all of the eligible offenders in the Criminal District Court," said Cannizzaro after his speech.
Guidry stressed that she is not alone in her opinion.
"Sabrina, it's not just my opinion. I have spoken to judges, I have spoken with defense attorneys. I have spoken with numerous people who work with the juvenile system and the adult system," she said.
Cannizzaro said he has asked Guidry to tell him which juvenile defendants whose cases were moved to adult court should have remained at the juvenile court level.
"I have simply requested of her, please show me a case that I have transferred that you believe should not be transferred," he said.
Cannizzaro said his office does have a strong screening process of cases and juvenile defendants. He said he has invited every member of the council to sit in on so-called "charge conference" to observe the process first hand.
"It's not something that's willy nilly done," Cannizzaro said.
But Guidry said when she expressed interest through an email, she got no reply.
"He said you need to come to a charging conference, so we came back and we said, 'okay, ready to come to a charging conference.' Twice - no reply at all," she said.
Cannizzaro said the majority of cases transferred involve murder, rape and armed robbery.
"It's probably over 80 percent of those cases are, in fact, transferred to adult court for prosecution, and we're talking primarily of the 15- and 16-year-olds, not the 14-year-olds."
He said narcotics cases are not transferred.
Guidry said she has faith in the juvenile court system.
"In the juvenile justice system, the child as a whole is looked at and tended to. It's a rehabilitative system. They're still jails with barbed wires. It's the real thing," she said.
And she denies threatening the funding for the district attorney's office.
The resolution states that the district attorney should present to the Guidry's committee before year's end data about his office's juvenile transfer practices. It states that is needed "so that the council can exercise its oversight role in ensuring the appropriate use of public funds."
"The resolution speaks for itself. I do think there are some very veiled threats about the possibility of removing funding," said Cannizzaro.
Wednesday the criminal justice committee will discuss the resolution. Cannizzaro has been invited to speak, according to Guidry's office.