Orleans DA Jason Williams makes first public appearance since acquittal

Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 7:35 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2022 at 11:17 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE/AP) - New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams, who ran for his job on a reform platform that included reviewing and correcting wrongful convictions, told reporters Monday he now knows what it feels like to face “an overreaching, rogue prosecution.”

Williams was acquitted last week on federal tax charges that had hung over him since before he won the district attorney post in December 2020.

In his first public comments since the verdict, Williams invoked the names of several people exonerated in recent years after wrongful convictions.

“What happened to me can happen to anyone,” Williams said during a brief news conference on the steps of the state criminal courthouse. “My role here and my goal here is to make sure that justice is served in this building behind me.”

He also said he would continue a focus on prosecuting violent crime. It’s a growing problem in a city with an undermanned police force and it has fed local criticism of some of Williams’ policies, including a prohibition on charging suspects as habitual offenders, which can mean harsher sentences.

“Our city is in dire straits. We need everyone in the boat rowing in the same direction,” Williams said.

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Williams’ law partner Nicole Burdett also was found not guilty on the same 10 counts from a June 2020 indictment, when the jury of nine women and three men returned its verdicts after more than 15 hours of deliberations. The verdict was delivered at 1:55 p.m. in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Lance M. Africk.

But Burdett was convicted of four counts -- separately indicted in December 2020 -- which charged that she falsified her own personal tax returns with more than $280,000 in inflated business expenses for the tax years 2014-17. Those felony convictions will cost Burdett her law license and expose her to a possible federal prison term when she is sentenced by Africk on Nov. 30.

Burdett’s attorneys last week said she had been offered immunity “in return for false testimony against Jason Williams.”

“She refused to lie or embellish the truth and she paid a dear cost for her integrity,” Williams said Monday.

Williams would not take questions before entering the courthouse. Federal prosecutors have declined comment on the verdict.

The acquittal clears the way for Williams, presumably, to serve out the remaining four-plus years of his term as the city’s top prosecutor through early January 2027, free of the dark cloud of pending criminal charges that had dogged him for more than two years.

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Copyright 2022 WVUE. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.