DA Jason Williams takes second job with New Orleans law firm that defended him

Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 6:47 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A New Orleans law firm involved in defending Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams in his recent tax fraud trial announced Monday (Aug. 15) that Williams has taken a second job doing civil litigation with their firm.

Williams has joined Schonekas. Evans, McGoey and McEachin, LLC, a Poydras Street-based firm known colloquially as SEM&M. One of the firm’s partners -- Billy Gibbens -- joined Colorado-based attorney Lisa Wayne in helping Williams win acquittal last month in a 10-count federal trial in which prosecutors accused Williams of conspiring to create and file fraudulent tax returns.

Williams will represent clients in civil litigation cases, including commercial disputes, complex personal injury matters and trials, the firm said. Managing partner Kyle Schonekas called Williams “a dynamic litigator” in a press release announcing his new hire.

Williams appeared Monday before the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee. He did not mention taking on a second job as he testified that the city is in dire straits with a serious crime problem and an understaffed DA’s office.

“I just think there needs to be a further explanation for his voters ... for his constituents,” said Dr. Robert Collins, a public policy professor at Dillard University. “He should say, ‘This is why I’m taking a private legal work’ -- financial reasons, whatever the reasons are -- and, ‘This is how I’m going to make sure that the District Attorney’s office is covered,’ and that the city of New Orleans continues to get the services they require.”

Williams told the council committee that his office is holding the city’s most violent criminals accountable, but that more resources are needed. He said his office must hire additional prosecutors to address a backlog in case screening and to handle cases in juvenile court.

Williams, who while president of the City Council pushed through cuts to predecessor Leon Cannizzaro’s DA budget, also said he would like additional city funding for technology and to figure out a way to get DNA evidence testing results sooner.

Collins said that while there are district attorneys in rural parishes who maintain private civil practices, it’s unusual for a city the size of New Orleans. The state constitution prohibits sitting district attorneys from being involved in criminal defense in the same parish.

“My commitment and my office’s work is unwavering,” Williams told council members. “We will continue to fight vigorously for our city, and especially for the victims and survivors that are solely relying on us. But, of course, what I have said all year: To continue to build on our needs, we need a significant influx of resources.”

Williams was unavailable for comment after the council meeting, but said in a statement, “After years of running my own law practice, I am excited to join the experienced, talented lawyers of the Schonekas firm. ... I have experienced firsthand the firm’s dedication to its clients.”

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