Morris Bart’s firm helping Orleans DA’s office screen cases
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office is getting help from one of the most familiar personal injury law firms in southeast Louisiana.
Six attorneys from Morris Bart’s firm are volunteering 1-2 hours a day to assist D.A. Jason Williams’ office in screening criminal cases for prosecution, Williams and Bart announced Tuesday (March 7)
“It’s certainly an unusual arrangement. You don’t see private lawyers being involved in screening and prosecuting criminal cases, typically,” says Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University.
“The screening process at the District Attorney’s office is one of the most important things that occurs there. Those folks are the ones that get a file together so that the D.A. or the ADA’s can prosecute cases,” says attorney Scott Sternberg.
Sternberg says it’s likely the counselors from Bart’s law firm have some criminal law backgrounds to be able to screen the cases.
“You can’t just drop into criminal law. You kind of have to eat, sleep, and breathe it for a little while. That’s not to say it takes a law degree from Yale to be a screener,” says Sternberg.
“There’s certainly nothing unethical about it,” says Ciolino.
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Ciolino says the volunteer attorneys likely won’t make final decisions on whether to prosecute.
“The final authority to bring any case is not going to be left to private attorneys. The D.A.’s office and its commissioned assistants will make the final decision whether to prosecute or refuse a case,” says Ciolino.
“Our office has been working to identify new resources and partnerships to ensure we are meeting the demands of a busy docket including partnering with Morris Bart. We look forward to sharing more information about this soon,” Williams’ office said in a statement.
It’s unclear, but Bart’s attorneys appear to be working for the D.A. on a volunteer basis.
“Merely getting pro bono assistance from a private lawyer or law firm is certainly nothing objective,” says Ciolino.
“I wonder if we don’t have a group of people at Morris Bart’s office that are volunteering because they see the need and then you have a firm that is known nationwide for the innovative way that they have advertised over the years,” says Sternberg.
Sternberg says conflicts could always arise, but he also pointed out that he believes the lawyers know all about conflicts of interest.
“With a firm that big, I would be concerned about maybe someone is being screened that is a client or a defendant. I just don’t know. It’s so unprecedented. I’ve never heard of this before,” says Sternberg.
“If private attorneys are willing to volunteer their time to help with what we all know is a violent crime program in the city, I think that should be welcomed, as long as it’s done properly,” says Ciolino.
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