From length of service to legal work, JP sheriff candidates air issues in race

From length of service to legal work, JP sheriff candidates air issues in race
Source: | Times-Picayune

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Saturday, voters in Jefferson Parish head to the polls to elect a new sheriff. Either Joseph Lopinto or John Fortunato will finish out the term of retired sheriff Newell Normand.

Both candidates have worked for the JPSO, but length of service has become a major talking point in the race.

Fortunato touts his more than four-decade-long career, saying it has taught him the ins and outs of the department.

"I've had the experiences throughout my entire career," he said. "The 40-plus years of institutional knowledge that I've had working with some of the most exceptional men and women in this organization speaks volumes. The chief financial officer, the chief of the Bureau of Revenue and Taxation - working with these guys on a regular basis and knowing what it takes to run a $126 million operating budget

Lopinto suggests length of service doesn't equal executive knowledge.

"I've represented law enforcement in all three branches of government, and that's what it takes to be sheriff," Lopinto said. "I have to interact with the Legislature, I have to interact with the court system, I have to be the expert witness that sits on the stand and defends our department.

Lopinto served as a deputy and a narcotics detective within JPSO before becoming an attorney and then serving in the state House of Representatives.

He later returned to the Sheriff's Office.

Fortunato began his career with JPSO in the 70s, working his way up to detective in the Property Crimes division before becoming the public information officer.

Another hot topic between the candidates  is an allegation by Fortunato that Lopinto helped secure raises for Newell Normand in return for a cut of legal work.

Lopinto worked for the law firm of state Sen. Danny Martiny from 2012 to 2016, when both men served in the Legislature, before becoming in-house counsel at the Sheriff's Office under Normand.

"Danny Martiny is a friend of mine, will remain a friend of mine, but the mere fact of the matter is that he earned nearly $8.4 million over the last 13 years," Fortunato said. "That's a lot of money. That's a lot of money that people haven't had the opportunity to do business with JP."

Lopinto counters that Martiny doesn't do all of the legal work for the JPSO, defending the decision by former sheriff Harry Lee to hire Martiny many years ago.
"There are very few people that do (Section) 1983 defense, basically civil rights defense work," Lopinto said. "You've got to know what you're doing. To say that we're going to spread that around to a whole bunch of different attorneys that don't know what they're doing is a huge mistake."

Ultimately, it will be up to the voters to decide who will take the helm of one of the most powerful positions in the metro area.

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