Watchdog group focuses on sex crime victims, attorney-client privilege in new report

Updated: May. 22, 2018 at 3:30 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The watchdog group Court Watch NOLA released its latest report card on the Orleans Parish court system Tuesday. It focuses on a few key issues that some of the courts and prosecutors think are inflated.

On the steps of Criminal Court the group's executive director, Simone Levine, detailed the 2017 report card. In it is a recommendation that the district attorney's office create a policy to end the practice of arresting victims of sex crimes or domestic abuse who refuse to testify.

Last year, only one domestic abuse victim was arrested, down from four victims of domestic abuse or sex crimes in 2016. While the D.A.'s office isn't creating a policy, Levine thinks prosecutors are listening.

"No sex crimes victims were arrested for failure to come to court to testify, so we feel like this movement of journalists, this movement of volunteers has really kept that pressure on, and it's been in effect," she said.

In a statement District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said, in part:

"Detaining a victim in any case is a tool of last resort, and is done only when the totality of circumstances show that to proceed otherwise would result in a dangerous defendant walking free to pose a continued threat to the safety of the community."

Court Watch NOLA also made a recommendation that the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office stop recording phone calls between attorneys and inmates, saying it compromises the attorney-client privilege.

"It's unconstitutional," Levine said. "You're not allowed to record those, you're not allowed if you're a member of the government to record them, to surveil them, to listen to them. It's over 325 years old this privilege. We don't know why here in Orleans Parish that we are disregarding it."

But both the D.A. and sheriff's offices say attorneys and clients are fully aware prosecutors could get their hands on phone calls made through the system. They say it's the responsibility of the attorney to ensure privileged information isn't divulged on those phone lines. In fact, they point out attorneys have 24-7 access to incarcerated clients for face-to-face interviews that are never recorded, on top of the ability to use a registered landline for non-recorded telephone calls with clients. The landline method is used more than 3,200 times a month, and the sheriff's office says that's increasing.

Court Watch offered a handful of other recommendations, including asking for publicly posted calendars to help people navigate courthouses easier, and recommending the sheriff's office inform Magistrate Court before a limited English speaker arrives so they can ensure that an interpreter is available

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