Thursday, July 26, 2018


July 26th, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Down in the Bayou State, there’s a clamor for more executions. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry makes no bones about his feelings.  More executions- including nitrogen gas, hangings, firing squads, electrocution and lethal injection.  But a federal judge has put all executions in Louisiana on hold for another year.

There is a reason the death penalty is rarely enforced anymore, particularly in the federal judicial system. Too many innocent victims are being convicted, based on cover-ups and the withholding of exculpatory evidence by some federal and state prosecutors. A recent study published in the National Academy of Sciences concludes that some 4.1% of inmates on death row are innocent. More than four percent! If that were the rate of airplanes crashing, would you fly?

My alma mater, the University of North Carolina, completed a death penalty study in 2016, and found that in Louisiana, 127 of 155 death penalty cases over the past 40 years ended in reversal, some 10 points above the national average.  Since 2000, there have been only two executions while seven people in Louisiana, about to be put to death, were found to be innocent.  The main reason?  Prosecutorial misconduct.

For years, the Bayou State has held the title of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. It now has taken on the dubious title of having case after case of death row inmates being convicted based on the withholding of evidence that would prove their innocence.

New Orleans has become the cesspool for the innocent being convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death. One of the most egregious is the case of New Orleanian John Thompson, who was convicted back in 1982 of first-degree murder and given the death sentence.  He came within days of being executed after spending 14 years on death row and 18 years total in prison.  Five different prosecutors were involved in the case and all knew that a blood test, and other key evidence that showed Thompson was innocent, had been withheld by the prosecution.

On his deathbed and dying of cancer, one of the prosecutors confessed to a colleague that he had hidden the exculpatory blood sample.  The colleague waited five more years before admitting that he too knew of the hidden evidence.  Thompson, after 18 years, received a new trial, and his lawyers were finally able to produce ten difference pieces of evidence that had been kept from Thompson’s defense attorneys, that overwhelming showed he was innocent.  The new jury took less than 35 minutes to find him not guilty.

Hiding evidence that can find the accused innocent is nothing new for prosecutors in New Orleans, both in state and federal court as well as with the FBI. The Innocence Project of New Orleans reviewed a number of convictions over the past 25 years in the city and concluded that prosecutors have a “legacy” of suppressing evidence. The Project said 36 men convicted in Orleans Parish alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Nineteen have since had their sentences overturned or reduced as a result. In 19 of 25 capital cases, the prosecutors withheld favorable evidence.

Then there is the chilling case of Dan Bright, convicted and put on death row for a murder he did not commit. Evidence came out years after his conviction that the FBI, thanks to a credible informant, had been in possession of the name of the actual killer all along. Luckily for Bright, because of the unconstitutional withholding of key evidence by the prosecution and the FBI, his conviction was thrown out, and he now is a free man.

The foreman of White’s jury, who recommended that he be put to death, was Kathleen Norman, who was a guest on my radio show on several occasions before her untimely death several years ago.  She was so incensed over White’s wrongful conviction and the hiding of evidence that would have cleared him by the FBI, that she became head of the Louisiana Innocence project, helping others like White mount a credible defense.

Questionable conduct by rogue prosecutors who withhold information that could prove the innocence of an accused is far too prevalent. Whether one is for or against the death penalty, there is ample evidence that convictions of a capital crime can be a crapshoot based on the whims of some prosecutors who too often withhold evidence that shows the accused is innocent. Bobby Lee Swagger says in the movie Shooter, “This is the world we live in, and justice is not always fulfilled!”
Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


July 19th, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


With one recent Supreme Court Justice confirmed and another just appointed by President Trump, the issue of televising hearings before the nation’s highest court will surely be discussed. The Supremes have stood steadfastly against letting the public watch the cases argued before them, even though the court’s decisions can often have major implications for every American. The Constitution guarantees that trials are public and open to everyone.  And what could be more public than televising a criminal trial for the whole world to see?

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote recently that cameras should be taken out of the courtroom, particularly in high-profile trials.  She concludes:  “Our mighty respect for the public’s right to know — has clouded our judgment.  There may be no way to quantitatively prove that cameras influence courtroom behavior and, possibly, a trial’s outcome. But anyone who’s ever sat in front of a camera knows that it is so.”

I disagree with Ms. Parker.  The criminal justice system could use some help.  A majority of Americans feel that justice often doesn’t prevail.  A nationwide poll by the respected Rasmussen Reports found that 45% of Americans feel that the justice system is fair.  Only 34% felt that the system is unbiased to the poor.  That’s a lot of cynicism.  Maybe more public trials would help skeptics gain more confidence in a system where many feel over half the time that justice is not served.

America has a strong tradition of public trials. In early colonial America, courthouses were the centers of community life, and most citizens regularly attended criminal trials. In fact, trials frequently became community events. Citizens were knowledgeable about trials, and there was wide participation in the process — especially in rural America, where prosecutions were often scheduled on market day, when local farmers came to town for supplies.  Many courtrooms were built to accommodate 300 or more observers.

Back then, citizens closely observed the defendants, knew when judges issued ridiculous rulings, and saw firsthand whenever justice was perverted. Whatever happened, the citizens were there, watching.  The court system belonged to them. The televising of criminal trials would merely be an extension of this direct review by the average citizen.

Would televising criminal trials create a circus atmosphere?  There’s no reason to think that they would. In fact, many of our most sacred ceremonies, including church services and inaugurations, are televised without dignity being lost.  Judge Burton Katz said it well:  “We should bring pressure to bear on all judges to open up their courtrooms to public scrutiny.  Members of the judiciary enjoy great entitlements and wield enormous power. They bear close watching by an informed public. I guarantee that the public would be amazed at what goes on in some court rooms.”

Back in 1997 when I was a practicing attorney in Louisiana, I participated in the state’s first televised trial before the Louisiana Supreme Court.  A state senator was opposing my authority to impound the automobiles of uninsured drivers.  I was the elected state Insurance Commissioner at the time, and represented the state in our effort to uphold the impoundment law. The issue was important to the vast majority of Louisianans, and they were entitled to hear the arguments, and watch the trial in progress.  No one pandered to the cameras, and the entire courtroom procedure was straightforward and dignified.  The proceedings were televised without a hitch.

Harvard law professor and criminal defense attorney Alan Dershowitz put it this way: “Live television coverage may magnify the faults in the legal system, and show it warts and all. But in a democracy the public has the right to see its institutions in operation, close-up.  Moreover, live television coverage generally brings out the best, not the worst in judges, lawyers and other participants.  The video camera helps to keep the system honest by keeping it open.”

America prides itself in being an open society that protects and encourages the public’s right to know.  Too often, courtrooms have become bastions of secrecy where the public has little understanding of how the system works and how verdicts are reached. 

The video camera serves as a check and balance.  We can better keep the system honest by keeping it open and easily available to the public.  Time to turn on the cameras.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


July 12, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
President Trump has put the French back in good graces with the U.S. while criticizing other European nations. He apparently turned a cold shoulder to both German and England over tariffs and NATO, but has developed a close and warm relationship with current French President Emmanuel Macron. And that’s good news for Louisiana.

It wasn’t too long ago when relations between the two countries were a bit frosty. I recollect back at the congressional cafeteria in the nation’s capitol when they changed the menu from French fries to freedom fries. That really showed them! And for the record, I don’t remember reading of any politician advocating the abolishment of French kissing!
I remember a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, where Willie the groundskeeper is directed to become a French teacher at the local elementary school.  “The French?” he hollers,  “They’re nothin’ but a bunch of cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”
But that was then.  Although we’ve had conflicts and disagreements with the French, if you take a history lesson in Franco-American relations, you will see that when it’s crunch time, we can generally count on them.  France has come out strongly in support of America’s tenuous situation in the Middle East, and the U.S. seems eager to let bygones be bygones.
Without the support of the French, America could well have lost the Revolutionary War.  Founding Father Thomas Jefferson contemplated joint democratic values while serving as US Ambassador to France living in Paris.  Many regard Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America” as the best book written on the unique and exceptional American new form of government, that was later adopted by the French.

Many of us were close to speaking French as our native language. Napoleon’s agreement with Thomas Jefferson and Robert Livingston allowed for the creation of 15 new states, doubling the size of the United States.  To give thanks to the French dictator, my home state of Louisiana agreed to hide him at what is now called The Napoleon House in the center of the New Orleans French Quarter.  Unfortunately, before he could get to the Crescent City, he was captured, sentenced to exile, and ultimately died on the Isle of St. Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.
There is a little Yankee bad taste from Napoleon’s involvement in the Civil War.  France was avowed to be neutral, but it was common knowledge that Napoleon III was pulling for the South.  Oh well!
And don’t come down here in South Louisiana and make any derogatory comments about France.  Thanks to die hard Frenchmen, who immigrated first to Canada, and then migrated down the Mississippi as Acadians, the French tradition, language, culture and joie de vie is alive and well, and growing throughout Cajun country.  In Abbeville, a small community just south of Lafayette, many of the signs outside retail stores are written in French.  Several radio stations play only Cajun music with a daily rendition of the Cajun national anthem Jolie Blond, often played by my old friend, fiddler Doug Kershaw.

If the Good Lord told me I have one more trip to make to any place in the world before I pass on, I would choose Paris, and a ramble through southern France for the food, the ambience, the architecture, the Shakespeare Bookstore, a walk along the Seine.  And the pretty girls!!  Ah, to be 22 again back in 1963, when I spent months in Paris experiencing the special ambiance that is rarely found elsewhere. If you want to relive that Franco jolie vie, take a friend or loved one to see Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”

Certainly the French have their own national interests at heart. But they have also made it clear that what America says matters.  Over time, there are historical allies and there are strong allies. Right now, France and the U.S. can claim to have both in one another — a solid past, and a present relationship that would seem to be in the best interest of both countries. 
 We in Louisiana are certainly glad of it.  So pass the French bread.  And for breakfast tomorrow, let’s have French toast and French roast coffee with French chicory, Louisiana style.  And please, don’t shy away from an occasional French kiss.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at

Thursday, July 05, 2018


July 5th, 2018
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


When President Trump was culling down his final list of Supreme Court nominees, one thing was certain - no consideration would be given to any judge sitting in New Orleans on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Being a federal court of appeals judge has become almost a prerequisite for ascension to the Supreme Court.  Every judge presently sitting on the Court was elevated from the federal court of appeals system.  So one would think that the Fifth Circuit, located in die-hard Trump country and made up of judges from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, would have at least been given a perusal review.  No way, say the close court watchers.  Their qualifications, or lack thereof, speak for themselves.

Because the U. S. Supreme Court is hearing fewer cases as each year goes by, the federal court of appeals is the last vestige of hope for any effort to overturn a lower court decision.  Out of more than 10,000 appeals filed last year in the nation’s highest court, only 65 were even considered.  The action is at the court of appeals level.  And hands down, the worst such court in the nation sits right there in New Orleans.

The Fifth Circuit regularly leads all appeals courts throughout the country in its decisions being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.  In an exposé of the Fifth Circuit’s rulings, The Times Picayunequoted both justices on the Supreme Court as well as prominent law professors who regularly lambasted verdicts handed down in New Orleans.  University of Houston law professor David Dow said it seems clear that the Supreme Court “has lost confidence in the Fifth Circuit’s handling of capital cases.”  And retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner was equally blunt in criticizing the Fifth Circuit saying it was “paying lip service to principles of jurisprudence”, and that often the Fifth’s reasoning “has no foundation in the decisions of this court.”

It’s a shame for those who have to deal with the Fifth Circuit that its standing in the system is so soiled, and that the reputation of some of its members have degenerated to the point of such serious criticism.  During the civil rights era, Louisiana federal judges like John Minor Wisdom, J. Skelly Wright and Albert Tate were held in high regard nationally.  Their work was admired and quoted in the nation’s best law schools.  But with such a mediocre judicial crew on the Fifth Circuit today, Louisiana won’t be in the running for one of its own to move up to the nation’s highest court anytime soon.

Federal court watchers have a name for federal judges who lack the scholarship, the temperament, the learning, and who are simply in the wrong occupation. They are called “gray mice.” It seems pretty obvious that the Fifth Circuit is full of such
critters.  Unfortunately, there is not much, short of impeachment, that the disciplinary system can do about them.  But the court’s continuing incompetence places one more stain on the reputation of Louisiana.

Federal judges are the only public officials in America who hold their positions for life. No matter how incompetent their actions are on the bench, or how outrageous their decisions, they are, for all practical purposes, immune from any review of what they do. Their power comes from Article III of the United States Constitution, which gives all federal judges lifetime appointments. Removal only happens through an elaborate impeachment process, in which the House of Representatives brings the charges and the Senate conducts the trial of the judge.

As Judge Burton Katz wrote in his criticism of lifetime appointments: “In our 200 plus years as a nation, only a few federal judges have been formally impeached. The impeachment process itself, because it is unwieldy, divisive, and time consuming, is rarely invoked. Hence, federal judges are, frankly speaking, judges for life. Horror stories abound from the darkened chambers of the federal courts. When judges become lifetime appointees, it seems that at times they think they are in lockstep with God.”

This stinging criticism certainly does not apply to a number of hard working and well-meaning judges within the federal system.  But the Fifth Circuit out of New Orleans has set itself up as the poster group for how not to pick federal judges.  Way too many incompetent grey mice in the mix.

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at