A federal jury has ordered former New Orleans City Councilwoman and state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt to pay back roughly $1.1 million of the $1.4 million that prosecutors said was stolen in a scheme to loot a string of Central City charities controlled by the family of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson.A lot of these sweetheart deals ceased after she was unseated from the New Orleans City Council by Stacy Head, but then-Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) was able to keep a lot of the money flowing, at least until he was subsequently defeated by Republican Joseph Cao in 2008 (whom Head crossed party lines to endorse) and convicted of bribery.
The indictment was "fiction, " Washington promptly declared at a rally she organized as chairwoman of the Justice for Jefferson Steering Committee. She reminded those present that "the Constitution says that a citizen is presumed innocent until he or she has had the opportunity to defend himself."
Jefferson's supporters will not have needed reminding for they are forever quoting that part of the Constitution. This is an admirable feat of memory, considering that it does not exist. The Constitution nowhere mentions the presumption of innocence, a concept derived from the English common law.
An argument might be made that it is implicit in the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process, but Washington was not in the mood for subtlety that night, or, indeed, for understatement. Jefferson, she declared, was the victim of the "Machiavellian twisting of Karl Rove and his Brownshirts."
Staunchly defending an indicted congressman....
Her latest opponent is lawyer and activist Tracie Washington, who posted a few of Head's e-mail communications on her group's website. The stunt was designed to embarrass Head as much as possible and cause her significant political damage. It is too early to determine the political fallout for Head after the selective release of these inflammatory e-mails....and attacks the councilwoman who unseated Gill Pratt and has been working to combat graft and corruption in city government as a racist.
In the e-mails, Head complained about the city's incompetent technology chief, Anthony Jones, who lied about his credentials, but was still on the city payroll and receiving $80,000 per year. She also blasted her council colleague Jackie Clarkson, community activist Jerome Smith and related an upsetting incident involving a "chick" using food stamps at a grocery store.
After posting the e-mails for several hours, Washington removed them from her website. Washington released the e-mails even though the State Supreme Court blocked the distribution of the messages. The Supreme Court action came after the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal overruled District Court Judge Lloyd Medley and gave permission for Washington to release the 400,000 e-mails.
This whole episode is a rather troubling insight into the racial politics of New Orleans. In her initial public records request, Washington only targeted white council members and did not solicit the e-mails of any of the African American council members. Washington secured the e-mails only through the cooperation of Veronica White, who despises Stacy Head. It is outrageous that the Sanitation Director would be involved in such a record request. For this offense, she should have been fired, but, sadly, White remains on the city payroll with her bloated salary.