NEW DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEWART MAKES MANY POSITIVE CHANGES IN DA OFFICE

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John Settle-Opinion-May 2015Former Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge James E. Stewart ran his 2015 campaign for Caddo District Attorney on a platform of change—both for the victims of crimes and those accused of crimes. Since taking office in November of last year, Stewart has made many personnel changes. And just as important, he has set into place significant changes that have begun to dramatically improve the Caddo criminal justice system.

Some of the new policies may sound like a “well why not” to the uninformed observer—but they were needed in an office of over 70 people that had been very loosely supervised by former Caddo DA Charles Scott who unexpectedly died last spring. why-not-fenceAfter his death, the DA’s office was a loose ship with little direction under interim DA Dale Cox during the period until the November election.

For starters, the assistant district attorneys (ADAs) have a dress code—5 days a week. No more dress down Fridays and the men must wear a coat and tie each day and the lady ADAs must dress appropriately as attorneys. And surprise of all surprises—the ADAs are expected to work full days, five days a week, and even the Fridays before long weekend!

Early!!
Early!!

ADAs now report to courtrooms 30 minutes before court opens to review files with attorneys and meet with unrepresented defendants in an effort to streamline court proceedings. Additionally section chiefs for each courtroom are now carefully screening charges filed by law enforcement officials to determine if any cases should be dropped without prosecution due to the nature of the case and the quality of the evidence. This step improves the justice system for those accused of crimes who should not be processed unfairly through the court system.

Open-Positive-CommunicationsCommunications with ADAs has vastly improved by the listing of their office emails on documents provided to defense counsel and on subpoenas issued to the general public. Emails are promptly answered by ADAs—and efforts are being made to have additional personnel to have ALL phone calls answered by ‘live people” versus machine recordings.

And in a very important step to clear out Caddo Correctional Center (CCC) “old” cases that have been bogged down in the DA system, these are being aggressively worked with consideration of time served by defendants in jail waiting for trial. Over 50% of those in CCC are inmates awaiting trial; this backlog of unresolved criminal pending cases is an unreasonable burden to Sheriff Prator and taxpayers of Caddo.

Stewart has expanded and improved the Diversion Program, which allows criminal defendants to be diverted from prosecution if they satisfactorily complete a program that is much like a pre-sentencing probation. Stewart has changed the guidelines for entry and the length of the diversion program time to 12 months from 6—but also opening it up to more minor misdemeanor offenses. The goal is to allow qualifying individuals to avoid a criminal conviction.

Stewart is also working on the truancy problems which often lead to criminal activity when school age children are not in school and unsupervised. The primary focus will be the parents who are not ensuring their children are in school. Stewart has also been working with Bossier-Webster DA Schuyler Marvin to open the new Family Justice Center in Bossier to provide assistance to supplement domestic violence programs. Additionally Stewart is staffing up his white collar crime section to deal with the ever expanding criminal activity that involves everything from credit card scams to business fraud.

In short order new District Attorney Stewart has completed a major staff and program revisions in an office that are beneficial to victims and accused alike. Stewart and his staff—those that he retained and the new additions—are to be commended for aggressively overhauling this very important public office that is critical to the criminal justice system. As it is said in the Caddo courthouse halls, it is a “new day” in criminal courts with the DA’s office, and a good one at that which has been long overdue.

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