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New Orleans DA threatens to sue Criminal Court judges over side entrance closure

WWL-TV left messages for court administrators to comment about threat of the lawsuit, but the station has yet to get a response.
Credit: David Grunfield / The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams has threatened to sue the judges of Criminal Court after the sudden closure of a side entrance that had been used for decades by prosecutors, along with victims and sensitive witnesses, to ensure their safety.

In a letter sent to Chief Judge Robin Pittman on Thursday, Williams threatened to file for an injunction if the side entrance isn’t re-opened by next week.

“The situation is both incredibly volatile, and fundamentally inconsistent with the law,” Williams wrote. “In a city historically plagued with violent crime and witness intimidation, to force victims and witnesses of such crimes to run a literal gauntlet to the courthouse, and to risk further violence, intimidation and retaliation, is both needless, solvable, and incredibly dangerous.”

The lawsuit threat comes days after a separate courthouse security issue emerged on Monday after Sheriff Susan Hutson unilaterally announced she was pulling her deputies from courthouse duties, forcing the court to close entirely for the day. Hutson notified the court of her decision Sunday night after a fatal fight at the jail two days earlier led her to declare a security “crisis” and the under-staffed Orleans Justice Center.

After strong and immediate protests from other officials, from the Public Defender’s Office to City Council members, Hutson re-instated enough of the deputies Tuesday to allow the court to re-open.

The new dust-up between the DA and the court goes back to the first week of June when the court unilaterally closed the side entrance on South White Street. In a letter from Williams to Pittman on June 9, he offered to resolve the situation by providing a DA’s office investigator as a security officer at that entrance.

With the matter left unresolved this week, Williams wrote a more strongly worded letter Thursday citing a statute in the criminal code which requires the court to “provide a secure waiting area in cases involving violent crime.”

Because there is no such area inside the courthouse, Williams argued that his office across the street has become the de facto waiting area, and the side entrance is needed to provide access from his office into the building.

WWL-TV left messages for court administrators to comment about threat of the lawsuit, but the station has yet to get a response.

RELATED: 'We were in crisis mode' | Sheriff Hutson responds to criticism over court closure

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