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New Orleans District Attorney candidates on reform, race and gender

As candidates discussed their ideas for reform, they both brought race and gender into the conversation.

NEW ORLEANS — On one hand, you have Jason Williams, a defense attorney with his own firm Jason Rogers Williams and Associates.

He has done pro bono work for the Innocence Project, and he's been the chair of the Criminal Justice Committee while serving as City Council President. He also served as a state court judge at criminal district court in 2003.

"If we could run this race without saying a word about what we are going to do but just look at what we have done over the past 20 years, I would be confident in my choices," Williams said. "I would be confident that I would win this race based on decriminalizing marijuana in this city, writing the legislation for municipal bail reform, moving money from the criminal justice to $1.5 million in early childhood education, investing in people to get good outcomes and removing many trap doors."

Keva Landrum said she started her legal career in the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office. She has served as a criminal court judge and then chief judge at Orleans Parish Criminal District court.

And Landrum already has experience as a New Orleans District Attorney. She served as interim DA in 2007.

She gained experience handling such a large office. Though she points out, it was a very different office then.

"We were right after Hurricane Katrina. We weren't in the office. We were in a temporary facility on Poydras. We had a financial crisis on our hands," Landrum said.

Williams said he looks at Landrum's time as interim DA as proof that she is not reform minded and will deliver more of the same kind of tough-on-crime approach that previous New Orleans DA's have been defined by. 

Landrum said that claim is just a distraction.

"As chief judge of criminal court, I had the opportunity to bring our court and lead our court in doing our efforts in bail reform, and so, we started the first-ever ROR program, which we released as many people as we could on a recognizance bond. We knew they were non-violent and we understood that we needed to have a system that was fair."

As candidates discussed their ideas for reform, they both brought race and gender into the conversation.

"I have two young nephews that I know I want to grow up in New Orleans, and I want them to grow up safely and securely as young black men," Landrum said.

She also talked about restoring the office's relationship with women who have been abused and assaulted.

Williams had a lot more to say about race and gender in the criminal justice system.

"The criminal legal system is not just racist. It is racist and sexist," Williams said. "A lot of times people think 'Well, I don't think that way.' No one in the office is using racial epithets or using the n-word. It's about our institutions not having implicit bias as it relates to gender...as it relates to race."

He calls the office sexist because one analysis found the DA's office was dismissing close to 90% of domestic violence cases.

While Williams calls out Landrum for not being reform minded enough, Landrum reminds voters that Williams is facing an 11 count federal indictment for tax fraud. Landrum said that is one of the reasons that Williams is not the right choice for DA.

"We do not need the image of our city to be broadcast in that light, and more importantly, we don't need someone who is distracted with their own law firm or personal problems as our DA. We need someone committed to this job," Landrum said.

But Williams maintains that he is innocent, claiming that he had a fraudulent CPA and that charges are part of a plot to keep him from becoming DA.

"It was just time to effect this DA race. It was time to try to knee cap me or scare me from running to change this criminal legal system. I appreciate when people said they are scared for me or nervous for me, but I am glad they stood with me," Williams said.

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