Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Don't Know What Justice Looks Like But I'm Sure It Doesn't Look Like This: Waterproof Louisiana



Race and Politics in a Rural Louisiana Town Attract National Attention
by: Jordan Flaherty
24 March 2011

A legal dispute in the rural Louisiana town of Waterproof has attracted the attention of national civil rights organizations and activists. Color Of Change, an online activist group that helped garner national attention for the Jena Six Case,* recently rallied their members in support of Waterproof mayor Bobby Higginbotham, who has been held without bail since May of 2010. Advocates say the town’s mayor and police chief, both African American, were targeted by an entrenched white power structure, including a Parish Sheriff and District Attorney, who were threatened by newly empowered Black political power in the town and are seeking to use the court system to undo an election.

While the mayor and police chief were both found guilty last year, their defenders say the trials have not resolved the conflict. Rachel Conner, a lawyer representing Higginbotham in his appeal, says she has never seen a case with so many flaws. “Essentially, every single thing that you can do to violate someone’s constitutional rights from beginning to end happened in his case,” she says.




The charges and counter charges are difficult to untangle. At the center of the case is a state audit of Waterproof that found irregularities in the town’s record keeping. The Parish District Attorney says the audit shows mayoral corruption. The mayor says the problems pre-date his term, and he had taken steps to correct the issues. The mayor’s opponents claim he stole from the town by illegally increasing his salary. His supporters say he received a raise that was voted on by the town aldermen. The mayor initially faced 44 charges; all but two were dropped before the trial began. Those charges – malfeasance in office and felony theft – were related to the disputed raise and use of the town’s credit card. Miles Jenkins, the police chief, faced charges related to his enforcement of traffic tickets.

The mayor was quickly convicted of both charges but lawyers have raised challenges to the convictions, bringing a number of legal complaints. For example: in a town that is 60% African-American, Mayor Higginbotham had only one Black juror. Higginbotham’s counsel was disqualified by the DA, and the public defender had a conflict of interest, leaving the mayor with no lawyer. Two days before trial began, the DA gave Higginbotham 10 boxes of files related to his case. Higginbotham’s request for an extension to get an attorney and to examine the files was denied.




There’s more: during jury selection, when Higginbotham – forced to act as his own lawyer – tried to strike one juror who had relationships with several of the witnesses, he was told he could not, even though he had challenges remaining. There was also a problem with a sound recorder that the court reporter was using, and as a result there is no transcript at all for at least two witness’ testimony. Finally, during deliberation, the judge gave the jury polling slips that had “guilty” pre-selected, and then later hid the slips.

When Higginbotham was convicted, the judge refused to set bail in any amount. Although a possible sentence for the crime was probation, and despite former mayor’s obvious ties to the community, Higginbotham has spent the last ten months in jail while his lawyers have worked on his appeal. “He’s not a flight risk,” says Conner. “He’s tied to Waterproof and he’s got a vested interest in clearing his name.” more

*Jena Six, now tagged.

2 comments:

Cletis L. Stump said...

Never fucking stops, does it? I was unaware of this. Thank you.

Himself said...

It never does Cletis, racism is like the gene pool, inbred.

I'm heading out the gap now, but when I come back I shall see if I can isolate a bit of Bill Hicks, he was the lad for observing the rednecks.

'' And there they stood, not a thumb between them.''

I've now tagged my previous Jena Six entries, if they are of interest. And Genarlow Wilson of course, he has a tag of his own.