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Published: Thursday, 5/20/2004

New Orleans' Connick addresses prosecutors at UT

Harry Connick, Sr., said his office cut plea bargaining by insisting on strong police work. Harry Connick, Sr., said his office cut plea bargaining by insisting on strong police work.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

Harry Connick, Sr., is most famous for being the father of Harry Connick, Jr., the musician and actor.

But in Louisiana, the senior Mr. Connick was in the public eye for nearly three decades as the New Orleans Parish district attorney.

He spoke to local prosecutors yesterday at the University of Toledo's law school about the tactic he developed for reducing plea bargaining by accepting only solid cases from the police.

"We gave [assistant prosecutors] two choices: Go to trial or plead them guilty as charged," Mr. Connick told about 75 lawyers and students.

Mr. Connick, 78, said when he took over the district attorney's office in 1973, 80 percent of the cases were plea bargained. By the end of his tenure in January, 2003, he said that number had dropped to about 10 percent.

Mr. Connick said the key was to pursue only cases in which police had strong evidence, rather than charging a defendant and hoping to gain a conviction by pleading the case to a lesser charge.

He said prosecutors need to carefully screen cases they receive to determine if the evidence is sufficient to go to trial.

"The police think that an arrest ends the case," Mr. Connick said. "Well, it was just beginning for us."

Mr. Connick said initially the New Orleans police "went wild" when his attorneys started refusing to take many of the cases they brought to his office.

But he said the city's police officers learned over the years what type of evidence was necessary before a case could be presented to his office.

Taking such a tough stance has a drastic effect on the judicial system because more prosecutors and investigators are needed, Mr. Connick said.

He said adding personnel required a lot of begging and cajoling of other elected officials who controlled his office's finances.

"Legislators, when it comes to budget-time, don't seem to understand what prosecutors need to do an effective job."

Mr. Connick won office by beating Jim Garrison, a district attorney who gained fame by prosecuting Clay Shaw in the 1960s for alleged involvement in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Mr. Shaw was acquitted after a short jury deliberation.

Since his retirement, Mr. Connick has performed with his band in New Orleans and around the country. He also has been involved with a company that tests for drugs through the analysis of hair clippings.

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