A celebration was held Friday for 36th Judicial District Attorney David Burton, who is retiring after 24 years of service as D.A. Burton was presented with several items of recognition and gifts from various officials, including Beauregard Parish Police Jury President Gary Crowe, State Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, Beauregard Parish School Board Superintendent Tim Cooley, DeRidder Mayor Ron Roberts and Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
Adams lauded Burton's involvement in reforming the juvenile justice system in Louisiana. "That movement in Louisiana has become a model for reforming juvenile justice around the nation, and it's got David Burton's fingerprints all over it," Adams said.
Burton has served as president of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, chairman of the LDAA Juvenile Justice Task Force and LDAA representative of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act Implementation Commission.
In his own remarks, Burton said district attorney was the only office he ever aspired to. "It's a rare opportunity to serve in the community where you grew up, where you went to school, where you raised a family," he said.
During his time in office, Burton contributed to several large accomplishments, including the trade of what was the DeRidder City Court for a second division of the parish's district court.
"It's been a great benefit to our parish and to our judicial district... because the city court only served half of our people, and the district court serves all of our people," Burton said. "The city court was only able to handle a limited number of cases, and the second division of the district court can handle all our cases."
Burton said he is also proud of the establishment of the district's drug court, for which funding was approved by former Chief Justice Kitty Kimball. "With that funding we are able to utilize tools to address drug addiction among offenders, which gives us the opportunity to restore them so they can lead productive lives, raise their children, work in our community and be productive citizens," Burton said.
In addition, in 2012 a tax was passed to renovate the 100-year-old Beauregard Parish Courthouse, for which construction will soon begin. "That will allow us to expand our 100-year-old courthouse, to restore it to its former beauty and make it accessible to everyone, particularly the elderly and handicapped in our parish who have had such difficulty accessing the services of the court in the past," he said.
Lastly, Burton praised the citizens of Beauregard Parish for being a community of faith. "We have a very low crime rate in Beauregard Parish compared to other parishes," he said. "The people of our community have come together to support a lot of worthy initiatives, including most recently Hope Village here, that serves so many people with so many different sorts of services."
Burton will be succeeded by Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Lestage, who was elected as district attorney unopposed after qualifying in August.
Burton, an alum of DeRidder High School and the LSU Law Center, was first elected district attorney in 1990. He also served as an assistant district attorney for nine years prior to his election.
District attorney explains how a grand jury works and why it is so important
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - In the wake of a grand jury's decision not to indict a New York police officer with the death of Eric Gardner involving the use of a chock hold has many Americans questioning the workings of the justice system, particularly the grand jury.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore explained how a grand jury works and why it is such an important part of the criminal justice system. According to Moore, in some ways, a grand jury is like any other jury. It is made up of 12 people who are selected randomly. However, a grand jury does not decide if someone is guilty or innocent. Instead, the jurors decide whether or not there is enough evidence to go forward with a trial.
Moore also said it's Louisiana Law for life or death cases to have a grand jury involved, so the decision to charge someone won't be left to the prosecutor.
"Maybe you're not really sure as the DA whether or not to charge someone and you want to leave it in the hands of the citizens," Moore said. "You present that evidence to a grand jury."
He added prosecutors from his office present evidence to the grand jury and answer questions from the jurors. Nine of the 12 jurors must vote to indict. Another way a grand jury is different from a trial jury is its proceedings are not made public in most cases.
Moore said every state is different and how things are done in Louisiana may not be the case in New York or Missouri. However, with all that has happened, he believes there will be a change to the criminal justice system.
"I think police legitimacy and what we call procedural legitimacy are big topics and I think that you're going to see that nationwide. The theory is if people understand and respect the law, they are going to obey it. So, you want to be more transparent and [as] open as you can to let people understand what you're doing, because often times, they don't know what we're doing," Moore explained.
Although grand jury proceedings are secret due to intense public scrutiny with both cases, prosecutors got permission from judges to release parts of the proceedings.
St. Bernard courthouse to be renamed after longtime DA Jack Rowley
The St. Bernard Parish Courthouse likely will be renamed later this month to the "Jack F. Rowley Courthouse" in honor of the longtime district attorney who died in office last month.
The Parish Council on Tuesday evening is expected to introduce an ordinance proposing the name change. The name would become official on Dec. 16, when the council is expected to hold a public hearing and then vote on its final adoption.
The proposed ordinance notes that Rowley "was the longest serving District Attorney in the state of Louisiana," having served 35 years.
Rowley died Nov. 5 at 83 years old. He was elected sheriff in 1962 and moved on to district attorney in 1979.
Tony Fernandez, a friend of Rowley's who worked closely on many of his early campaigns, said Monday that the courthouse name change is "something that everyone in St. Bernard wanted to accomplish."
It seemed most appropriate to name the building, where he had spent the most time and done the most good, in his honor," said Fernandez, who worked with the council on the proposal.
Rolwey was the first district attorney St. Bernard's 34th Judicial District had since it was separated from Plaquemines Parish's district.
On Nov. 14, District Attorney Perry Nicosia became its second after he was sworn in as the first new St. Bernard Parish district attorney in 35 years. Parish voters elected Nicosia on Nov. 4 after Rowley decided not to run for re-election due to health problems.