PJI Fights to Hold Prosecutors Accountable: Research Informs Washington Post Article

Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland 
(via Washington Post/Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP) 

          Last week, Radley Balko of the Washington Post did a lengthy review of Holland’s career,  titled “How a fired prosecutor became the most powerful law enforcement official in Louisiana.” The piece used employment records collected by the Promise of Justice Initiative to demonstrate how Holland had secured a number of jobs with “at least 10 parishes” resulting in a salary of “at least $210,000. To put that into perspective, Louisiana’s governor makes $130,000 per year. The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court makes $167,000. 

          Hugo Holland first received attention in 2012 as one of two prosecutors forced to resign after an investigator was fired for accusing Holland of filing false paperwork to obtain weapons from the Department of Defense.  When it became clear that Holland had authorized the submission of false documents to the federal government, the investigator ultimately received a settlement for wrongful termination.  Alexander Burris, Caddo DA: Settlement in Neighborhood of $447,000.

           The Promise of Justice Initiative began tracking Holland’s work after he was fired. In April of 2015, the Baton Rouge Advocate noted that if it were not for Caddo Parish, and the pre-eminence of two prosecutors – Dale Cox and Hugo Holland, the death penalty would have largely been phased out in Louisiana. Capital Punishment in Caddo Parish Cottage Industry in Louisiana.

            An article from June, 2017 by Jim Mustian of the Baton Rouge Advocate introduced Holland “Meet ‘controversial’ Louisiana prosecutor: an outspoken death penalty champion with cat named after Lee Harvey Oswald.”  James Gill wrote an op ed on the piece, “A Louisiana man, his deadly obsession and why he gets paid handsomely for it.”

           Using documents secured by the Promise of Justice Initiative, the Washington Post article describes how Holland receives payments both to lobby the legislature on behalf of more punitive punishments including retaining the death penalty – and then secures financial benefit for handling death penalty cases.  The article quotes PJI’s Ben Cohen: ““Hugo Holland captures everything that’s wrong with the criminal-justice system in Louisiana…”

           Significantly, the Post article makes clear that while Holland seeks the most punitive sanction for the defendants he prosecutes, he seeks to avoid sanction and responsibility for his own misconduct.  The article observes:

Cohen, the Louisiana defense attorney, says it’s a cruel irony for a state so enamored with retributive justice to then go out of its way to excuse rule-breaking by the public officials who administer that justice. “The same people who scream about accountability and personal responsibility when it comes to crimes by [others] are constantly looking for ways to excuse one another for prosecutor misconduct,” he says.

            The Washington Post article highlights a series of cases where Holland has withheld favorable evidence from the defense, but avoided sanction from the Bar or the courts.  Included within this series of cases, the article notes Holland’s prosecution of Corey Williams, who was a sixteen year old intellectually disabled child when he was accused of committing capital murder.

            While Williams’ defense attorneys tried to tell the jury that older more savvy teenagers had placed the blame on intellectually disabled Corey Williams, Holland argued that the defense was suggesting the “greatest conspiracy since the murder of JFK.”  The Post article details how Holland was sitting on taped statements of the older teenagers that revealed that even “even the interrogating officers believed at the time that the other teens were framing Williams.” 

PJI continues to seek ways to seek justice and hold prosecutors accountable, both by fighting for people like Corey Williams, and holding prosecutors like Hugo Holland accountable.



Lambert v. Louisiana - PJI Fights to End Discriminatory Non-Unanimous Juries

Louisiana and Oregon are the only two states that support convictions from non-unanimous juries. Prosecutors only need to persuade 10 out of 12 jurors to secure a felony conviction that doesn't involve the death penalty. 

These jury systems are a direct vestige of a history of white supremacy and oppression. Lambert v. Louisiana gives the Supreme Court the opportunity to reverse this historical racism in favor for more egalitarian and fair jury systems. 

Louisiana leads the nation, and the world, in incarceration.  Per capita, it leads the country in wrongful convictions and exonerations.  While non-unanimous juries may not be the sole cause, the Promise of Justice Initiative believes that the lack of unanimity undermines confidence in the administration of justice.  We believe that the 10-2 verdict is a lasting monument to – as well as a daily resurrection of – the time when the State had no interest in preserving and protecting the rights of African-American citizens.   

The Washington Post's recent article These Jury Systems are Vestiges of White Supremacy emphasizes the racist background of non-unanimous juries: 

In Louisiana: "The historical reasons behind the jury systems in Louisiana and Oregon offend our democratic values. Louisiana required unanimous verdicts when it became a territory in 1803, but non-unanimous verdicts were formally adopted as law during Louisiana’s 1898 constitutional convention, where lawmakers declared that their “mission was . . . to establish the supremacy of the white race.” At the same convention, Louisiana adopted literacy tests for voting and one of the South’s first “grandfather clauses,” which exempted white voters whose father or grandfather had previously voted from taking literacy tests.


Eliminating unanimity accomplished two things. First, the change paved the way for quick convictions that would facilitate the use of free prisoner labor as a replacement for the loss of free slave labor. Second, it ensured that African American jurors could not use their voting power to block convictions of other African Americans. An 1870 editorial in the New Orleans Daily Picayune posited that the recently emancipated were 'wholly ignorant of the responsibilities of jurors, unable to discriminate between truth and falsehood in testimony, and capable only of being corrupted by bribes.'"

In Oregon: "In Oregon, the 1934 change from a unanimous to a non-unanimous jury system targeted primarily ethnic and religious minorities. By the 1930s, the Ku Klux Klan found widespread acceptance in the state. Anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments peaked in 1933, when a jury failed to convict a Jewish man in the murder a Protestant man, instead handing down a verdict of manslaughter. The Morning Oregonian blamed the verdict on “the vast immigration into America from southern and eastern Europe, of people untrained in the jury system.” It then accused immigrants of making “the jury of twelve increasingly unwieldy and unsatisfactory.” The following year, Oregon passed a ballot measure to allow felony convictions based on a less-than-unanimous vote."


Learn more about PJI's work to end non-unanimous juries in Louisiana. 


News Conference: Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of California Family Alleges Widespread Neglect and Illegal Treatment of Mentally Ill in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison

WHAT: News Conference to Announce Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit in Prisoner Death

WHO: Members of the family, Attorneys, and VOTE

WHERE: Russell B. Long Federal Building, 777 Florida Street, Baton Rouge

WHEN: Wednesday, September 20th at 10:30 a.m.


On the Passing of Our Hero, Sam Dalton

Sam Dalton, a hero to us at the Promise of Justice Initiative, passed away on Tuesday, September 7th, 2017.

Sam was a renowned criminal defense and civil rights attorneys. From creating a model for public defender systems as the founding chairman of the Jefferson Parish Indigent Defender Board (1976-1999) to serving as defense counsel in 300 death penalty cases, Sam’s career has served as an inspiration to us all.  Both his words and actions helped to restore the balance between the powerful and the people and to ensure those with power are reminded of their humility.

Justice and civil rights reform in Louisiana would not be the same without Sam Dalton's incredible work. Our community has lost an incredible man and we hope to continue his legacy. He was a giant upon whose shoulders we all stand today. Last year, our own Ben Cohen was given the Sam Dalton Award, and as Ben Cohen perfectly summarized our feelings on Sam Dalton’s passing:

“The world will miss his fierceness.” 

We are all lucky to have come after Sam. 



PJI Running Team Runs New Orleans Track Club Summer Series

New Orleans has the largest population of incarcerated individuals per-capita of any city in the world. The Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola, houses 6,300 men, and is a particularly brutal example of the failings of our criminal justice system.

PJI repeatedly hears reports from Angola about the inhumane conditions in which inmates live- from extreme temperatures to unconstitutional medical care. 

On July 12th, a group of eight legal interns, attorneys and paralegals represented PJI and ran the loop at Audubon Park to raise money for our Client and Family Assistance Project. The funds raised will be distributed to cover basic needs of these incarcerated individuals. The fundraising also helps support inmate families maintain a connection to their loved ones through visits and phone calls.