Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Jordan’s day in court…

New Orleans First Black District Attorney Defends Firings in Race Bias Suit

From AP, by way of ABC News and NewOrleansNews.net, Adam Nossiter reports:

New Orleans' first black district attorney took the stand in federal court Friday to defend himself against charges of discrimination, turning away suggestions his replacement of whites with blacks in 2003 was racially motivated.

"I didn't care about people's race. I simply wanted people who cared about me as the new leader of the DA's office," District Attorney Eddie Jordan said.

One of New Orleans' most visible political figures and the man who successfully prosecuted the corruption case against former Gov. Edwin Edwards Jordan was testifying for the first time in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by 44 white ex-employees of the prosecutor's office.

The plaintiffs, who seek back pay and damages, are among 53 whites non-lawyers who worked as investigators and clerks summarily fired to be replaced by blacks when Jordan took over as district attorney in January 2003.

Jordan says he acted within his rights in picking his own staff, and pointed out he kept the white lawyers who had worked for his predecessor, Harry Connick Sr., the piano-playing father of jazz musician Harry Connick Jr.

"I asked all 56 white assistant district attorneys to stay in the office. That's not behavior consistent with racially discriminatory intent," Jordan said.

Many of the whites who were fired have already testified, and all have painted a similar picture: suddenly jobless, in late middle age, after years of working in law enforcement agencies.

The plaintiffs' lawyers have spent much time demonstrating that many of the whites who were fired had far more experience, and scored far higher in job interviews, than blacks who were either hired anew or kept on.

Jordan and a top deputy who testified earlier have conceded the point, saying experience wasn't necessarily their top consideration. Instead, they have made it plain they were looking to populate the office with loyalists. And Jordan, in particular, portrayed himself as more focused on the legal staff than the support staff.

The plaintiffs' lawyers have pointed out repeatedly the percentage of blacks among non-lawyers in the district attorney's office doubled, to over 80 percent, in little over a month.

"There's nothing wrong with that, there's nothing illegal about that," Jordan responded, "if you had no intention to discriminate on the basis of race."


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