The following answers were provided by Warren Montgomery (Incumbent) running for District Attorney in St. Tammany Parish:
3 years and 12+ criminal jury trials as a federal prosecutor.
10 years as a litigator in state and federal courts at all levels, including both civil and criminal trials before both a jury and a judge.
6 years as District Attorney in the 22nd JDC, responsible for over 15,000 felony convictions and 30,000 misdemeanor cases as well as civil litigation before trial, appellate and supreme courts.
No. I am the full-time District Attorney for Washington/St. Tammany Parishes. When I took office in 2015, I established a new Code of Conduct eliminating the allowance for lawyers in the office to simultaneously engage in private practice.
Prior to my election as District Attorney, I worked in both the private and public sector. As CEO of a company with operations in the U.S. and based in Puerto Rico, I supervised 100 employees and a multi-million dollar budget. The types of employees I managed included executives, support staff and industry workers. I also worked as an attorney in private practice where I functioned as CEO and CFO of a small business. I supervised professional and clerical staff.
As District Attorney for Washington/St. Tammany Parishes for the past 5+ years, I am responsible for 136 employees and oversee an annual budget of $12.5 million. My staff includes three division chiefs, supervisors, attorneys, investigators, other professional and support staff. When I took the helm of the District Attorney’s Office, prosecutors did not have even external work email addresses to communicate with law enforcement agencies, the general public, or anyone outside of the office. Also, office files were all paper. I directed my team to overhaul the entire system, and we upgraded technology office-wide. We not only provided prosecutors with secure emails, but we provided them laptops and electronic access to information from the courtroom. We invested in scanners and other technology to digitize all records, including evidence submitted from law enforcement agencies. All dockets now can be managed digitally without the need to bring paper files to the courtroom. These timely advances have given the entire office the flexibility to adapt to changing environments, such as enabling staffers to work remotely during the pandemic.
We also implemented fair policies and procedures. One of the first changes I addressed was the lack of clear, uniform guidelines for staff. My administrative team created the first employee manual, laying out in detail the expectations for professional, ethical behavior. We also implemented an electronic time and attendance system to ensure even treatment among all employees. I established generous family leave policies to attract and keep talented, young prosecutors and other staffers.
Meanwhile, the budget for administrative and criminal costs has remained relatively flat. After winning a lawsuit that pushed the parish to follow the home rule charter, I assumed control of the parish’s legal department mid-year in 2018 and made staffing changes that have resulted in a total savings of $774,573 for my Civil Division. All the while, we have maintained the high quality of legal services provided to the parish.
I believe in performance assessments to determine effectiveness, and thus, I supported an independent study of the St. Tammany Parish criminal justice system by the Metropolitan Crime Commission (MCC). The report overall gave my administration high marks. I then commissioned an independent study by Economist Ed Bee, who used MCC data to determine the financial impact of my administration’s changes. Bee found that between 2015 and 2018, my administration decreased the time from arrest to resolution of cases by 16 percent, resulting in a savings of about a million dollars to taxpayers.
My office fosters an ethic that understands the balance between punishment and rehabilitation. Our criminal justice system wants to work with nonviolent offenders to get them back on track through rigorous programs that demand accountability and results. The specialty courts– Adult Drug Court, Sobriety Court, Re-Entry Court, Behavioral Health Court, Family Preservation Court and the newly-created Veterans Court– are operated by the judges and target specific populations, providing resources to address their myriad needs. For the judges of the Specialty Courts in the 22nd JDC, there is an emphasis, focus, and direction that recognizes that we’re all in this together and we’re looking for bottom line results.
During my tenure as D.A. I have enhanced and increased referrals to Specialty Courts, giving non-violent offenders the opportunity to move from a life-cycle in the criminal justice system toward helping them achieve a healthy, stable, crime-free life. We do offer Second Chances and that also includes our Diversion Program and Operation Angel. The law, however, does not provide for third and fourth chances.
Justice indeed should be colorblind, and my administration has implemented policies to ensure that defendants are treated fairly, regardless of race, ethnicity, or political connections. One of the first areas I addressed when I took office was the screening of cases. Under the previous administration, a single full-time Assistant District Attorney (ADA) and two part-time ADAs were assigned to screen all cases that came through the office. I created a Screening Department, which now includes four full-time ADAs, as well as a part-time ADA, to thoroughly review cases to determine the sufficiency of evidence and the appropriateness of charges. Among the multiple benefits of the Screening Department is that it minimizes unnecessary incarceration, particularly for indigent defendants when there is not enough evidence to support a charge.
My administration also reduced enrollment fees for our Diversion Program and changed the fee structure to incorporate a sliding scale, based on household income. The purpose of those changes was to make it possible for all who are eligible to have access to the program, regardless of income. Prior to my administration, potential participants who could not afford the program had no access to the second chance and help that Diversion offers.
In addition, my staff established a uniform plea policy to ensure that the same defendant, who commits the same offense with the same criminal history, is treated the same, regardless of political status, sex, race, or wealth.