Will be working for a Chaisson for second time in career
Longtime St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel is getting accustomed to his new role as an assistant district attorney after 33 years as the head man.
Morel just got back from a 10-day Alaskan cruise that his office staff paid for after his official retirement.
“Going on that cruise was shocking. I read three and a half books,” Morel said. “I love to read so it wasn’t a problem.”
Morel decided to step down as district attorney after his daughter, Michele Morel, announced she was running for a judgeship in the parish.
“I resigned last year effective May 31st because she was running. I didn’t want that to be an issue,” Morel said. “They still tried to make it an issue.”
After facing four competitors in his first election in 1979, when the district encompassed both St. John and St. Charles, Morel won five straight elections without opposition. Morel’s successor, new D.A. Joel Chaisson was also elected without opposition in November of last year.
Morel said this will not be his first time working under a Chaisson.
“My first job practicing law was with Judge Chaisson. The DA’s daddy,” Morel said.
It was about ten years after taking that job that Morel was elected as district attorney.
Morel said he was not sure he wanted to be a lawyer until he was preparing to graduate from LSU with a degree in English education.
“I wanted to be a baseball player,” he said.
Morel played baseball at Jesuit and went on to play at LSU. He was elected to the school’s hall of fame and his picture still stands outside of the stadium.
Morel said it was at that same stadium where he met his wife Gwen.
“She was from Des Allemands and I was from New Orleans,” Morel said. “She was a senior in high school and she was up there for rush and I met her and we started dating when she got to LSU. I graduated in 1965 and we got married in 1965.”
Morel said at first he thought he might go on to be a teacher and baseball coach, but that he had seen his father struggle to support their family as a music teacher and orchestra leader in New Orleans. He wanted something better for his family.
“I became a lawyer and made a good choice obviously,” Morel said. “I’ve had a good life. I ‘m a very, very lucky guy.”
Morel said in his time as D.A. he tried to run a fair office that was focused on helping people who had made mistakes in their lives get better.
“I’ve never thought that everyone who gets arrested belongs in jail,” he said. “So I try and work it out.”
Morel started a probation department that he says works wonders by giving young kids another chance instead of ruining their lives over a possession charge.
Since he took over the office, he has progressively instituted diversionary programs that would focus more on giving people a chance to put their lives back in order.
Although crime did rise in Morel’s tenure, St. Charles Parish still has the lowest crime rate in the Greater New Orleans area.
Morel said a lot of the crime in St. Charles comes from outside the parish, but that society has changed also.
“Things accelerate faster now,” Morel said. “They all have guns, they all have this, they all have that, they all drink too much and so it’s better calling the law and getting them in there early.”
Morel said he has also seen things change in the way D.A.’s have handled their positions throughout the years. With Facebook, Twitter and text messages, Morel said that everything a D.A. does is under a microscope.
That makes it harder for a district attorney to take a chance and help somebody they don’t believe belongs in prison, Morel said.
“I try to treat everyone fairly reasonably and the guys that belong in jail we put in jail,” Morel said. “If I can give a guy help I will, but we talk to the victims.”
Morel said despite his efforts some people need to be in prison or worse. As D.A. he successfully prosecuted two death penalty cases, both involving rape and murder.
“I’ve had plenty of convictions for homicides, but in those death cases we put it all on the line and worked hard. Getting those was good,” Morel said. “Finally having them executed – you can’t be happy with them – but it was what needed to be done and they were done.”
Other highlights of Morel’s illustrious career include serving as the president of the Louisiana District Attorney’s Association and representing Louisiana as a board member for the National District Attorney’s Association.
But Morel said he does have some regrets. One of the saddest being when a big deputy came to see him after his wife had been arrested.
“He and his wife had had a fight and he put her in jail. And this is a big guy, he came in crying and saying ‘Please don’t prosecute my wife. I’m sorry she didn’t mean to do it’ and all that stuff and crying,” Morel said. “This is thirty years ago.”
Morel dropped the charges and told the couple to attend counseling. But their story wouldn’t have a happy ending.
“And don’t you know within a month he was dead.,” Morel said. “They’d had another fight and she had evidently pulled a knife in the kitchen, threatening him and throwing it around and everything like that.”
Morel slid his finger across his neck.
“And he bled to death,” Morel said. “That stayed with me. You just never know. This was just a husband-wife argument in the kitchen, so you never know.”
Morel said he thinks 33 years as D.A. was enough and although he was considering running as D.A. again he is glad he made the decision to step down.
“After helping my daughter in her campaign, and I worked hard on her campaign, it was time to retire,” Morel said. “It’s a young man’s deal– campaigning. I’ve done enough of it, now let somebody else do it. Luckily, [Joel Chaisson] let me hang on for a little while.
“I haven’t regretted it. Not one day. I’d do it all over.”