Suicide gives second chance to parish inmates

Note left by former law clerk says judges didn’t review 13 years of prisoner petitions

A suicide note left by a former law clerk of Chief Justice Edward Dufresne, Jr. alleges that a panel of three judges didn’t review thousands of prisoner petitions over the last 13 years. Instead, those cases were merely signed off on and summarily rejected.

Five of the cases that have surfaced so far are from St. Charles Parish inmates, but a spokesman from the Louisiana Supreme Court says there could be more.
Jerrold Peterson, a law clerk who shot himself in his office in Gretna last year, left a confession about the un-reviewed cases in a note.

In the note, Peterson wrote that he was directed to immediately deny all appeals from inmates with no money to file appeals themselves. That decision was to be made without circulating the appeals to other judges.
The appeals were signed off by Dufresne only. Although two other judges’ names appeared on the documents, their signatures did not.

“There are about 300 cases involved,” Valerie Willard, public information officer for LASC, said. “But there could be more trickling in. Additional cases are yet to be filed and acted upon by the court.”

But attorneys representing some of the complainants said there could be as many as 2,500 cases.
So far, 299 petitions have been filed to have cases reviewed again.

Associate Justice Catherine Kimball ruled that the petitions of appeal should be reviewed again, but didn’t think that the cases should be moved from the 5th Circuit Appeal Court in Gretna. That court handled original rulings.
“It is not ‘proper’ to spend about $200,000 in public money to pay retired judges and staff to handle the cases or burden other appellate courts with the workload,” Kimball wrote in court documents. “The court will refer the cases back to 5th Circuit court but will use a different panel of judges to review the cases.”

Kimball wrote that the idea of relying on a suicide note as a basis for assigning the cases to other appellate judges seemed unrealistic.
“This re-hearing application, in my view, attempts to suggest that this court should base its decision not on evidence in any record, but rather on allegations in a suicide note which in itself suggests the depression of the writer who, if believed, had been fired by the very court which he accuses of misconduct,” Kimball said. “Moreover, we need not consider a police report, which has been neither substantiated nor admitted into evidence in these or any other matters.”

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in Gretna handles appeals from inmates in St. Charles Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish and St. James Parish.
Dufresne was contacted for this story, but couldn’t comment.


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