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DA hopefuls square off in debate

Even though his name was said only once Tuesday night, current 22nd Judicial District DA Walter Reed’s ears had to be burning.

That’s because four of the five candidates to succeed Reed spent a great deal of Tuesday night’s debate in Lacombe discussing how to correct problems in the office Reed has held uncontested for 18 years. Reed’s policies and practices are under investigation by the FBI, and extensive scrutiny led to his decision to not seek re-election — and to blame the media for his many problems.

The debate, which featured candidates Alan Black, Roy Burns, Warren Montgomery and Brian Trainor, was sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany and drew a crowd of about 250 persons to the John Davis Center. Robbie Rees was the only candidate who did not participate.

Black is a Bogalusa native and graduate of Bogalusa High School. He is brother to Bogalusa Municipal Judge Robert Black.

All four candidates called for transparency in the office and a tightening of the purse strings in the DA’s office through a budget process that involves more people and more checks and balances.

In response to a question that noted Reed’s request for an additional $120,000 in 2012 and $230,000 in 2013 it was pointed out that, “Today, the DA is asking for $1 million more (than last year). There’s not going to be a ‘Dirty Dozen.’ We’re going to do away with enhanced benefits … they’re wasting money.”

Trainor noted his participation in the preparation of the sheriff’s budget and said “We have to establish a budget process … it can’t just be on a whim.”

Burns, who was open in his assault of Trainor’s ties to both the DA’s office as well as his connections to the sheriff’s office, said leadership is important.

“Mr. Trainor was in the DA’s office for eight years and has seen nothing of the process,” Burns said.

Black said the key to rebuilding public trust in the DA’s office was accountability and transparency and noted that he had hired former Legislative Auditor Dr. Dan Kyle to put a system in place to prevent a repeat of the alleged occurrences under Reed’s watch.

“I will call for an immediate cut-off audit to show where we are, and we will establish a written procedure of protocol and policy,” Black said.

Black noted there is no such policy at present.

All four candidates said they would prosecute corruption in Washington and St. Tammany parishes, and Montgomery pointed out his experience as a federal prosecutor.

“I went after the big boys. I won’t back down,” he said.

A common thread through the evening’s responses centered around fairness and the opening of the judicial process, with Trainor saying, “It’s not the DA’s job to convict. That’s the judge and jury’s job.”

He also said recusal should only be used in the course of justice and not to allow the DA to force a plea.

Black said, “Recusal is being overused, and (the law is) very black and white.”

Burns said, “There are so many conflicts of interest of the DA, their attorneys and the people they prosecute.”

His promise to change the pre-trial conference process brought applause.”

Montgomery pointed out that there “is no easy solution. The Sixth Amendment gurantees a fair trial, a speedy trial.”

All four hopefuls were critical of the term “St. Slammany,” which refers to Reed’s office being harsh on offenders and having one of the highest rates of incarceration in the state. It was also noted during the session that many of those convictions came as a result of pleas.

There were a couple of areas where there was disagreement.

On the question of term limits, Burns said he would only need one term to get the office turned around and cleaned up while Montgomery said he would agree to two terms. Black said he would serve no more than 12 years, or three terms, but only because the third term would be needed to finish the work started.

Trainor didn’t agree to the two-term question, saying he would serve as long as the voters wanted him.

The other area of disagreement came in the discussion of a St. Tammany inspector general, which Burns advanced.

Black said Burns’ idea would cost $1.5 million. Earlier, on several occasions, Burns said he would “scrub” the budget once elected.

Trainor said if the public approved the position, he would support it. Montgomery said he didn’t think the parish had the authority to create the position, but noted he had asked the chamber of commerce to create it last year.

Tuesday’s debate was the first of two scheduled. A second was sponsored by the West St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 28.