Feb 042015
 

Who does not know the 60-year old classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and the movie featuring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch, who defends an Afro-American defendant being tried for rape of a white young woman in the State of Alabama during the Great Depression of the 1930s?

One of the key scenes is Atticus Finch’s cross examination of alleged rape victim Mayella Ewell. It plays a role in the book “Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish.”

Harper Lee’s first book was “Go Set a Watchman.” It was the original but eventually became the sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Finch’s daughter Scout returns home from New York in the 1950s to visit her father. According to the publisher’s announcement: “She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.”

“Go Set a Watchman” is released on July 14, 2015.

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Oct 242014
 

Graphic: Ensuring equal justice under law versa the interlocking of different interests.

Graphic: Ensuring equal justice under law versa the interlocking of different interests.

On November 4th, 2014 is election day in Avoyelles Parish, the parish with Louisiana‘s strongest prison lobby. In January of 2014, Judge Jeansonne of the 12th Judicial District announced in an open letter to the residents published by the local newspaper that he would not seek reelection. He is retiring after 12 years (2 terms) in office, two close races against Kerry Spruill, an investigation for allegations of election fraud (2008), an investigation and decree by the Louisiana Board of Ethics with order verdict of guilty (2011), and at least one more confidential investigation (2013) behind closed doors by the Office of Special Counsel (Judiciary Commission of Louisiana).

Kerry Spruill and Mark Jeansonne both each spent more than US$ 100,000 for their last campaigns. While Spruill had the funds needed in his own pocket, Jeansonne had to take out a loan. Jeansonne’s re-election campaign of 2008 received contributions in excess of the contribution limit from family Knoll. (“Eddie” Knoll and Jeannette Theriot Knoll-the parents of Edward Knoll, Jr., Edmond Knoll, and Triston Knoll-prosecuted Vincent Simmons in 1977.)

Three candidates are running for judge now: Andrea Ducote Aymond, Barry Ray Laiche and Kerry Spruill.

Hundreds if not thousands of Avoyelleans contribute to the campaigns of the candidates in any way and, therefore, one might believe that an interest in justice and politics exists in this parish. On the other hand, this same parish is known internationally for the high profile case State of Louisiana vs. Vincent Simmons, because, if given the chance, the factually and actually innocent prisoner could prove he is not-guilty of the crime he was convicted of back in 1977. Yet, nobody of those who appear to be so dedicated to justice now break the taboo and demand either an evidentiary hearing or a retrial for Simmons.

If I called Avoyelles Parish my home and were entitled to vote, I would confront each candidate with the malicious prosecution and unfair trial. I would want to know from them, if they want to do something about this obvious miscarriage of justice, and if so, what they would do. I would run my own campaign so to speak, just to get long due answers. I would do anything in my power so that my fellow man‘s case cannot be hushed up any longer, neither in the local public, nor in court. I think, this is the least one should do as a responsible citizen and voter before one elects the powers that be into office.

But nothing to that effect happens – and therefore, nothing fundamental will change in close knit Avoyelles Parish. It is just the same old run for position, power and prestige as every six years. The candidates depend on the voters, and the voters in turn one day might depend on the elected judge’s decision. Simply donate to all of the candidates‘ campaigns (the more, the better up to US$ 2,500 per person and campaign) and chances are good that it will pay off for you and your family. A saying goes: „You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.“

What claims candidate Andrea Ducote Aymond? “Politics have no place in a court of law.“ How true and ethical! Unfortunately, the reality looks different. The problem is that state judges in the USA are in fact politicians, because they are elected into office by supporters and voters who one day might appear before them in their courtroom. There are many different interest groups an elected judge may feel obligated to „give something back“ to. In a system like that, it is impossible for Aymond (or any honest candidate) to „promise to decide each case fairly, based upon its own unique facts and circumstances, void of any outside pressure or influence.” But she does pretend exactly that in her announcement.

No single judge has ever shown true interest in the facts and circumstances of Simmons‘ case so far. They have not taken the time; they have no idea of the facts; and they do not care, because their personal interests are intertwined with political and economic interests of themselves and others. (This is explained in detail in the book „Louisiana v. Vincent Simmons: Frame-up in Avoyelles Parish,“ which is said to be available at the local library.) The Judge of the 12th Judicial District (Division A) in Louisiana is both a political judge and a judging politician. If a candidate wants his potential voters to believe something else, he is either naive or caught in his first lie.

No matter who becomes judge on November 4th, Vincent Simmons probably remains confined behind bars despite overwhelming evidence of his setup.

Candidates for Judgeship

Andrea Ducote Aymond: (Runoff election result: 5,513 votes/ 46%)
(She characterizes herself as the most compassionate candidate)

The life-long Avoyellean (Democrat) with deep family roots was born in 1978 and is younger than Vincent Simmons‘ nightmare in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. If elected, the carreer woman and mother of three boys will be the first female district judge in the history of Avoyelles Parish. Since 2005, Aymond has been District Attorney Charles Riddle’s Special Victim’s Prosecutor and is trained in protecting the interests of women, children and the elderly. In private practice, she is specialized in family law.

Aymond’s campaign office:
109 South Main Street, Marksville, La. 71351
Phone: (318) 253-6848
Email: andreaaymondforjudge@gmail.com

External Links:
http://www.aymondlawfirm.com/Attorney-Profile.html
http://andreaaymond.com/
https://www.facebook.com/andreaaymondforjudge
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1087-aymond-candidate-for-district-judge-a-seat

Barry Ray Laiche: (He characterizes himself as the most courageous candidate)

Barry Ray Laiche, the father of three children, proud Republican and convinced opponent of gun control laws, obtained his Juris Doctorate in 1993, graduating cum laude. He has been practicing law for 21 years (personal injury, workers’ compensation, social security disability and maritime injury) and has handled litigation in all state and federal courts throughout Louisiana. Among others, he is a member of the Louisiana Association of Defense Counsel. Laiche is not as deeply rooted in the parish as his opponents and says that he does not accept contributions from lawyers, „because he wants to avoid a possible public perception of favoritism based on who contributed to his campaign and who didn’t“ reports the Avoyelles Today.

In criminal matters, Laiche’s priority is an unbiased jury. He says that if an unbiased jury cannot be guaranteed, „it is the judge’s duty to move the case (out of parish) to ensure that the defendant has a fair trial.” Laiche also distinguishes between non-violent offenders and offenders who do harm to society.

Barry Laiche’s Law Office:
237 S Washington St, Marksville, La. 71351
Phone: 318-253-4435
Email: blaiche@laicheattorney.com

External Links:
http://www.provosty.com/site11.php#laiche
http://www.martindale.com/Barry-Ray-Laiche/593144-lawyer.htm
https://www.facebook.com/barry.laiche
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1562-judge-candidates-discuss-issues-in-debate

Kerry Spruill: (* NEW JUDGE! Runoff election result: 6,370 votes/ 54%)
(He characterizes himself as the most experienced candidate)

Kerry Spruill (Democrat) is the father of one son and lives in Vincent Simmons‘ home town Mansura. He was District Judge Michael Johnson’s elected successor from 1997 through 2002 after the latter had been removed from office by the justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court for judicial misconduct. Long term District Attorney Jerold Edward „Eddie“ Knoll (Vincent Simmons‘ prosecutor) and his oldest son Triston Knoll each contributed US$ 2,500 to Spruill’s campaign, which was a multiple of what other local lawyers supplied the candidate with. When Mark Jeansonne ran against incumbent Spruill in 2002 and won the election, Spruill then partnered with retired Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Eddie Knoll in private practice.

Spruill says that he was a good judge, and that none of his decisions were reversed on appeal. In his announcement of this year, Spruill promises, „My commitment is to bring our courts to the people of this parish with rulings that are founded in justice – not politics or personalities.“ He stresses that he „will render sound decisions after careful consideration of the evidence and law.“

Spruill’s campaign headquarters:
219 North Main St., Marksville, La. 73151
Phone: (318) 240-7504
Email: spruilllaw@bellsouth.net

External Links:
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/965-spruill-seeks-12th-judicial-district-seat
http://www.martindale.com/Kerry-L-Spruill/596466-lawyer.htm
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008258311066
http://www.avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1562-judge-candidates-discuss-issues-in-debate

Other Elections
District Judge William J. „Billy“ Bennett (Division B) and District Attorney Charles A. „Charlie“ Riddle do not have opponents, and thus they automatically stay in office for another 6-year term.

My hope is that the people of Avoyelles Parish will be less indifferent in 2020, when new candidates are running for judge and district attorney.

Tip
Louisiana Attorney General James D. „Buddy“ Caldwell’s term expires on January 11, 2016. Caldwell is running for re-election and is challenged by former Congressman Jeff Landry. The election will be in October of 2015.
For inspiration what an attorney general could do, read New York State Attorney General Schneiderman’s letter (dated December 8, 2014) to Governor Cuomo. In the aftermath of several highlighted police shootings and no true-bills or indictments returned by grand juries, Schneiderman requests the power to prosecute the police when local district attorneys won’t.

Louisiana Governor (Republican) Piyush “Bobby” Jindal’s second term expires on January 11, 2016, too. Since he cannot be reelected in 2015 anyway, this might be a opportunity to appeal for pardon for Vincent Simmons. However, this would take much more than a simple petition. Vincent Simmons would need a great and convincing plan. Someone like a politician does not put his name on the line for anyone or anything he is not convinced of. Simmons would need a home, a full-time job with a promising future to support himself, health care, and professional help to guide him in all kind of situations after almost 40 years having been locked away from this world. Go to the “Success in the Community”-matrix here.

For election results and more, go to the Secretary of State Website.

This might be of interest as well:
http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2011/07/29/online-discussion-with-judge-mark-jeansonne/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/14/poll-retrial-hearing-or-prison/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/12/31/race-card-judge-jeansonnes-last-verbal-bangers/

http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2015/08/15/the-problem-with-mayors-courts/

Case summary with documents on the Innocent in Prison Project International website at http://cases.iippi.org/vincent-alfred-simmons/

External Link:

Spruill sworn in as district judge
Published: 05 January 2015
By Raymond L. Daye, Co-Editor
“Kerry Spruill, who served as judge from 1997-2003, was sworn in by by his friend, state Supreme Court Associate Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll of Marksvlle. In an hour-long ceremony, Spruill was praised by her husband and his former boss Eddie Knoll as well as others for his dedication to the law.”
http://avoyellestoday.com/index.php/news/1864-spruill-sworn-in-as-district-judge

Everybody seems to be happy. I am just missing the “We are family” in this article. Or am I wrong and Judge Spruill is going to surprise all of us, indeed?

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Nov 052013
 

Twelve Years a Slave – And Plantation Life in the Antebellum South  is a narrative by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson. It was published in 1853. As Harriet Beacher Stove’s novel, Uncle Ben’s Cabin (1852) ,Northup’s true story book became a bestseller as well.

Solomon Northup was a married African-American man and father, who was born free in Saratoga Springs, New York, but kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841, sold into slavery, and kept in bondage on major plantations in Louisiana for twelve years – nine of those in Avoyelles Parish (Vincent Simmons’ home parish). Avoyelles judge Ralph Cushman eventually granted Northup’s freedom.

More than 100 years later, Dr. Sue Eakin, a historian, journalist and professor from Bunkie in Avoyelles Parish, re-discovered the book while researching Louisiana’s history. She co-edited the 1853 slave diary by Northup. The LSU Press published it in 1968.   

Audio Book

A 2013 British-American drama film on the story starring among others Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup,  Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps (a cruel plantation owner) and Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass (a Canadian carpenter who is a key player in Northup’s liberation) and directed by Steve McQueen was released by Fox Searchlight Pictures on October 18, 2013. The locations, where the movie was filmed, were in Jefferson Parish and in New Orleans.

Press Conference in Toronto, Canada

The press conference in Toronto, Canada, began with the question if the movie was about race. In response, Director McQueen rolled his eyes and stressed that he had wanted to make a film about slavery since he (and many others who contributed to this project) was a part of that history. It is not just about race. It is beyond that. He made clear that race was just involved – it was just a part of it.

Protagonist Ejiofor expressed it simply: It is about human dignity. The leading actors of 12 Years A Slave agreed that the story is very complex. It is beyond clichés. One cannot judge in black and white. It is about love and pain. Every one of the audience probably can identify with something or someone.

Basically, there is no difference between being a slave (Solomon Northup), who was born free, then kidnapped and sold into slavery, and being a prisoner (Vincent Simmons) for a crime he did not commit. Both the slave and the prisoner have illegally lost their freedom and are victims of  a system that is terribly manipulated by money interests. Slavery is the past – prison industry is the present.

———————————————————–

Read about the first Northup Freedom Fest (November 2, 2014) in Marksville at http://vincentsimmons.iippi.org/2014/10/30/freedom-fest/

This article of the local Avoyelles Today might interest the historian or tourist in you:
Renovated Epps House dedicated at LSU-A

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