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First in Deep South Protecting Gays

JULY 28, 1997:  Gov. Mike Foster quietly signed the state's "hate crimes" law last week, making Louisiana the first state in the Deep South to extend to gays and lesbians special protection from bigotry-based violence.

Foster, a Republican, supported hate crimes legislation both as a state senator and as governor. On July 15, he approved Senate Bill 914 co-authored by Sen. James Cox of Lake Charles and Sen. Jon Johnson and Rep. Ed Murray of New Orleans. Westwego Rep. John Alario helped push the bill in the House. All of them are Democrats.

"People understand the concept today a lot better than they did last year and in previous years," said Johnson, an African-American who authored previously unsuccessful legislation. "I think what changed was we were able to get some more conservatives and Republicans and forward-thinking individuals who realize this is not just geared to the French Quarter and New Orleans and people whose sexual orientation may be different than yours and mine."

The new law provides up to five years in prison at hard labor and $5,000 in fines for felony offenders who select their victims based on "race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry or by reason or perceived [association in] an organization."

A sentence for a hate crimes conviction will run consecutively with the prison term for the underlying offense, ranging from theft to murder. The law also provides enhanced misdemeanor penalties of up to six months in jail and $500 in fines.

Under the new law, the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights is required to collect hate crimes data statewide.

"We're very excited that the governor has followed the will of the Legislature," said Chris Daigle, chair of the Louisiana Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC). "We brought it up five times before in the Legislature, and [Foster] supported it each time."

While 42 states now have hate crimes laws, Louisiana is among only 20 states and the District of Columbia to extend protections to gays and lesbians. Other, more liberal states, such as New York do not provide additional criminal penalties for "gay bashing."

Meanwhile, local art gallery owner Arthur Roger said: "I find it hard to get excited about what should be that way already but I think Governor Foster wants to be fair."

The New Orleans Police Department has kept records of hate crimes complaints in compliance with the federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990. Recent figures were unavailable, but of the 44 local hate crimes recorded through mid-1995, most involved men who were victims of "gay bashing." -- A.J., L.E.J.

Defending Others

Democratic state Sen. Dennis Bagneris, a lawyer who has represented other public and private officials in federal court proceedings since the Edwin Edwards trials of 1985-86, suspects he may be the target of a recent "catch-back" for criticizing government prosecution efforts.

Bagneris, a co-counsel to former state Sen. Larry Bankston in this year's video poker bribery trial, chided the feds after his client's conviction last month. He said the government's sweeping investigation of alleged public corruption in the Legislature only showed that "we have one of the most honest legislatures in the country."

The day after Bagneris' remarks were made public, he found himself explaining why he received a $75 legislative per diem when he was working as a lawyer at the trial in New Orleans. Bagneris said he would return the state pay, which he estimated at $375, although he is not required to do so.

Lawmakers receive the per diem only when the Legislature is in session, but they are not required to be present at the Capitol to receive the money. (The per diem increased to $97 a day effective July 1.)

Bagneris did not name individuals or agencies but indicated that he thought questions from the media about his per diem allowance were prompted by those who were unhappy with his comments.

"But no matter how tough the game is, I won't surrender my First Amendment rights to anyone," he said.

Bagneris also represented former Congressman Cleo Fields during the early stages of the wide-ranging, ongoing federal probe of former Gov. Edwin Edwards. At the time, Fields was told he is not a target of the investigation, Bagneris said.

During the federal racketeering and fraud trials of Edwards and several co-defendants in the '80s, Bagneris served as co-counsel for EWE co-defendant Ronnie Falgout, who was accused of illegally obtaining state hospital certificates.

Bagneris and Baton Rouge attorney Lewis Unglesby both have represented defendants in the Edwards trials, the video poker trial and the ongoing Edwards probe.

Unglesby, now an attorney for Edwards, also served as lead lawyer for Bankston. Moreover, Unglesby represented Charles Isabel, Marion Edwards' nephew, during the Edwards trials, which ended with full acquittals. Bagneris said he hopes to one day write a book about his experiences defending other public officials in federal court. -- A.J.

Fenner Undecided

Civic activist and Democrat Mary Jane Fenner has received "a lot" of calls urging her to run for the City Council District A seat held by incumbent Republican Suzanne Terrell.

"We're talking about money people," a spokesperson for Fenner said of the phone calls from supporters. "Right now, she is debating the issue."

On another note, we erred last week when we said Fenner is 70. She is 63. Her age came up in the 1994 campaign when an opponent misquoted her age.

Meanwhile, Terrell is expected to release a survey this week showing her with extremely high job ratings among her constituents.

District A, which is laced with well-heeled conservatives, has been among the safest seats on the New Orleans City Council, for Republicans. -- A.J.

MCC Raises $12,000

More than 100 law enforcement professionals and a handful of public officials last week teed up at Eastover Country Club for the second annual benefit golf tournament for the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

The private watchdog group raised close to $12,000 from the sold-out event on July 14, up from $8,200 last year, a spokeswoman said. Proceeds will help fund MCC's guns hotline and programs like Wanted by the Law and Juvenile Justice for needy youths in Orleans and Jefferson parishes.

New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Marlin Gusman attended but did not play in the tournament, which was won by a team from the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office. Swinging clubs for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office were Sheriff Harry Lee's No. 2 man, Newell Norman and Col. John Fortunato. Elected officials who teed up included Traffic Court Judge Paul Bonin, Municipal Court Judge Sean Early and Civil District Court Judge Roland Belsom. Mayor Marc Morial's sister, Monique Morial, worked as a volunteer for the benefit. -- J.B.

Corrections: In last week's Summer Restaurant Guide, we misidentified a dish at Nick's on Carrollton (1120 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-1414). The eggs Blackstone features two poached eggs over grilled tomatoes and bacon, topped with hollandaise sauce and served on an English muffin. Also, we omitted the Metairie location of Ralph & Kacoo's:601 Veterans Memorial Blvd., 831-3177.

Fred Radtke

Founder of Operation Clean Sweep, a graffiti eradication group

Q: How did Operation Clean Sweep begin, and what are its goals?

A: It started a year ago when I got tired of looking at graffiti on the cemetery walls at the end of Canal Street. I went over to Helm Paint and said, `If you supply the paint, I'll do the labor.' I painted over that whole thing. Three weeks later, I came back and there were three different marks. I realized that there was a source doing this on an ongoing basis. Every time [graffiti vandals] go out, we cover it up in a three-day period.

Q: We understand you've gotten the state involved on this issue.

A: The bottom line is that graffiti is now in the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Quality. There now will be an operational format for people to follow [to address the problem]. We want [the process] to go all the way to the courts. We want to let judges and legislators know that graffiti could be a dangerous situation. In October, there's going to be a meeting involving DEQ and pertaining to cleaning up the state. Colin Powell or Al Gore will be invited to speak. I got them the head guy from the FBI [gang] task force to speak at that meeting about gangs. Things have been happening at a rapid pace.

Q: You said graffiti could be `dangerous.' How?

A: There are recognizable patterns with graffiti out there that can be understood. A gang used to be a bunch of neighborhood guys you hung out with and played ball with. But that terminology starts changing because it is now a violent situation. These gangs paint the sides of buildings because that's their way of letting everybody know they're taking care of business. If the graffiti is left on there, it starts breeding a higher type of crime in that area. They claim that area for themselves.

Q: What is the worst area for graffiti right now.

That's hard to determine. There are numerous `worst' areas in the city, but all of it is significant, whether it's out in the country or in the city itself because it is a reflection of the next level of crime in that area. New Orleans is like a Southern lady with dirty fingernails.

Q: What can people do to help with this cause?

A: They can be aware of graffiti, they can meet with their neighborhood associations and make that an agenda, and they can get involved with removing it. Don't be seedy, erase graffiti.

To sponsor Operation Clean Sweep or donated supplies, call 486-9694.


Mississippi River commuters

won't have to wait much longer to use the bridges' controversial transit lane. A new state law will open the lane to mass transit vehicles and cars with more than two riders. The "high-occupancy" lanes should be ready to go by Sept. 1.

Paul Connick,

Jefferson Parish district attorney, soon will have eight new prosecutors working for him. The state recently approved funding for 42 new assistant DA positions around the state. Connick's uncle, New Orleans DA Harry Connick, will get four new assistants.


St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish

in Kenner saw Archbishop Francis Schulte turn down a $7 million offer from a parishioner to build a new church and erase the parish's debt. Schulte said the donation came with strings attached and that the parishioners should pay for the new church collectively.

Orleans Parish public school officials

were blamed in a study by DA Harry Connick for the chronic discipline and safety problems the system has faced. Connick said that a number of incidents were not reported to his office or to police, but school officials said the discrepancies were because of miscommunication, not a cover-up.

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