New D.A. offers sober story on challenge ahead

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Editor and Publisher

LAPLACE – Tom Daley said he woke up on Monday and thought to himself, “wow, I’m starting a new job.”

But the challenge facing Daley might dampen the normal excitement most people feel when knowing they are heading to work in a brand new position.

In his own words, Daley is ready to start a job with a description that  is “easy to say, but hard to implement.”

Daley won the election on Saturday in St. John Parish to become the new district attorney for the 40th Judicial District Court. It will be the first time in 24 years that the parish has a new D.A. with the retirement of John Crum coming at the end of 2008.

Daley officially takes office on January 1, 2009.

To even run for the seat, Daley did something quite unusual in that he stepped down from a loftier position as judge on the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, all to run for the local position as parish D.A.

And facing Daley is a huge challenge that the soft-spoken St. John resident approaches with admitted caution, ready to take on the challenge of improving not only the prosecutorial end of the 40th Judicial District, but more importantly to him, offer hope and a future for those who enter the criminal system at all.

“What I want to do will take years to implement,” he said soberly. “The reward will come at the end, and the truth is that the job won’t be fun. But it’s something that has to be done.”

Daley speaks in all seriousness about the job facing him.

Not only does he intend to change the local system so that suspects arrested will get to court quickly, but he wants to put a system in place that offers education for those first-time offenders who will soon be back on the streets.

“The facts are very clear,” he said. “For those people who are released from jail, 50 percent go back in the first five years. I want to reduce recidivism and the only way to do that is to make sure there is education, and more importantly, a followup on the directives from the court to get that education.”

Daley issued a five-point plan during the campaign about how he plans to address “the revolving door.” But on Monday, sitting comfortably in his Belle Terre Boulevard office taking a well-deserved rest after the campaign, he made it clear that the plan will be slow to evolve.

“The first priority for me is to sit down with all the participants in this criminal justice system,” he said. “I mean everyone from employees in the D.A.’s office, people in the clerk of court’s office, key leaders with the Sheriff’s Office and more. I plan to ask them all, ‘How can I improve this system?’”

Daley believes that one problem at the front end of the system has been a lack of cooperation on the part of all parties when someone is arrested, and a bond hearing is held. Too often, a judge may not have all the information he or she needs, and a suspect is released quickly or too easily.

“Sometimes we haven’t had everyone on the same page,” he said. “So the first thing to do is to get all the participants on the same page and make sure we have all the proper information. The D.A.’s office will take an active part in the bond hearings from now on.”

Daley repeated his intent to really listen to a lot of people over the next three months before he officially takes office, gathering as much information as possible to be sure that the system he sets up will work.

“I know I can effect change since I’ve always heard and believe that you get change by being accommodating and cooperative, rather than dictating,” he noted.

Even though he knows there will be many opinions on the all-important matter, he still thinks that he will find enough concensus to put a plan into motion.

“Everyone’s ideas will not be the same, that’s for certain,” he said. “But after I’ve talked to everyone, I think we will find common ground.

“Our correctional system needs to do a better job of channeling citizens to productive lives,” he said. “But we have to give first-time offenders mandatory vocational training, and then we have to make sure to followup to make sure they go through with it.”

Daley said that “for 25 years I’ve heard ‘lock them up and throw away the key,’ but that’s not my mantra. I ran to change that.”

Daley said he plans to have a meeting with every person who is currently an assistant district attorney, and everyone who works in the department, to evaluate who will remain on his staff. Ironically, one of the assistant D.A.’s is Kerry Brown, whom he ran against in the election.

He said he also wants to consolidate the two district attorney offices on the East Bank into one office, and he also wants the office to be in a public building.

“I’m honored that the citizens chose me for this position,” he said. “But now it will take a lot of coordination, and cooperation, to bring about the change we want. We need the entire community to help us with this kind of change, and everyone needs to take responsibility to help us do something positive.”