Reform prosecutor on the defense in federal tax trial
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams, elected as a reform candidate in 2020 even as he faced tax charges, arrived at the federal courthouse Monday for jury selection in his trial.
Williams and Nicole Burdett, who was an attorney in his law practice, are accused in an indictment of conspiring to cheat on Williams’ taxes during a five-year period ending in 2017.
A defense lawyer before he became the city’s top prosecutor, Williams was president of the New Orleans City Council when he was indicted in June 2020. He was elected district attorney that December with support from criminal justice reform advocates.
He succeeded Leon Cannizzaro, a hardline prosecutor and frequent target of Williams’ criticism who did not seek reelection. Williams took office facing pandemic-related backlog of cases and high expectations from criminal justice reform advocates.
There was also a growing violent crime problem that has not abated. And while Williams has drawn praise from reformers for efforts to free the wrongly accused and reexamine the cases of people convicted under a now defunct law allowing non-unanimous jury verdicts, he has also drawn criticism.
When Williams announced that two 15-year-olds would be charged as adults in the highly publicized gunshot death of a 52-year-old woman and her dog during a suspected carjacking attempt, he was accused by some advocates of going back on a campaign promise regarding juvenile offenders.
Williams has said the accusations in the tax case were ginned up by prosecutors for political reasons. His motion to have them dismissed was rejected last year by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said at the time that Williams’ lawyers failed to prove that federal prosecutors targeted Williams because he was a public official running for office or because Williams is Black.
Feldman, however, did give credence to the defense’s point that other clients of a tax preparer at the center of the case — Henry Timothy, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud — were not being prosecuted.