Sharonda Williams spent the last three years as the City of New Orleans’s top lawyer and is now stepping down after facing a number of high-profile legal battles during her tenure. This comes at a time immediately after the city finally resolved a decades-long legal battle with the New Orleans Firefighter Department. She announced on Monday, October 19th that she was going to return to private practice in New Orleans. Rebecca Dietz, who is currently the Mayor’s Executive Counsel, will now be the City Attorney.
What Were the Largest Cases the City and Williams Dealt With?
During Williams’ term as the City of New Orleans Attorney, she juggled a police department consent decree, the ongoing dispute with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office over the new city jail, a funding dispute with Criminal Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell and a case over the city’s control of the Wisner Trust Fund. Not to mention the case with the city’s Firefighters.
In August 2013, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, appointed the law firm of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, & Hampton LLP to establish the Office of the Consent Decree Monitor to “assess and report whether the requirements of the Consent Decree have been implemented, and whether this implementation is resulting in the constitutional and professional treatment of individuals by NOPD.” This came about after an investigation of an alleged pattern of civil rights violations and other misconduct by the NOPD in 2010. In 2012, the City, the NOPD and the DOJ entered into a Consent Decree, which was the country’s most expansive Consent Decree. Since taking over in 2013, Williams oversaw this provided quarterly and special reports in compliance with the Consent Decree. All reports can be found here.
The Mayor and Sheriff Marlin Gusman are battling it out over the city’s new jail. On August 16, 2015, the mayor’s office released an affidavit by City Attorney Sharonda Williams warning that the mayor’s support for a Phrase III of the jail, in August 2013, was conditional. And, without those conditions being met, the agreement would be void. This is a case that will continue with Rebecca Dietz in place.
Also in August 2015, Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell won a round in court in his ongoing legal and political battle with New Orleans over funding at his office. In October 2012, Morrell filed suit against the city claiming that they failed to fully fund his office.
Why is Sharonda Williams Resigning?
Sharonda Williams has the right to resign and has decided she wants to return to private practice, which she had previously worked prior to the City job. But, there could be other underlying factors that prompted Williams to make this decision. For instance, I think that Williams knows that the next mayor of New Orleans will not renew her position and this is an easier way out. Additionally, with the Firefighters dispute with the city, her office really failed in this regard. Last week, the deal was done and the city of New Orleans is required to pay the full $75 million in back pay that they have been seeking for decades. The City of New Orleans lacks the funding to pay the settlement and will attempt to raise those funds with a $2.5 mil increase in city property tax (which I will vote against.)
Lastly, it’s unfortunate, that although there were so many reports filed for the Consent Decree, the city has failed to meet many of the Decrees with the State and Local courts. Is she afraid to enforce the law with an iron fist? New Orleans has proven over the years that it is not an easy city to enforce laws given the politics and also its history of political corruption.
Provided that Williams, a Gambit Top 40 Under 40 in 2010, made partner at Sher Garner Cahill Klein & Hilbert LLC as the first African American to do so prior to becoming the city’s attorney, as well as co-founding the Louisiana Association of Black Women Attorneys and serving as the president of GNO Louis A. Martinet Legal Society, it is evident that she will continue with a successful career in private practice.