Possible jailing draws legal Who’s-Who to lawyer’s defense

Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten stood there in the hallway, along with retired Criminal District Judge Calvin Johnson. Tulane law professor Pam Metzger was there, too, as was high-profile criminal defense attorney Jason Williams.

Other former criminal court judges, including Dennis Waldron and Raymond Bigelow, were said to be expected anytime, before word got around that the whole thing wouldn’t go off as planned.

They were called Wednesday morning to Orleans Parish criminal court in a last-ditch bid to prevent an overnight stay at Orleans Parish Prison for a high-ranking public defender.

Kenny Green, the public defender’s chief of trials, had so angered Judge Robin Pittman at a February hearing that she charged him with contempt and sentenced him to 24 hours in jail.

Contempt citations are nothing terribly rare at the Orleans criminal courthouse, but the situation between Pittman and Green stands apart.

According to a transcript of the Feb. 8 hearing, when Pittman ordered Green jailed, the judge denied him an appeal bond by claiming he posed a direct physical threat to her.

And not just to her.

Judges must grant appeal bonds after sentencing someone to five years or less, unless the defendant is a flight risk or a danger to anyone. That anyone, Pittman said, was herself and her family.

“I am a person, I live in the community, and Mr. Green knows where I live,” she said, according to the hearing transcript. “I feel like my life and my children and my entire family’s life is at risk based on Mr. Green’s threatening behavior, disrespectful behavior.”

Members of Green’s office came to smooth the waters, but Pittman was having none of it.

“And if you could have seen the way Mr. Green looked into the eyes of this court, I have never had a defendant ... give the court the look that Mr. Green gave it.”

An appeals court, which stayed the sentence, later upheld it, and the Louisiana Supreme Court last week did the same, then this week denied a request to rehear the case.

So Green stood in the courtroom hallway on Wednesday, clutching a file folder with a copy of “City of Refuge,” a Hurricane Katrina novel he planned to read behind bars.

Green, who has worked in the public defender’s office for three decades without any contempt convictions, until now, declined to comment.

Although Pittman didn’t need to do anything for his sentence to take effect, the group of legal minds stood outside her courtroom anyway, lining up for a Hail Mary.

“What makes this case so unusual is that a 32-year-old veteran of the criminal justice system is accused of putting a judge in fear for her life and the lives of their children,” said Metzger, a member of the Louisiana Public Defender board.

“The fact you saw former prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and other showing up to express their support signaled both the high esteem in which (Green is) held and the extraordinary alarm that they felt at the idea of him being sent to jail.”

On Tuesday, Pittman denied a request by Metzger for a copy of the audio recording of the Feb. 8 hearing, which Metzger said might reveal Green’s tone during the original hearing, which was over a 17-year-old boy, Herschel Jones, who had managed to post a $20,000 bond on a simple robbery charge.

Green had refused Pittman’s order to find James’ mother, to see whether his family receives public assistance. He argued that it wasn’t legally relevant.

“You don’t tell me what’s relevant. Go find out,” the judge told him.

“I’m not gonna’ ask, your Honor. You can ask his mother if you like,” he responded, before Pittman held him in contempt.

Letten did not return a call for comment. Johnson, the former judge, said he came to bring peace.

“I was there more to support how the system should function. If in fact you were at the end of your rope, maybe you need to apologize to the judge,” Johnson said. “On the other side of that, judge, jail is a scarce resource. If you’re punishing him, why should we pay for it? You can make him pay money, do community service.”

Peace seemed in the offing late Wednesday. After the legal crowd left — the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal had granted an emergency stay on the sentence — Pittman met with Green and his attorney.

A deal appeared to be in the works for Pittman to spare Green jail time.

Whether it included an apology from Green was unclear by press time.

Pittman declined to comment pending the outcome.