Department of Justice Seal

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the New Orleans Family Justice Center

New Orleans, Louisiana
Monday, May 19, 2008

Good afternoon. Earlier this morning I toured the lower Ninth Ward and the 17th Street levee so that I could see first hand some of the progress that is being made here in New Orleans. A concrete example of that progress is the recently reopened New Orleans Police Department’s Headquarters, which I toured this morning.

I then met with a group of leaders of state and local law enforcement agencies. Many of them have dedicated the past two and half years of their lives to rebuilding the criminal justice system here. They gave me their perspective on how the city is doing and how the Department of Justice can help. I took the opportunity to thank them personally for their hard work under difficult circumstances.

I also toured the facility next to me – a Family Justice Center similar to other such centers nationwide. In an effort to find the best ways to address the needs of the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in New Orleans, the Department of Justice has worked with elected officials, Catholic Charities, and others in state and local governments and non-profit agencies. The result of that effort was the Family Justice Center, which places in one central location the comprehensive support victims need. Under one roof, victims can see a lawyer, talk to the police, file court documents, and speak with a counselor or a therapist. This center, like the 15 others in operation around the country, recognizes that the pain of victims is more easily healed with more efficient use of resources.

And, like the City’s new police headquarters, this facility is not only a tool, but also a symbol – a symbol of the commitment by the Department of Justice and law enforcement to the people of New Orleans. But this is only one example of the Department’s commitment.

Last month, I had the chance to meet with members of the New Orleans Crime Coalition in my office in Washington. We had a productive meeting, and I greatly appreciated hearing from them about their concerns and their views of the Department’s efforts here in New Orleans.

Of course, the commitment of the Department involves many people both here and in Washington D.C. Here in New Orleans, the Department is superbly represented by U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who has done an outstanding job. There are too many people back in Washington to thank, but I do want to mention particularly Cindy Dyer, who is the head of our Office of Violence Against Women and who is actively involved with family justice centers throughout the country.

This is my first visit here since taking office, but it is the eighth trip to New Orleans by a U.S. Attorney General since Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. In that time, the Department of Justice has made available more than $86 million in grants statewide. Some of the funding has gone to establish task forces to fight gang violence, some to investigate and prosecute disaster-related fraud, and some to stop gun and drug trafficking.

We've rounded up more than 500 felony fugitives and we recently filled two victim/witness specialist positions to help provide crucial services to the victims of crime and make them aware of their rights. Over the last few years, we have assigned temporarily six Assistant U.S. Attorneys and close to 50 federal law enforcement agents and analysts to help out. I am pleased to announce that I have recently authorized the U.S. Attorney’s office here to extend five of those Assistant United States Attorney positions for another two years.

I'm also pleased to announce today that we will provide $300,000 to the Tulane University Law School's domestic violence clinic, which provides legal services to victims of sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. I’d like to mention briefly one example of the type of the work the clinic does.

A domestic violence survivor contacted the clinic for help getting a divorce. During an interview, clinic attorneys discovered that she had been forced to leave her home months earlier, when her abusive husband brutally beat and strangled her. The student attorneys immediately filed for an emergency protective order that evicted her husband from the home and required him to pay the mortgage, the medical bills associated with the attack, and compensation for her personal belongings that he had destroyed.

When her husband did not comply with the court’s order, the clinic filed a motion to have him held in contempt, and he was sentenced to jail time. The clinic has now helped her file for divorce and permanent spousal support, and will be assisting her with property issues relating to the home.

This is just one example of the tangible effect that the clinic has had on the lives of many victims. The grant announced today will allow the clinic to continue its good work for the people of New Orleans.

This grant, the five term Assistant United States Attorney positions and the Family Justice Center are just a few of the things the Department has been doing to help rebuild the law enforcement capacity of the city and parishes, and to rebuild the justice system. The catastrophe that hit New Orleans caused incalculable pain and loss, but it also opened our eyes to the tremendous need for services. And it gave us a rare opportunity to start fresh in providing some of those services.

We've seen great results from our hard work so far. We're certainly not done yet, but, working together, we'll get there.

Thank you very much. I'd be happy to take any questions you might have.

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