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In a city where power-sharing between blacks and whites is still a work in progress, New Orleans’ first black district attorney has been hauled into court by 44 whites who say they were illegally fired en masse and replaced with blacks when he took office. The racial discrimination trial opened in federal court this week, with the white former employees seeking back pay and unspecified damages for emotional distress in a lawsuit against Eddie Jordan, the flashy New Orleans prosecutor who in 2000 put Edwin Edwards, Louisiana’s high-rolling former governor, behind bars. “While it may be OK for a new district attorney or sheriff to come up and clean house, you can’t clean house with all of one race,” Clement Donelon, a lawyer for the fired whites, said Tuesday. “You can’t fire all the white people to hire your friends, and other black people.” Jordan has said that he had the right to choose his staff and that the firings were done for reasons of racial balance. “This is not discrimination; this is a political effort to create diversity,” his lawyer Philip Schuler told the jury of eight whites and two blacks. The lawyer noted that in New Orleans the workforce is overwhelmingly black — nearly 70 percent — and that Jordan merely wanted “a workforce more reflective of the community.” As the U.S. Attorney in the 1990s, Jordan was the man in the trademark homburg who matched wits with Edwards, the wisecracking governor who dominated Louisiana politics for nearly three decades before he went to prison for graft. Jordan then got elected district attorney, succeeding a retiring Harry Connick, himself another colorful New Orleans politico and the piano-playing father of jazz musician Harry Connick Jr. The black prosecutor won office in a city where blacks have slowly gained the top political jobs over the past quarter-century. The mayor is black, and so is the sheriff. But voting still breaks down along racial lines, with most blacks shunning candidates supported by whites, who constitute around 30 percent of the population. Eight days after taking office in 2003, Jordan fired 56 Connick holdovers — all non-lawyers, such as investigators, clerks and administrative employees, and all but three of them white. Over the next six months, Jordan went on to hire 69 people, 64 of them black. Eighteen of the replacements had worked on his campaign. Among the non-lawyers, the number of blacks nearly tripled, while the number of whites in the office declined by about two-thirds. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a preliminary determination, found evidence of racial bias. Veterans with years of experience in law enforcement were replaced by younger blacks, some of whom had never done police work before. “Lot of depression. Lot of self-confidence loss,” said George Vogt, an investigator in his 60s who said he had heart problems after his firing. He said he sent out 100 résumés before finding a job. Another white man fired by Jordan testified that he was one of the rare fingerprint and ballistics experts in the district attorney’s office. The résumé of the young man who replaced him was projected onto a courtroom screen, and it showed he had little experience other than being a lifeguard and doing some office work at a law firm. Arthur Perrot, a fired white investigator, had a perfect 24-out-of-24 score when interviewed by Jordan’s transition team, but was fired, while a black investigator who scored 16 out of 24 was retained. But Jordan’s lawyer asked: “If Eddie Jordan is racist, how is it that Eddie Jordan retained 57 white assistant district attorneys? These were his key positions.” Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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