By Matt Sledge | NOLA.com | March 12, 2021
While his predecessor made do with a $152,500 annual salary, newly elected Orleans Parish District Attorney Jason Williams has given himself a 22% pay bump that puts his compensation in line with other top prosecutors in Louisiana.
Williams now earns $185,000, less than north shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery, East Baton Rouge DA Hillar Moore or Jefferson Parish DA Paul Connick Jr., but more than some other district attorneys in Louisiana, all of whom have the power to set their own pay. The raise means that the leader of one of the state’s busiest prosecutorial offices can claim a salary to match.
It’s a big boost from the $152,500 salary of former Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Two of Cannizzaro’s top lieutenants actually made more than Cannizaro in direct salary before their departures from the office. First Assistant District Attorney Graymond Martin made $165,000 and Chief Assistant District Attorney Robert Freeman Jr. $157,500, according to records.
After Williams, the next two highest-paid employees in the office now are his first assistant Robert White, at $145,000, and his chief administrative officer, Tyronne Walker, at $140,000.
Williams now makes more than New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who is currently paid $174,920, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson, who makes $183,860, and judicial district judges, who make $159,666.
In a statement, Walker said Williams’ pay is in line with his duties.
“The District Attorney’s salary is approximately $15,000 below the maximum amount recommended in guidelines provided by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association’s Ad Hoc committee on salaries,” Walker said. “Additionally, Orleans Parish is the only parish that handles criminal cases every single week. Every other parish has a ‘one week on, one week off’ structure. The Orleans Parish caseload and courtroom responsibilities are incomparable to the rest of the state.”
Other district attorneys in Louisiana make salaries in the neighborhood of Williams, even in parishes that handle far fewer cases, according to state ethics disclosures or statements from their offices. They are:
- St. Tammany and Washington Parish District Attorney Warren Montgomery: $200,290
- Caddo Parish District Attorney James Stewart: $190,514 (as of 2019 disclosure)
- East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore: $190,300
- Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr.: $187,315
- St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney Bridget Dinvaut: $180,670 (as of 2019 disclosure)
- St. Charles Parish District Attorney Joel Chaisson: $179,637
- Plaquemines Parish District Attorney Charles Ballay: $175,000
- St. Bernard Parish District Attorney Perry Nicosia: $165,000
- Rapides Parish District Attorney Phillip Terrell: $161,459.9 (as of 2019 disclosure; also drew $82,604.84 in state retirement benefits)
One-to-one comparisons between the different offices can be difficult because they have different duties. Some district attorneys represent their parishes in civil matters, but in New Orleans that task is handled by the City Attorney’s Office.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the non-profit Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he believes Williams’ pay is in line with the office’s responsibilities. He recalled that when Cannizzaro came into office, he also gave himself a pay increase over that of his predecessor, Eddie Jordan.
“One hundred and eighty five thousand, I think, is reasonable for the Orleans Parish DA, based on what I’ve learned from reviewing the advisory parameters,” Goyeneche said.
Loren Lampart, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, said a $185,000 salary would be “well below the top line.”
The association lays out pay guidelines for district attorneys based on their caseload, experience, duties, parishes covered and other factors, he said. It’s a “pretty intentional process” that also involves comparisons to other government executives and district attorneys in other states, he said.
Williams and many other district attorneys also maintain private law practices. Williams previously made more than $100,000 from his law firm on top of his $95,000 salary as a member of the New Orleans City Council, according to ethics disclosures.
Cannizzaro didn’t have a law practice on the side, but he and his wife reported $25,000 to $100,000 a year in rental income from several properties.
In addition to his salary as DA, he received $85,566 from the State Employees Retirement System in 2019, according to his most recent financial disclosure. Cannizzaro had previously served as a district judge, appellate judge and assistant district attorney.
Outside work is usually legal, but district attorneys cannot be paid extra for their official duties. Former north shore District Attorney Walter Reed, for example, was convicted in 2016 for receiving $574,063 from St. Tammany Parish Hospital for legal services that his office was supposed to provide.
But at times, private income streams attract added scrutiny for district attorneys. Jefferson Parish DA Paul Connick owns a law firm with his brother that has received government work. Connick has defended that arrangement, saying that he’s not involved in drumming up parish business.
In a Jan. 15 interview, Williams said he didn’t foresee having time to recruit private clients. The DA’s Office will be his “primary practice,” he said.
“My focus will be getting the ship straight over here. I have very talented lawyers at the law firm that have been handling cases, without a whole lot of need for my input, for a very long time while on the City Council,” Williams said. “You’re going to probably see a very similar pattern to what you’ve seen already.”