Home Page
About Jim
Legal Briefs
Press Comments
Jim's Column
Reader Responses
Frequently Asked
Thursday, September 18, 2003

One hundred and sixty-five days of freedom

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Time flies by so quickly! It’s hard to imagine that only one hundred sixty-five days ago, I was unjustly being detained in Oakdale, Louisiana. Yet so much has happened over the summer months that the experience seems like years ago.

I’m back in a busy routine of family, friends, exercise, good food, business opportunities, movies, sporting events and the numerous things we all do to make our life enjoyable. I certainly do not miss prison life, but I will say this. There was a routine that kept me healthy….a predictable schedule that never changed. No worries about making plans when I woke up each morning.

The food was so bad that I picked only the few wholesome items available. Egg whites, wheat bread, peanut butter, fruit, salads; I would even mix my own salad dressing. I still am careful now as to what I eat. No starch, eliminate the white processed items including breads, pastas, potatoes, etc. and few desserts. But let’s be realistic. I live in South Louisiana, and there are just too many temptations. Since coming home, I’ve put back on 15 pounds, although I regularly exercise.

I am swimming, biking, climbing on an elliptical trainer, and using equipment not available to me in Oakdale. But quite frankly, I don’t feel the results as much as I did during my prison experience. There, I worked out six days a week, at the exact same time each day. The equipment was limited, so I had to creatively adapt. Jumping rope with an electrical cord, and pull-ups on doorways. The rap music blared, and the four-letter words spewed out from the young African-American inmates surrounding me at the work-out platform each day. Quite frankly, it was invigorating. I stretched a little more and pushed myself a little farther. It’s harder now. I can see why those who can afford it get a personal trainer to push and motivate them.

I search each day now for private time to write and read. That was never a problem at Oakdale. I had little else to do. It’s is a different story now.

I have been working on some potential business opportunities overseas. With the time difference, the office phone starts ringing in the early morning hours and I often stay busy until late in the evening. But I am not surrounded by a staff to get someone on the phone, arrange luncheon meetings,etc. There never seems to be enough time now. What a change.

One other lesson I learned from my 6-month “sabbatical” is not to get into a lethargic rut of maturity. I was surrounded there almost entirely by young people, mostly in their 20’s who thrived on high-energy living and intense enthusiasm in what they enjoyed. Perhaps, as we get older, we often fall into a “comfortable routine”, that, quite frankly, can make us a bit dull. For whatever value it brings me, I am trying to weigh my options and prioritize my interests at 63. There’s a lot of living I have ahead of me, and like many of you, I want to make the best of it. And the experience at Oakdale has taught me that life can be broader and more enjoyable if it’s accompanied by a certain degree of gusto and enthusiasm. The accomplishments and broad reach of my children should have taught this to me this already. Perhaps its time for some re-learning. Or at least, to put more spring in my step. Hopefully, the years ahead will be a little more enjoyable this way.


Louisiana is just a few weeks from a statewide gubernatorial election. This will be the first time since 1971 that I will not be on the ballot. It has been interesting to be on the sidelines and I may be able to be a little bit more vocal about state and local issues. That’s the prerogative of most of us who are private citizens. We can make eloquent, well-reasoned and emotional arguments about how we feel. Few will listen, but at least we are not constrained like those in public life who have to make broad appeals.

Louisiana voters have a number of good choices for Governor this year. Probably the best field since 1987, when there was a solid field of creditable candidates with a number of well thought out ideas. That group included Governor Buddy Roemer, Congressman Billy Tauzin, Future House Speaker Bob Livingston, Governor Edwards, and yours truly.

A suggestion to the two candidates who make the run-off. Voters, of course, want specifics about today’s problems in our state. And there are many. But the next governor will hopefully spend quality time in office developing a scenario for Louisiana’s priorities that are twenty years away. The benchmarks we want to reach, not just in the coming four years, but through the first quarter of this new century. The “vision thing” that George Bush, Sr. was criticized for talking about fifteen years ago.

Having been in public life for over thirty years, I realize there are great pressures on someone in public office to deal with “the here and now”. What can you accomplish in four years before the next election? And there are the daily crises that always face those in public office. The complaint is often heard that one cannot sit back and develop long-range policy because of one brush fire after the other springing up. It often seems necessary to circle the wagon train and fight daily battles, putting future goals aside. But you know what? A really effective chief executive needs to sometimes let a few of those brush fires burn. Time needs to be set aside to develop a “think tank” of trusted advisors, read a number of challenging books available on past and current public policy, clear one's head and think about the quality of life our state should hope to achieve in the years to come.

Now that’s easy to say, and extremely difficult to do. The new governor will be swamped with requests from every conceivable interest group to meet and discuss specific and immediate needs. But time set aside for that “vision thing” is every bit as important. The governor and the state will be better served by looking beyond the next election.

So, what should the next Governor be reading? I could make numerous suggestions, and perhaps I will in the months to come. Let me start with the following five.

Brown, Edmund. Public Justice, Private Mercy. A Governor’s Education on Death Row. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.

“The former governor of California writes a moving account of his struggles with the Death Penalty. Brown let 36 convicts go to the gas chamber, and commuted the death penalty on 23 others. Governor Buddy Romer’s first decision as governor in 1988 was to decide whether or not to grant clemency on a convict the very night he took office.

Cuomo, Mario. Diaries of Mario Cuomo: The Campaign for Governor. New York: Random House, 1984

“The three-term New York governor offers some candid advice as to where private morality ends and public policy begins. How does a governor offer an inclusive political philosophy with those who disagree? His speeches are eloquent, and offer a special kind of hope, whether or not you fully agree with his philosophy. How do you persuasively communicate what you believe? Cuomo offers a good road map.

Bradley, Bill. Time Present, Time Past. New York: Alfred A. Knopt, Inc., 1996.

The former Senator and presidential candidate tells us that those who govern need extensive background in history and genuine empathy for the basic problems many Louisianaians face on a day-to-day basis. He also offers good lessons for the importance of any governor creating a public dialogue about problems in our state. It is a marvelous book about why public service is so important.

Huckabee, Mike. Character is the Issue: How People with Integrity Can Revolutionize America. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

The present Arkansas governor sent me a copy of his book when my problems mounted in 1999. His book offers guidance when trouble mounts, and emphasizes the importance of maintaining one’s personal honor, faith and integrity in meeting major challenges.

Dewberry, Elizabeth. Sacraments of Lies. New York: Blue Hen Books, 2002.

Something a little lighter when the governor wants to relax. Elizabeth Dewberry is married to Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler, who for years taught at McNeese State University in Lake Charles. Elizabeth has written a modern day “Hamlet” filed with murder, mayhem, and madness in the Louisiana’s Governor’s Mansion. One might argue that mayhem and madness has been the norm in the Governor’s Mansion over the past century – but that’s another story. The book begins during the Louisiana governor’s re-election campaign. He is recently widowed, and marries his deceased wife’s sister. Did his first wife commit suicide? Throw in Mardi Gras, the Governor’s long term plans on running for the White House, and you have a “Hitchcockin mixture” that keeps you puzzled until the end.

She gives a great tour of the Governor’s Mansion. Did you know there are gun racks put in by Edwin Edwards on the fourth floor? I didn’t know this, but Elizabeth told me she has toured the Governor’s Mansion from top to bottom. This is a good political thriller, and will give the governor a break from the day in, day out pressures of the office.

If the new governor will just call me, I will be glad to recommend some other titles for heavy and light reading in the months to come. With all the problems he or she will be facing, I doubt I will get a call.

“Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows on the world, and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magician, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”

Historian Barbara Tuckman



Some additional thoughts. Californians seem to be almost punishing themselves by rash judgments involving a recall election. We are in a goofy gubernatorial age where if you disagree with policy, you simply “throw the rascals out” Four years go by quickly. I don’t see the merits in tearing the fabric of government apart, and pinning a black eye to the rest of the nation. The only good thing I can see out of the California battle is that it certainly taken the eye off of Louisiana as having weird politics.




There is a debate being carried on in New York right now as to whether television cameras should be allowed in state and federal courtrooms. Numerous letters on both sides of the issue appeared recently in the New York Times.

We have witnessed the televising of a number of high profile cases in state court throughout our country. However, most federal courts ban cameras in the courtroom. In fact, in my own personal case, the public was not even allowed to be in the courtroom when the jury was picked. That’s right! The public was banned and forced to leave the courtroom while the jury that judged my case was picked in secret. How does the democratic system benefit when the public cannot see the court system in operation close-up?

We have a strong tradition of public trials in this country. In early colonial America, courthouses were the center of community life, and most citizens regularly attended criminal trials. In fact, trials were scheduled on designated days and often became community events. Citizens were knowledgeable about the trials, and there was wide participation in the process. Particularly in rural America, trials were often scheduled on market day, when local farmers came to town for supplies. The courthouse was the center of activity, and courtrooms were often built to accommodate crowds of more than three hundred observers.

Back then, citizens watched defendants being tried, know when judges issued ridiculous rulings, and saw firsthand when justice was perverted. Whatever happened, the citizens were there, watching. The court system belonged to them. The televising of criminal trials would merely be an extension of this direct review by the average citizen.

Some argue that televising criminal trials would create a circus atmosphere. There is no reason to think this would be the case. In fact, many of our most dignified ceremonies, including church services and inaugurations, are televised without losing any of their dignity. Judge Burton Katz, in his book, Justice Overruled: Unmasking the Criminal Justice System, said it well: “We should bring pressure to beat on federal judges to open up their courtrooms to public scrutiny. As life appointees, they enjoy great entitlements and wield enormous power. They bear close watching by an informed public. I guarantee that the public would be amazed at what goes on in some federal courtrooms.”

As an attorney, I participated in Louisiana’s first televised trial before the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1997. Senator Cleo Fields opposed my efforts to impound the cars of uninsured drivers. The proceedings were televised without a hitch. No one pandered to the cameras, and the entire procedure was straightforward and dignified. This was an important issue to many citizens in Louisiana, and they were entitled to hear the arguments and watch the trial in progress.

Virtually every federal court in America refuses to allow television cameras in the courtroom. One exception is in New Orleans where federal judge Morley Sear televises the entire proceedings. Each side has access to a tape of each day’s proceedings. The cameras are concealed, and there has been no concern expressed by prosecutors or defense attorneys.

As Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz wrote in Reasonable Doubts:

Live television coverage may magnify the faults in the legal system, and show it, warts and all. But in a democracy the public has the right to see the institutions in operation, close up. Moreover, live coverage generally brings out the best, not the worst, in judges, lawyers, and other participants. If people thing that what they see on televised trials is bad, I suggest they go to their local courtroom and sit quietly in the back row. They will see laziness, lack of preparation, rudeness, stupidity, posturing, and plain ordinary nastiness – and I’m just talking about the judges! The lawyers can be even worse. The video camera helps to keep the system honest by keeping it open.

I’m glad an active debate is taking place throughout this country on the value of televising many of our criminal proceedings. The public has the right to see, first hand, what is going on in the courtroom. In my own case, I wanted a full and open airing of the injustice that took place. It’s time we put the old courtroom procedure under a much higher degree of scrutiny.



As most of you know, I wrote a column each week from Oakdale during my 6-month stay that appeared on my website, www.jimbrownla.com. I made it a habit to review the latest book I had been reading. I thought I would continue this tradition.

With a backlog of books I want to read on various subjects, I have generally stayed away from current best sellers. But all three of my daughters encouraged me to read a novel that has been at the top of the best-seller list for some time; “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown.

The book is a suspense thriller that begins in modern-day Paris with the murder of the Louvre’s chief curator. The crime serves the back-drop for an intriguing exploration of some of western culture’s greatest mysteries – from the nature of the Mona Lisa’s smile to the secret of the Holy Grail. It’s a fascinating historical review of the symbolism in many of the world’s most treasured paintings, and well as architectural symbolism in some of history’s most sacred churches. If you are a history buff, a puzzle lover, or enjoy analyzing conspiracies, this fast-paced narrative will keep you on edge and guessing right up until the end.

It’s a newsy read with crisp, short chapters. My daughters were right. Dan Brown has written an enjoyable book that I highly recommend.


A statesman is an easy man,

He tells his lies by rote:

A journalist makes up his lies

And takes you by the throat:

So stay at home and drink your beer

And let the neighbors vote.

William Butler Yeats


In the midst of winter, I finally learned that

there was in me an invincible summer.

Albert Camus


Peace and justice to you and your family,

Jim Brown


Contact Webmaster | Copyright 2002 | Official Web Page of James H. "Jim" Brown | All rights reserved