updated 4/4/2007 9:22:12 PM ET 2007-04-05T01:22:12

A lawyer for the city’s first black district attorney told a federal appeals court Monday that jurors who decided he discriminated in firing dozens of white employees had too little evidence to reach that conclusion.

When Eddie Jordan took over from longtime District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. in 2003, he fired 53 of 77 employees.

Defense attorney Donna Andrew argued Jordan filled key positions with political supporters and did not discriminate based on race. She said jurors did not have enough evidence to have issued the verdict against him.

“Every individual was a supporter of Jordan and that was important to Mr. Jordan who was coming in after defeating the chosen successor of a district attorney who had served for a generation,” Andrew told a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

'You can't just fire the white people'
Clement Donelon, an attorney for plaintiffs in the case, said that of the 10 highest paid blacks under Connick, nine were kept by Jordan, while only two of the highest paid whites stayed on.

“If he had fired everyone across the board and then hired his patronage buddies, we wouldn’t be here today. But you can’t just fire the white people and get away with it,” Donelon said.

The jury determined he discriminated against 43 workers and awarded them millions in damages and attorneys fees in March 2005.

Jordan said his office did not have money to pay the judgment and appealed. Attorneys estimate he owes about $3.4 million, with interest adding up.

One of Louisiana’s most prominent black politicians, Jordan was U.S. attorney during the Clinton administration. As the chief federal prosecutor in New Orleans, he won a corruption conviction against former Gov. Edwin Edwards in 2000 for taking payoffs in return for riverboat licenses.

His tenure as district attorney has been plagued by high-profile problems. There was the 2005 discrimination judgment, followed a few months later by Hurricane Katrina, which flooded the courthouse and Jordan’s offices and paralyzed the criminal justice system for months.

More recently, Jordan’s office, along with the police department, has been criticized for being unable to make cases fast enough, resulting in releases of suspects held longer than 60 days on a felony arrest without an indictment.

The appeals judges did not indicate when they would rule.

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