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28123: Hermantin(News)Attorney's office reaches out (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Thu, Mar. 16, 2006

Attorney's office reaches out
The State Attorney's Office has expanded its community outreach division in an effort to make a difference to South Florida's Haitian community.

For many in South Florida's Haitian community, police officers are viewed as crooked, officials are out for themselves and government is a disappointment. Authorities, in short, are something best to avoid.

In an effort to assuage those suspicions and reach out to local Haitians, the State Attorney's Office recently expanded its Community Outreach Division to include a full-time liaison to the Haitian community. His name is J. Raynald Louis.

''Our intention is to teach people within the community how to use the services of the State Attorney's Office,'' said Louis, 58. ``As a law-abiding citizen, you need to know where you can get [legal] help.''

And so, Louis will serve as a point person to the Haitian community in the outreach office, which offers a range of services, including finger-printing for children and crime prevention tips for the elderly.

Previously, the agency relied on a Haitian prosecutor to pitch in on an ad hoc basis, said State Attorney's Office spokesman Ed Griffith.

Louis, hired in July, isn't a prosecutor. Rather, he will assume a variety of responsibilities geared toward educating the public, ranging from holding seminars at immigration centers to knocking on Little Haiti doors.

Prior to joining the State Attorney's Office, Louis ran the government-owned Haiti Television Network as a general manager. One duty with the new job, he says, will be to remind the community's parents about the legal difference between corporal punishment and child abuse in their adopted country.

''You beat up your child and there's a mark; police may take your child,'' Louis said.

There will be other challenges.

One of them, Louis and Griffith say, is trying to help somebody adjust to the way and means of a different legal system. In Haiti, as in France and other Francophone countries, the courts are regulated by the Napoleonic code, whereby the defendant is guilty until found innocent. Another is convincing witnesses to testify.

'There's this idea, `You don't need me; you got the guy,' '' Griffith said.

Meanwhile, community leaders applaud the State Attorney's Office's hiring. They say they see the presence of somebody like Louis in Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle's office as a way to make authority-figure shy immigrants feel comfortable reporting crimes.

''That she's hired somebody in that position, that's good,'' said Aude Sicard, community relations specialist for Jackson Memorial Hospital's Cuban/Haitian Refugee Program. ``Many of our population in Miami-Dade are not familiar with the system, and I'm hoping that they can educate the community -- letting people not to be intimidated by the [the State Attorney's Office] just because it's government.

``Crimes should not be left unpunished, and they should not be fear in deportation if they report a crime. It's more for the benefit of the population.''

When not working at the State Attorney's Office, Louis helps oversee a Haiti news site haitimedia.com (on which he has a photo posted of his boss Fernández Rundle), and lives in Taramac with his wife Goldie of three years and their 1-year-old son Raynald II.