Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell To Retire May 1, 2022 After 39 Years of Service

Arthur Morrell
Arthur Morrell

Arthur Morrell, who has proudly served the citizens of New Orleans for the last 39 years first as a State Representative and more recently as Clerk of Criminal District Court, will retire Monday, May 1, 2022. “I am honored to have worked for the people of our great city for almost four decades. While I am retiring from the Clerk’s Office, I am never going to retire from being available to help people,” said Morrell.

Born in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward in 1943 to a merchant seaman and a housewife, Morrell was one of seven children. He began his first job at age 10 delivering sandwiches in the neighborhood for Thompson Sweet Shop. Morrell attended the historic Valena C. Jones Elementary School which was built by Black masons who were tired of their children being educated in sub-standard facilities. He went on to Rivers Fredericks School and was in the second graduating class of George Washington Carver High School, then a state-of-the-art model for excellence.

After graduation, Morrell joined the U.S. Army where he was recruited for the newly-created Special Forces. Tall, physically fit and smart, Morrell fit the profile the military was looking for during the Cold War. As a member of the elite 10th Group, Morrell was sent to Germany for extensive training and was involved in numerous activities he is reluctant to discuss publicly.

When Morrell’s tour of duty was complete, he returned home and enrolled at Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) under the G.I. Bill to study political science and history with Dr. Addison Carey, his mentor. It was Dr. Carey who first suggested Morrell consider a career in public service. As part of his college experience, Morrell spent two years working as a Voting Rights Examiner in Bogalusa, Louisiana to ensure Blacks had the information needed to register to vote for the upcoming federal elections.

By 1969, new employment opportunities were opening up for Blacks. Morrell was hired by Eastern Airlines as an In-flight Representative and moved quickly into middle management. While flying around the country for Eastern, he met then Judge Ernest “Dutch” Morial, who wrote Morrell a recommendation for him to attend Southern University Law Center. Morrell started a construction company and drove a dump truck to support his growing family during law school.

With a law degree in hand Morrell was approached by AFL-CIO official Sibal Holt to run for the Louisiana Legislature, District 97, against famed St. Aug Coach Nick Conner and several other candidates. Armed with only a miniscule campaign budget, Morrell walked every block of the district with family and friends. The voters in the old neighborhood knew him and liked him from his sandwich delivery days. Morial, now mayor, told Morrell that if he could make it into the runoff with Conner, Morial would get him across the finish line. When Morrell held up his end of the deal, Morial confidant Reynard Rochon coordinated Morrell’s victorious campaign.

One four-year team led to another for a total of 23 years in Baton Rouge. Morrell was a competent and progressive legislator who always took strong stands on issues. He was committed to civil rights, equal rights and women’s rights. Each year he would introduce legislation to raise the minimum wage for restaurant workers specifically waitresses and bussers whose income largely depended on tips. Although Morrell left the Legislature 16 years ago, similar legislation has yet to pass. He also realized that the State could increase the annual cost of license plates from $3 to $10 and provide funding for public education with the extra dollars. In addition, Morrell worked with the Legislative Black Caucus to sue the State of Louisiana on reapportionment, forcing the State to draw fair district boundaries.

Arthur Morrell, Congressman Troy Carter and Darren Lombard
“Morrell talks with Congressman Troy Carter (left) and Clerk Darren Lombard who is succeeding Morrell in office.”

Morrell twice ran unsuccessfully for Traffic Court Judge but was overwhelmingly elected Clerk of Criminal District Court when Clerk Edwin Lombard joined the Fourth Circuit bench. As clerk, Morrell has always prided himself on running safe, secure, and on-time elections. “We’ve never had a delayed election,” said Morrell. He also successfully increased voter registration and was active with voter education/registration efforts in the public schools. Morrell updated the office’s technology services and increased the budget. In 2020 he raised the starting salaries of most employees in the clerk’s office to just under $15 per hour, before the City of New Orleans took similar actions.

Morrell has never been afraid to tangle with the City administration regarding his budget. For most of the last ten years, Morrell was in litigation with former Mayor Mitch Landrieu or Mayor Cantrell. Though the Clerk of Criminal District Court is a state agency, it is funded by the City of New Orleans. “The citizens deserve a fully-functioning criminal court system which requires a full complement of staff to support the judges. Citizens are not well-served when staffing levels are arbitrarily reduced,” he explained.

Morrell served on the Democratic National Committee for 22 years and was a delegate to numerous national democratic conventions. Married to former City Councilmember Cynthia Hedge Morrell, he is the father of four sons including Councilmember-at-Large J.P. Morrell, a grandfather to eleven and a great grandfather to three.
“Public servants should never forget who they represent. Their wants and needs should always be your top priority,” said Morrell. “I am taking a seat on the reserve bench now but would have no problem returning to public service if ever needed.”

Editor’s Note: Darren Lombard, Clerk of Second City Court, was elected to fill the open clerk’s seat and will take office Monday, May 2, 2022.

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