Orleans Parish DA Under Fire

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Protestors gathered in front of Criminal District Court (Tulane Avenue and Broad Street) Tuesday (May 16) calling for sanctions against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.

The demonstration was organized by a coalition of organizations and led by Our Revolution NOLA, a local chapter of a national group working to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness.

The protest comes after allegations of the Cannizzaro’s office using “fake” subpoenas to force uncooperative crime victims and witnesses to testify.

“Confidence, trust and transparency in our criminal justice system has been eroded by the unethical and fraudulent activity of DA Cannizzaro,” organizers said in a printed statement. “This abuse of power through false documents and bullying victims is appalling and we must stand together and demand an end to this type of behavior. Our community deserves better than this.”

Demonstrators are demanding an investigation and sanction of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for ethical breaches, real victim rights and better victim treatment.

Cannizzaro’s office has also come under fire for arresting or threatening to arrest victims and witnesses and for allegedly targeting investigators and attorneys in the public defender’s office for prosecution. According to an article published by The Guardian, at least six defense attorneys and investigators say they faced threats of criminal charges by the Orleans parish district attorney for doing their jobs. Each case failed to stand up to scrutiny: all charges that have been brought were eventually dropped or overturned.”

Tuesday’s protest is just one example of the recent public outcry over the DA Cannizzaro’s questionable actions.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center lawsuit filed last Friday (May 12) against Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro slamming his office’s practice of gathering evidence using fake subpeonas.

According to a press release, the suit asks the Orleans Parish Civil District Court to order Cannizzaro to comply with a 2015 public records request for copies of district attorney subpoenas from 2013 to the present.

When the Center first requested records of subpoenas two years ago, Cannizzaro’s office claimed it could not determine where they were located and that finding them would be unduly burdensome. Cannizzaro’s office directed MacArthur to the Clerk of the Court of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court as the “proper custodian of the records,” but the Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell said finding them would require a review of each of the 15,000 cases on file, according to the lawsuit.

“The District Attorney’s staff misled us about where to find subpoenas, at best” said Katie Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans. “Because their subpoenas often weren’t reviewed by any judges, the court would not have a record of those. And because Cannizzaro’s staff reportedly sometimes did not even put copies of subpoenas in office case files, they were not preserved as public records and no one can know what ones are missing. District Attorney Cannizzaro has an obligation to maintain and provide public records. We asked for these subpoenas two years ago and no one could find them. Now we learn that there has been a serious abuse of authority related to exactly the subpoenas we sought, and that the DA is in fact the only person that would have legal possession of them. We are asking the court to direct him to produce all subpoenas.”

In addition to the requested order to produce public documents, the lawsuit questions the constitutionality of the Louisiana statute governing how district attorneys may obtain subpoenas for documents and testimony by individuals.

“We are concerned about the constitutionality of the District Attorney subpoena process generally,” Schwartzmann said.  “We are asking a court to order the office of the District Attorney to comply with our original request, as they have demonstrated that they will not voluntarily comply with our request.”