The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of the MacArthur Justice Center’s public records lawsuit against Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for records of subpoenas sought pursuant to Article 66 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
MacArthur Justice Center attorney Emily Washington first requested the records in March 2015. When the DA’s Office claimed that the request was “burdensome,” Washington offered to review closed and refused case files herself to find the records. Cannizzaro’s office did not accept the proposal. In March 2017, the investigative website The Lens reported that Cannizzaro’s office had a regular practice of serving Article 66 subpoenas without judicial approval, and published copies of some subpoenas.
“Our request is simple,” said Jim Craig, director of the Justice Center’s Louisiana office. “For over three years, we have waited for the District Attorney to provide public records documenting his use of prosecutorial subpoena power to compel people to come to his office to be interviewed and give evidence. Now we are entitled to the records, plus damages, penalties, and attorneys’ fees for this unjustified delay.”
Washington filed a petition for mandamus, arguing that The Lens’ investigation demonstrated that the records she sought two years’ previously did, in fact, exist and should have been produced under Louisiana’s Public Records Law. The District Attorney claimed that the documents revealed by The Lens, though titled “SUBPOENA” in bold letters at the top and specifically invoking his power under Article 66, were not Article 66 subpoenas but instead “DA Notifications.”
The Orleans Parish Civil District Court granted Cannizzaro’s request to dismiss Washington’s petition. The Fourth Circuit’s review of that dismissal was issued today. The appellate court ruled the MacArthur Justice Center’s petition met all requirements of the Public Records Law and, if necessary, the MacArthur Justice Center can take discovery to challenge the District Attorney’s claim that the request was unduly burdensome.
Craig noted that the District Attorney has responded to a request from the City Council for some of the same records encompassed in Washington’s March 2015 letter.
“In the appellate court, the DA’s Office argued that they had to comply with the Council’s request because the City funds the office. Apparently Mr. Cannizzaro has forgotten that it is the people, not their representatives on the Council, who pay his bills. These are the people’s records, not Mr. Cannizzaro’s, and we expect to receive them without further delay.”