Judge Hits District Attorney Who Issued Fake Subpoenas With A $50,000 Penalty For Blowing Off Records Requests
from the I-guess-laws-are-something-only-little-people-have-to-follow dept
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro continues to get himself in legal hot water. Back in 2017, New Orleans journalistic outlet The Lens uncovered his office’s use of fake subpoenas to coerce witnesses and crime victims into showing up to provide testimony and make statements.
The documents weren’t real. They had never been approved by a judge. But they still had the same threat of fines or imprisonment printed on them. Just like the real ones. But these threats were also fake — no judge had given the office permission to lock these witnesses/victims up.
Once this practice was exposed, the lawsuits began. The DA’s office was sued multiple times by multiple plaintiffs. One suit — filed by the MacArthur Justice Center — demanded copies of every bogus subpoena issued by the DA’s office. Another — filed by the ACLU — sought the names of every DA’s office attorney who’d signed or sent one of these bogus subpoenas.
Yet another lawsuit targeted the DA’s office and the DA directly for violating the law and citizens’ rights by issuing fake subpoenas. That one is still pending but DA Cannizzaro and his attorneys were denied immunity by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, making it far more likely someone will be held personally responsible for cranking out fake legal paperwork.
The MacArthur Center lawsuit continues. And it’s more bad news for the DA, which has spent nearly a half-decade dodging the Center’s public records requests.
An Orleans Parish Civil District Court judge has issued a $51,000 judgment against District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for his office’s failure to turn over bogus subpoenas under a public-records request filed two years before the practice was exposed by the Lens.
Judge Ethel Julien said in a Monday ruling that Cannizzaro acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when he failed to fork over documents requested by an attorney for a nonprofit law firm who was probing the practice in 2015.
Cannizzaro’s defense of his stonewalling has changed over the years. His office first denied the request back in 2015, claiming it was too “burdensome” to hand over copies of witness subpoenas issued by prosecutors. Then The Lens broke the news about the fake subpoenas. The DA’s office then claimed it didn’t have to fully fulfill the request because the Center hadn’t asked for any fake subpoenas.
In its defense, the District Attorney’s Office said the fake subpoenas weren’t covered by Washington’s request — because they weren’t the genuine documents for which Washington specifically asked.
The DA is appealing the decision, of course. His office likely would have appealed it anyway, but this appeal might be more personal. The MacArthur Center says the $50,000 penalty issued by the judge may end up being applied against Cannizzaro himself, rather than his entire office, because the judge found the DA himself had “acted unreasonably.”
The saga continues, with the DA and his office looking worse and worse with every new court ruling. True, it’s sometimes difficult to secure cooperation from witnesses and crime victims. But the solution isn’t to bypass the court system and threaten people with bogus legal documents. Prosecutors are supposed to help enforce laws, not break them.