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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: district attorney, fake subpoenas, leon cannizzaro, orleans parish, records requests, transparency


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 12:40pm

    At somepoint you should just realize you are screwed, there is nothing you can do to stop it. That train has left the station.

    Trying to hide it will make everything 100x's worse in the end, better to just hand it all over & take the lumps.

    But then these lumps might take decades to pay off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2020 @ 12:50pm

    You know, this guy and Richie Liebowitz should get together. It sounds like a match made in, well some place I wouldn't want to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 1:16pm

    Now if that idea can go from exception to the norm...

    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."

    And that is how you make someone like that care. Hit their personal bank account rather than just soaking the taxpayers for it and financial penalties go from something that will just be shrugged off to a very real incentive to change behavior, because if the guilty party doesn't have to pay the fine then they have no reason to care about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2020 @ 3:50pm

      Re: Now if that idea can go from exception to the norm...

      That should be combined with bribery investigations/due dilligence as well as otherwise the fines can become business expenses with deep enough pockets.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2020 @ 1:19pm

    You left something out...

    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.

    ... The solution is to use the court system and threaten people with real legal documents!

    ftfy

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2020 @ 1:20pm

      Re: You left something out...

      That presumes, of course, that the judge will sign off on the documents, but saying so in one post ruins any remaining funny.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 1:31pm

    Their next step?

    So when they get a request to turn over 'fake' subpoenas, will they appeal on the basis of self incrimination? Any chance there's other criminal behavior which will be exposed by these subpoenas, and they're hoping to delay until the statue of limitations has expired?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      stine, 5 Aug 2020 @ 1:37pm

      Re: Their next step?

      the statute of limitations doesn't matter here because the suit has already been filed. once that happens, the SoL is only relevant to the question of when was the suit filed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 5 Aug 2020 @ 7:22pm

    I hope he keeps resisting

    Perhaps he'll get some jail time for it. Much deserved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ysth (profile), 5 Aug 2020 @ 7:38pm

    the solution isn't to bypass the court system and threaten people with bogus legal documents

    How, if at all, does this differ from police lying to people?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 7 Aug 2020 @ 5:56am

      Re:

      Police get qualified immunity because their hiring criteria include mental capacities not able to sufficiently understand and apply legal precedence and legal mandates.

      You cannot sensibly make that a hiring criterion for district attorneys. However, "sensibly" stopped being a thing in this area, so a brave new future lies ahead.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 6 Aug 2020 @ 2:47am

    Chutzpah

    "We are not going to honor FOIA requests for our subpoenas since they were fraudulent."

    That's close to the "your honor, have mercy on an orphan" line for parenticide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just passin’ thru, 6 Aug 2020 @ 7:44am

    Typo

    I think your copy editor missed one:

    Compare:

    His office first denied the request back in 2015, claiming it was too "burdensome" to hand over copies of witness subpoenas issued by prosecutors.

    And:

    His office first denied the request back in 2015, claiming it was too "burdensome" to hand over copies of witless subpoenas issued by prosecutors.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    none, 7 Aug 2020 @ 3:54am

    WTF!

    why hasn't this POS DA been fired? or given some vacation time in the graybar hotel!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Sponsored Promotion
Public Money, Public Code - Sign The Open Letter at publiccode.eu
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.