D.A.’s Controversial Tactics Under Attack!

Has District Attorney Cannizzaro lost it? Fake subpoenas? The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Foundation has sued the Orleans Parish District Attorney over his surprising practice of issuing fake subpoenas to unwilling witnesses in an attempt to get them to court. The problem is, the subpoenas were never authorized by a judge.

That makes them worthless, but not to our hapless and clueless District Attorney. The documents appear to be legitimate, as appear to be real documents. They say, SUBPEOENA: A FINE AND IMPRISONMENT MAY BE IMPOSED FOR FAILURE TO OBEY THIS NOTICE. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman has stated that no witnesses who received the phony subpoena has been jailed. Bowman added that this practice predates Cannizzaro’s term.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro on a Sad Day

The North Shore and Jefferson Parish District Attorneys have done the exact same thing, though there were slight variations in the actual documents.  Seems like all these departments have lost some marbles along the way. This practice is very quasi legal. We live in a society of laws, and when one branch of the legal system starts making their own rules, the entire system flounders.

The MacArthur Justice Center’s suit accuses the Orleans Parish DA’s office of illegally ignoring an earlier public records request by Attorney Emily Washington for copies of all Article 66 subpoenas. Why did Washington want these documents?  He was concerned about the possible abuse of authority by the DA for possibly issuing subpoenas even when no criminal prosecution was intended or subsequently occurred.

In 2015, this request was denied by the Orleans prosecutors office. No database exists for these subpoenas, Washington was told. Later he was told his request was overly burdensome, then too costly, and finally that the records sought were with the Orleans Criminal District Clerk of Court.

All these denials fly in the face of what First Assistant District Attorney Grayson Martin said last month. He said he had no formal method of record keeping for these subpoenas. 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., speaking about the lawsuit.

Katie Schwartzmann

Next, Washington put in record requests seeking the subpoenas to each Criminal District judge and the Criminal District Court Clerk’s office, but was denied these requests. The judges replied collectively through a judicial administrator, stating the subpoena records weren’t in their custody. The clerk’s office denied the request, stating it couldn’t identify them without a review of roughly 15,000 case files per year.

The lawsuit is claiming that the subpoenas can’t be found or were not preserved, as legally required, and wants to DA’s office to face penalties for violating Louisiana’s open records law. The MacArthur’s lawsuit also examines the state law that allows the district attorneys or the attorney general the power to issue Article 66 subpoenas. They claim it is unconstitutional.

District attorneys or the attorney general are required by article 66 to establish reasonable grounds for a judge to order a person to appear for questioning by prosecutors. If a judge agrees to issue the subpoena, the clerk’s office issues it. The suit questions if reasonable grounds is too low a bar to issue a subpoena, stating a higher burden of probable cause should be required.

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~ by neworleansmusicman on May 15, 2017.

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