NEW ORLEANS — A suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against New Orleans’ criminal prosecutor seeks the names and state bar association numbers of attorneys who may have sent out fake subpoenas.
The public records suit names Leon Cannizzaro, Orleans Parish district attorney, as a defendant, and it marks the second time that a civil rights organization has taken such legal action in the wake of the growing scandal.
Staffers from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Foundation previously filed suit.
Prosecutors from Cannizzaro’s office and the Jefferson Park district attorneys’ office are accused of sending out false and self-generated subpoenas without authorization from a judge in violation of Louisiana law.
Prosecutors allegedly relied on the practice to coerce reluctant witnesses into meeting and speaking with them about cases. In some cases, the witnesses allegedly were threatened with a “fine” or “imprisonment” if they didn’t obey.
A spokesman from Cannizzaro’s office has since indicated that the practice has now ceased, but Jason Williams, a New Orleans city councilman, recently told the Louisiana Record that he fears much of the damage may already have been done.
“There needs to be investigation of how long this has been going on, and in what cases it was used in,” he said. “We need to be sure this did not result in any kind of miscarriage of justice. If the [district attorney] wants to truly repair relationships and restore transparency, that’s what needs to happen.”
Meanwhile, defense attorneys from across the country have derided the practice as unethical and in violation of attorney code.
Williams personally took issue with local authorities’ recent lament that they sometimes struggle to close cases because of a lack of cooperation from witnesses.
“This is corrosive to the public trust and patently wrong to misrepresent something as of the court when it is not,” he said.
Court Watch NOLA also recently detailed several instances of angered prosecutors who allegedly sought to obtain arrest warrants for victims of crimes because they did not cooperate with their investigations.
According to the legal watchdog group, a female rape victim was jailed last year on a material witness warrant at the same facility where her alleged rapist was being held, and an attempted murder victim was locked up after he after insisted he was too afraid to appear in court.