ACLU becomes second civil rights group to sue Orleans Parish district attorney over 'false subpoenas'

By Zachary Lewis | Jun 28, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) recently filed suit against Leon Cannizzaro, Orleans Parish district attorney, after his office allegedly sent “false subpoenas” to witnesses to coerce them to testify in court.

The ACLU is the second civil rights group to sue. The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm in New Orleans, had previously filed suit. Both groups are seeking copies of subpoenas sent by the office. The ACLU, however, is additionally requesting the identities and bar association numbers of the officials involved.

“To the extent that he is issuing documents that falsely state that they’re subpoenas, that’s inappropriate," Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University and legal expert, told the Louisiana Record

The subpoenas, which were sent without authorization or approval from a judge, were used to cajole testimonies in the prosecution’s cases.

Though the ethical practice of the district attorney’s office is under scrutiny, Ciolino said it is unlikely that the suits will affect past convictions or ongoing cases.

“I don’t put anything past industrious criminal defense lawyers,” Ciolino said. “I would expect the issue is going form the part of appeals and post-conviction proceedings and motion practices and ongoing cases. But at the end of the day, I think that this practice, although improper, should not affect the validity of any convictions or ongoing criminal prosecutions.”

In May, a group of approximately 90 people gathered outside the New Orleans courthouse to urge voters to recall Cannizzaro, according to a report by the Times-Picayune. Ciolino, however, said the district attorney’s actions are not enough to warrant charges, but he could face the Louisiana disciplinary counsel.

“I don’t think he’s done anything that’s criminal," Ciolino said. "I think that would be overkill. Whether if he or if prosecutors in his office should be subject to disciplinary sanctions by the Louisiana disciplinary board is a matter I would imagine is under the consideration by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.”

Cannizzaro allegedly has stopped issuing the fake subpoenas in light of the allegations.

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American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana Orleans Parish District Attorney Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center

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