Criminal Justice
 

District attorney plans to appeal ruling requiring him to turn over fake subpoenas to The Lens

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro plans to appeal a judge’s ruling ordering him to turn over fake subpoenas his prosecutors used to pressure reluctant witnesses to talk.

But a spokesman said the office will continue to search through case files to find the documents.

In October, Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese ordered Cannizzaro to produce the documents, which threatened jail time but carried no legal weight, from closed cases and those in which prosecutors declined to press charges.

The same day, the New Orleans City Council asked for a laundry list of records from the DA, including fake subpoenas.

The DA’s office began searching through case files to find them. According to a Nov. 27 news release, its employees searched 45 boxes containing about 1,500 cases and found only one phony subpoena.

But Wednesday, Bernard Charbonnet, David Fink and J. Edward McAuliffe III, lawyers for Cannizzaro, asked Reese to put his ruling on hold while they appeal it.

“We have filed a notice to appeal because we want to take full advantage of our legal rights in this matter,” DA spokesman Ken Daley said.

He said that doesn’t mean the office will stop producing the records.

Lens attorney Scott Sternberg, of Sternberg, Naccari & White, said he’s “optimistic they will continue producing these records like they’ve shown that they can.”

The lawsuit stemmed from reporter Charles Maldonado’s public records request for the bogus documents. He asked for fake subpoenas and related records produced during a 16-month period starting in January 2016.

The DA denied that request. Finding them would require someone to look through thousands of case files, which would be “unreasonably burdensome,” Assistant District Attorney Donna Andrieu wrote.

Since Reese’s ruling, however, the office has done just that, pulling boxes of files out of storage and having employees search them.

They’re also searching files from 2014 to 2016 for fake subpoenas, in response to the request from the city council.

State law allows prosecutors to subpoenas witnesses for private interviews, but they must ask a judge for permission. If the judge agrees, the subpoena is issued by the clerk’s office.

In some cases — it’s unclear how often — New Orleans prosecutors skipped that step and delivered their own documents that appeared to be authentic. Legal experts and defense lawyers said the practice was misleading, unethical, and possibly illegal.

The district attorney stopped using the documents in April, the day The Lens reported on their use.

This story was updated after publication with the date of the DA’s news release. (Dec. 21, 2017)

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About Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.