Records show that when she was a judge in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Orleans Parish District Attorney candidate Keva Landrum signed off on two material witness warrants that could have allowed victims of violent crimes to be jailed. 

Last week, The Lens reported on how candidates for DA in the Nov. 3 election handled controversial material witness warrants during their careers in the criminal justice system. In at least one instance, DA candidate Arthur Hunter signed off on a material witness warrant for a victim of domestic abuse. City Councilman Jason Williams, who served as a judge for only a few months in 2003, said he did not issue any material witness warrants for crime victims. The Lens found no evidence that he did in a review of court minutes. And Morris Reed, who served as a judge for several years in the 1990s, admitted signing material witness warrants during his time on the bench but said he could not recall specific details.

In that story, The Lens also identified at least 14 cases in which Landrum signed material witness warrants — some of which were issued after prosecutors had attempted to compel testimony through the use of fake subpoenas.  

It was initially unclear if any of the warrants that Landrum issued were for crime victims. But additional records obtained by the Lens now show that two of them were indeed for victims. Both were from 2015, and were for male victims of aggravated battery.

Retiring DA Leon Cannizzaro has come under fire for using material witness warrants to jail victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, which has prompted action from both local and state governments intended to curb the practice. And as judges, all of the DA candidates have at some point had the authority to sign off on requests from prosecutors for material witness warrants.

Neither of the cases Landrum signed off on were for victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault, nor did records reviewed by The Lens indicate that either victim was actually jailed on the warrant.

At a forum on September 23, Landrum was asked if she had ever signed “a subpoena for a material witness warrant that resulted in a crime victim being jailed.” 

“No I did not,” Landrum responded. “In fact, I rejected material witness bonds in my section for witnesses who were afraid to come forward and testify.” She later clarified to The Lens that she was referring only to victims. 

In an interview with The Lens — prior to the previous story regarding the use of material witness warrants — Landrum said that victims should not face jail just because they refused to come forward.

“As far as jailing a victim simply because they did not want to come forward, that would not have been a reason — if the DA articulated it in the motion — for me to sign that material witness bond,” Landrum said. 

She did note that there were times when she may not have known who the victim was in a case. 

In another forum, candidates responded to a question that appeared to conflate the use of fake subpoenas —  documents resembling subpoenas that were used by the DA’s office to compel witness testimony, which had not been signed by a judge — with the jailing of victims on material witness warrants.

“Fake subpoenas have been a problem,” a participant asked. “We got three people who have been judges here. Have you ever had witnesses or otherwise people brought in your court, jailed, by subpoenas that were issued by the DA and not the court?”

Landrum responded that she had never “issued a warrant for a victim on a fake subpoena,” but said that she had “issued material witness warrants for witnesses who have failed to come forward on cases and the DA did provide the necessary documentation showing that.” 

“And I think that the difference is this — the law provides that if there is a witness who is evading the law for whatever that reason is after having been duly served and has necessary information to come forward on a case and for whatever reason is hiding that information, then that is an available option,” Landrum said. 

But later on in her answer, she also seemed to conflate the use of fake subpoenas with the issuing of material witness warrants for victims of domestic abuse. 

“However, when it stands for material victim warrants — those fake subpoenas that we’re talking about — I think it is uniquely different, because those were women that were afraid of the accuser,” she said. “And so then to jail them was improper. Those subpoenas were improper.”

In an interview with The Lens this week — after being provided information regarding the two warrants for victims — Landrum said that she had been consistent in her answers about issuing material witness warrants when she was a judge.

State law requires prosecutors or defense attorneys attesting that a witness is both essential to a case and that it will not be practical to ensure that the witness appears in court through traditional means in order to obtain a material witness warrant. Landrum said she followed those guidelines in her rulings on motions for the warrants. 

“If things have been presented to me and the state will stick by that, because it’s their burden, if they are going to present information and it is a material victim/witness and the information was according to how the code sets out, then I may have issued it,” Landrum said. “There are some I have denied because they didn’t meet the threshold.”

Landrum also said she distinguished between victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault and other instances. 

“My thing was about jailing domestic violence victims because they were afraid to come forward, and that was the conversation that has always been the issue,” she said. 

She said that she looked at the specifics of each case, and noted that sometimes court records do not tell the full story of what may have been taking place in each circumstance.

“The minute entries won’t reflect this, but there may be instances where a person may be in court one day, and is now isn’t cooperating, which to me may be slightly different,” she said. “So I have to take every case and the circumstances as they present. Where a person may have come to court once or twice, and then now the person is not cooperating. So there have been various different circumstances that we’ve been presented with, and looking at a docket master doesn’t give you the full scope of those things.”

But Landrum said that ultimately there was not any inconsistency on her part when representing her record of issuing material witness warrants for victims of crime — despite the confusion others may have brought to the issue. 

“I believe that this is some attempt to sabotage,” Landrum said. “My answer remains the same: that I know that I issued material witness warrants. And I will say to you the way people pose the question, depending on how it’s asked — some people call it a ‘fake subpoena,’ a this or a that, so I’m not sure from what angle when people ask.”

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...