A fake subpoena used by the Orleans Parish DA's office.

The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has settled a long-running federal civil rights lawsuit over New Orleans prosecutors’ use of fake subpoenas — along with other hardball tactics under former DA Leon Cannizzaro — according to court records.

The suit, brought by the Washington-based organization Civil Rights Corps and the ACLU on behalf of a group of plaintiffs who claimed they were jailed, or threatened with jail, after allegedly failing to cooperate with criminal prosecutions. Most of those plaintiffs said the DA’s office served them with so-called “DA subpoenas,” a term prosecutors used to refer to the bogus subpoenas. 

The terms of the settlement were unclear as of Thursday morning. Court filings did not include any details on the agreement. Tara Mikkilineni, an attorney for the plaintiffs, confirmed in a Thursday email that a settlement had been reached but said she was unable to comment until it is finalized, which should happen in the coming weeks. A call to the DA’s office was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2017, several months after a report in The Lens revealed the existence of fake subpoenas, which were used by prosecutors in New Orleans and surrounding parishes for years. Cannizzaro announced that the office would end the practice the same day The Lens published its first report.

The Lens had reported on three of the plaintiffs prior to the lawsuit being filed:

The documents prosecutors used appeared to be genuine subpoenas. Though they evolved over the years, a form used by Orleans prosecutors beginning in 2014 included the word “subpoena” in bold type at the top and threatened recipients with jail for failing to comply. Typically, the phony subpoenas ordered key witnesses — including victims of crime — to appear for private meetings with prosecutors.

State law allows prosecutors to compel witnesses to appear for such meetings with a subpoena — called an Article 66 subpoena — but only after getting approval from a judge. “DA subpoenas” were neither authorized by a judge nor issued by the court clerk’s office, as the law requires.

Cannizzaro settled several of the claims in the suit before he left office, including Jane Doe’s. His successor, DA Jason Williams, settled more claims earlier this year. But the lawsuit, which survived several unsuccessful challenges from the DA’s office, was still ongoing until this month, and a jury trial was scheduled for November.

According to court filings, the parties reached a settlement during a July 13 negotiation. The suit was officially dismissed on Thursday morning.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...