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New Orleans D.A. ordered to reveal names of prosecutors who issued fake subpoenas

DA Leon Cannizzaro

New Orleans D.A. ordered to reveal names of prosecutors who issued fake subpoenas

Orleans County District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has been ordered to disclose the names of all the prosecutors in his office who used “fake subpoenas” to compel witnesses to talk with them. Cannizzaro was given 20 days to produce the names of prosecutors who engaged in the practice during 2017. He then must provide the same information going back to 2013.

As In Justice Today previously reported, Cannizzaro sought to jail a domestic violence victim after she refused to respond to a fake subpoena his office sent her demanding that she meet with them. The documents had the word “subpoena” at the top of the page even though they had not been signed by a judge, meaning that disobeying them would not be a criminal offense.

The district attorney faced a substantial backlash about the fake subpoenas, with some calling for Cannizzaro to be removed from office. A spokesman for Cannizzaro said the fake subpoenas would no longer go out and would be replaced with documents that said “notice to appear.”

The ACLU of Louisiana asked Cannizzaro to provide information identifying the lawyers in his office who issued or authorized the fake subpoenas. When he refused, the organization sued under Louisiana’s open record laws.

Civil District Court Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott agreed that the information was a public record and ordered Cannizzaro to comply.

The MacArthur Justice Center and The Lens, a non-profit news site that first reported on the fake subpoenas, have also sued Cannizzaro’s office asking for information.

The use of fake subpoenas is not the only controversy that Cannizzaro has generated concerning witnesses. The New Orleans Advocate recently profiled a shooting victim who was jailed after Cannizzaro’s office feared he would not testify against the man accused of shooting him at trial.

Cannizzaro has also jailed rape victims who refused to testify against their attacker. The New Orleans Advocate reported that in 2016 one woman was jailed for eight days after refusing to testify against the man who raped her.

Scandals continue to mount for Orange County D.A.

DA Tony Rackauckas
Office of the Orange County District Attorney

Scandals continue to mount for Orange County D.A.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, currently serving his fourth term as the elected prosecutor of the sixth most populous county in the United States, has vowed to seek reelection in 2018. Although he won reelection in 2014 with over 73% of the vote, the longtime prosecutor has been plagued by scandals that put his political future in doubt.

In January 2016, a special committee — established by Rackauckas himself — concluded there was a “failure of leadership” at D.A.’s office which “led to repeated problems with the handling of jailhouse informants and helped erode confidence in criminal cases that rely on their testimony.”

The California Attorney General and federal authorities are currently investigating his office over allegations that he planted jailhouse snitches in the county jail — and that Rackauckas’s office was aware that those snitches had been proven unreliable in the past.

A grand jury convened in Orange County also investigated the snitch issue. Although it “found no definitive evidence of a structured jailhouse informant program operating in the Orange County jails,” the Grand Jury did find “discovery violations in a small number of cases,” and, perhaps most critically, that “[b]oth the Orange County District Attorney and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department allowed employees to drift from the core organizational mission of their agencies and this lax supervision has unfortunately resulted in the erosion of trust in the criminal justice system.” (OC Weekly reporter R. Scott Moxley, who has covered Rackauckas and his office closely, ridiculed the Grand Jury’s findings.)

Rackauckas’ office was also removed from the death penalty prosecution of Scott Dekraai after the presiding judge became angry at prosecutors’ failure to turn over evidence to Dekraai’s lawyers. Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals said prosecutors failed to turn over important evidence multiple times and found Sheriff’s deputies “intentionally lied or willfully withheld material evidence from the court” — and that the district attorney’s office was responsible for the acts and omissions of those deputies.

Two investigators who worked for Rackauckas also claim that the district attorney interfered in multiple investigations and engaged in cover ups when police broke the law. A former chief investigator in the office has alleged that Rackauckas interfered in public corruption investigations that involved people who’d supported him.

Rackauckas couldn’t even launch his reelection bid without a scandal. Earlier this year, ACLU attorney Brendan Hamme and another person protesting against Rackauckas were hit by a car driven by a supporter of the district attorney outside a fundraiser for Rackauckas as he launched his reelection bid. No one was seriously hurt, although Hamme was taken to the hospital and then released.

Earlier this week, Rackauckas got his first opponent for the 2018 election. How much these and other scandals will these burden Rackauckas’s reelection efforts remains to be seen.

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Bexar County D.A. ducks accountability by shutting out newspaper

Bexar Co. DA Nico LaHood
Office of the Bexar County Criminal District Attorney

Bexar County D.A. ducks accountability by shutting out newspaper

Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood is refusing to talk to the San Antonio Express-News and is blocking them from attending press conferences that he holds. The Express-News is the fourth-largest daily newspaper in the state of Texas in terms of circulation and a leading news source for South Texas. Bexar County is the seventh-most populous county in the nation and the fourth-most populated in Texas.

According to the Express-News, LaHood didn’t inform the paper that two press conferences were occurring, and then refused to allow reporters and photographers from the paper in when they showed up. LaHood and his spokesperson are also not returning phone calls from the newspaper.

The animus appears to run deep. LaHood accused the newspaper of dishonesty in a Facebook post last year.

“If I am not expected to tolerate bad behavior from criminals, then I cannot tolerate bad behavior from unethical journalism,” LaHood said, specifically expressing anger at a column where a defense lawyer was quoted as calling LaHood a bully.

The Express-News has written several other critical stories about LaHood, including an allegation that he threatened to destroy the legal practice of two defense lawyers if they publicly made allegations that a prosecutor was having a sexual relationship with a key witness in a murder case. A state district judge backed the defense lawyers and said LaHood made the threat in her presence.

The powerful role of the district attorney is an increasingly frequent conversation. By boxing out reporters and photographers from his county’s biggest newspaper, LaHood is curtailing access, which runs the dangerous risk of making himself and his office less accessible and transparent. As the Express-News editorial page said “Whether you love or hate the media, blocking their access at any level by any public official infringes on the First Amendment and a free press. That, in turn, impinges on your right to information.”

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