Orleans district attorney Leon Cannizzaro sought to jail domestic violence victim
Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro sought to jail a victim of domestic violence after she refused to to to respond to a fake subpoena his office sent her demanding that she meet with them.
The woman was never locked up. A judge originally issued an arrest warrant but then withdrew it after Cannizzaro dropped the charges against the woman’s ex-boyfriend. But Cannizzaro’s behavior is generating attention because of his tendency to issue these “fake subpoenas” to get witnesses in criminal cases to talk to his office.
Protesters in New Orleans have been calling for Cannizzaro’s recall.
According to the Lens, a non-profit news sight, prosecutors sought to jail the woman because she was not cooperating with their investigation and not coming to their office when she was sent a “subpoena.”
The documents had the word “subpoena” at the top of the page even though it had not been signed by a judge, meaning that disobeying would not be a criminal offense. The text said in all capital letters “SUBPOENA: A FINE AND IMPRISONMENT MAY BE IMPOSED FOR FAILURE TO OBEY THIS NOTICE.”
Cannizzaro defended his behavior, saying that the woman had gone to police twice but then stopped speaking to the authorities. But Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman told the Lens that obtaining an arrest warrant based on a fake subpoena “raises the level of misconduct.”
Legal experts questioned whether it was legal to send any of the fake subpoenas out, although news reports said the office had been doing it for years. It also came out that Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick has sent out similar “subpoenas and the office of North Shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery sent out documents that looked like subpoenas but didn’t actually use that word.
“There’s no question this is improper,” said Pace University law professor Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor in New York City, in an interview with The Lens. “Clearly, it’s unethical because the prosecutor is engaging in fraudulent conduct.”
Defense attorney and New Orleans City Councilman Jason Williams said if a defense attorney had done something similar, “I guarantee you this DA would try to prosecute that defense attorney.”
After the reports surfaced a spokesman for Cannizzaro said the process would be discontinued and replaced with documents that said “notice to appear.” Connick and Montgomery’s office also said the process would end.
But even if Cannizzaro is not recalled, the scandal has hurt him. He was blasted locally with an editorial in the New Orleans Times-Picayune that called the behavior “especially egregious.”
And Radley Balko of the Washington Post also called Cannizzaro out, saying his office had hit “rock bottom.”