The ACLU of Louisiana is suing Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for refusing to provide public records identifying the lawyers in his office who have issued or authorized false subpoenas, or documents that claim to be subpoenas but were not issued by a court. The suit seeks to compel the District Attorney to respond to an inquiry, sent on May 5, 2017, which requested documents sufficient to show the names and Louisiana bar numbers of those lawyers.
In response to the letter, Cannizzaro’s office said that his office “does not maintain” those records, suggesting that it would require a review of documents stored off-site. “The District Attorney should know what his lawyers are doing, and he must be able to find out if he wants that information,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana, who sent the May 5 letter. “We didn’t ask for the fake subpoenas; we asked for the names of lawyers who had issued them. Surely the District Attorney can find out what his employees are doing with a simple search of e-mail and document servers, if not by asking them directly.”
“The public has a right to know what its officials are doing in their name,” Esman continued. “If prosecutors are sending documents that are not what they purport to be, the public is entitled to know who those lawyers are. The public has been deceived, and some people have been intimidated by these tactics. We should be able to find out who did this.”
The denial letter sent by Cannizzaro is similar to denials sent to The Lens and to the MacArthur Justice Center, organizations which requested related but different information. “Cannizzaro didn’t respond to the letter we sent,” said Esman. “He sent a stock denial referring to records that are not what we asked for. The law requires him to respond to the request we sent, not to simply deny it out of hand.”
The lawsuit seeks to compel Cannizzaro to supply the information, as well as reimbursement for attorneys’ fees and costs. “This shouldn’t be necessary,” said Esman. “If the District Attorney won’t answer questions about his staff’s activities, he is violating public trust. What is he trying to hide?”
The lawsuit, styled Esman v. Cannizzaro, was filed today in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans. Representing Esman are Bruce Hamilton, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana, and Ron Wilson, a longtime civil rights attorney.