12 Nov Illegal Practices by New Orleans DA Ends in a Historic Settlement
In general, prosecutors have a lot of discretion in how they can handle a case. But sometimes that discretion results in an abuse of power and unethical behavior. Sometimes, an abuse of power and unethical behavior can also lead to legal reforms. A great example of those is the recent landmark settlement in Louisiana. Under settlement, decades-long illegal practices by Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office must end.
According to the lawsuit, the DA’s office used fake subpoenas, intimidation and coercion on victims and witnesses. But a settlement in a case called Singleton et al. v. Cannizzaro includes necessary reforms that aim to increase the accountability and integrity of the DA’s office.
The settlement will end the “win at all costs” mentality of prosecutors.
In 2017, the Civil Rights Corps, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Louisiana, Venable LLP, SilenceIsViolence and several individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and the OPDA for violating Louisiana law. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs accused the OPDA’s office of using threats of fines and jail time to coerce victims and witnesses into giving pro-prosecution testimony. The plaintiffs also alleged that the OPDA’s office even used bogus subpoenas to arrest innocent people.
Ultimately, the lawsuit sought to hold the OPDA’s office accountable for not following rules and violating Louisianians’ constitutional rights. “Prosecutors are not above the law,” said Nora Ahmed, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “Using bogus subpoenas to intimidate and jail witnesses and victims is an egregious abuse of power, and the ACLU of Louisiana is committed to holding the DA’s office accountable for violating the rights of the people they’re sworn to serve.”
The landmark settlement aims to end these long-time practices. “This settlement recognizes the harm that results when prosecutors operate with a ‘win at all costs’ mentality,” said Tara Mikkilineni, a senior attorney at Civil Rights Corps. “[T]he DA has committed to reforms including unprecedented oversight of the office.” Ultimately, Ahmed said, “[t]his agreement is a win for the people of Orleans Parish, who deserve an end to this unlawful behavior.”
The new reforms aim to increase the accountability and integrity of the prosecutors.
The individual plaintiffs involved in the case will receive financial compensation. But the settlement also brings major reforms that could change how prosecutors use their powers. Moving forward, the OPDA will conduct internal supervision of the material witness warrant process. This includes internal regular audits to close outstanding warrants. It also includes logging communications with victims and witnesses and providing rigorous training. Additionally, a civil rights lawyer from New Orleans, Katie Schwartzman, will monitor the compliance of this settlement agreement to ensure OPDA follows this policy.
This settlement is a significant step in ending prosecutorial misconduct in New Orleans. It also sets an example for other prosecutors around the country to deter misconduct.