NEW ORLEANS -- The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has 20 days to turn over to the state ALCU names of lawyers in cases from this year in which so-called “fake subpoenas” were used to try to compel witnesses to testify ahead of trials.
Civil District Court Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott also gave the DA’s office another 15 days to turn over the same information for the prior five years.
The hearing followed news stories, first reported by The Lens, that revealed the DA’s office used the documents that were not authorized by a judge but gave the appearance of official court documents as a way to try to get witnesses to speak to prosecutors.
The ACLU on May 15 asked the DA’s office to provide records that identified what prosecutors had used the documents and how often they had been issued. The DA’s office said it didn’t track that information.
The ACLU argued that the DA’s office violated the state’s public-records law and accused the officer of using “deceptive tactics” and “violating the public trust.”
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has said the practice, which was stopped after news reports on it, was a necessary way to fight crime.
The head of the local ACLU said after Tuesday’s hearing that she was pleased with the ruling.
“I think it’s important to remember we’re not asking for the subpoenas themselves,” said Marjorie Essman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “All we’re asking for is the identities of the attorneys who issued them.”
David Fink, a lawyer for Cannizzaro, said during the hearing that the ACLU's initial request was overly burdensome.
Fink told Ervin-Knott that Cannizzaro has limited staff members who can fulfill such a request and that he would have to pull prosecutors from their regular cases to complete it.
Ervin-Knott said she understood that issue but said the public has a right to know the information.