A high-profile New Orleans prosecutor remained in the cross-hairs of Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo on Friday after failing to serve a 24-hour contempt of court sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman, spokesman for the DA’s office, was issued a subpoena by Marullo to appear in court Friday afternoon to explain himself, but deputies were unable to find him.
When deputies tried to serve the subpoena to Bowman at his office, they were told he was “on vacation” until next Tuesday.
In ordering a new subpoena for Bowman to appear Jan. 21, Marullo made his frustration apparent.
“He will be subpoenaed again on that day and he better make his appearance,” Marullo said. “If he refuses service, he will have compounded his contempt.”
Marullo also had choice words for Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman, whose deputies were ordered to take Bowman into custody Thursday, but instead allowed the prosecutor to report back to his office to perform “community service” instead of jail time.
Unlike Bowman, Gusman promptly answered Marullo’s subpoena, showing up in court Friday and openly wondering what all the fuss was about.
In a bench conference loud enough to be audible throughout the courtroom, Marullo told him.
“If I sentence a guy to do 24 hours, I expect a guy to do 24 hours,” Marullo told the sheriff. “He wasn’t even under supervision. He went back to his office.”
Marullo issued 24-hour sentence and $100 fine after Bowman was quoted in The New Orleans Advocate about a case in which Marullo had imposed a gag order.
Bowman was face-to-face with Marullo in the courtroom Thursday when the judge ordered him to jail, but Bowman never made it, instead being allowed by deputies to return to his office across the street.
"This is very, very unusual," said Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton. "One of the things that's unusual about the case is the intervention of the sheriff. That's one the biggest peculiarities about what has happened. Usually the jailer doesn't get involved in an early release."
With Bowman holed up in his office Thursday, fellow prosecutors appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal and got a partial reprieve.
The appeal court threw out Marullo’s order and sentence, ruling that Bowman was not in “direct contempt” – as Marullo initially ruled – because Bowman was not in the courtroom when he allegedly violated the gag order.
In response, Marullo adjusted his order to find Bowman in violation of “constructive contempt,” a violation that does not require a face-to-face confrontation. That order still stands, according to Marullo, and Bowman must answer to it.
Given the strange twists the case has taken so far, Bunton said anything could happen at this point.
"You certainly have some strong personalities at work in that courtroom – all of which we've had some experience with – and certainly I think that's going to play a big role in how this gets resolved."
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said he couldn’t comment on the matter because it is an open case.