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Orleans DA gives 'fraudulent' public defender case to La. Attorney General

Ashley Crawford is under criminal investigation after being accused of handling more than 100 cases without a law license

NEW ORLEANS — The Orleans Parish district attorney on Tuesday turned over his criminal investigation of a "fraudulent" public defender to the Louisiana Attorney General's Office, asking the state's highest attorney to investigate and potentially prosecute the woman accused of handling more than 100 cases for the Orleans Public Defender's Office without a law license. 

Ashley Crawford graduated from Loyola University College of Law and had worked for the Public Defender's Office since October 2018. She was fired Tuesday after it was revealed she was not a licensed lawyer. 

Crawford also reportedly used someone else’s bar number while conducting cases. 

The allegations against Crawford came to light after the Louisiana Supreme Court on June 21 forwarded a complaint to Cannizzaro’s office, alleging that Crawford had for the past nine months practiced law without a license while an employee of the Orleans Public Defender's office.

The Louisiana Bar Association on Monday said it had no record of Crawford being a licensed lawyer.

A preliminary review has identified more than 100 cases spanning all 12 sections of Criminal District Court in which Crawford represented clients without being licensed to practice law, the Public Defender's office said.

“By asking the attorney general’s office to assume control of this investigation and prosecution, we hope to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or animus toward a public defenders office we oppose each day in court,” District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said in a prepared statement. “The alleged violations by Ms. Crawford are extremely serious and deserve a full and complete review and prosecution, absent any potential accusations of conflict of interest."

The Public Defender’s Office on Tuesday released a statement that said Crawford appeared to be licensed when was hired.

“We check yearly to ensure our attorney staff remain in good standing and it was those administrative controls that revealed problems with her eligibility,” the office said in a prepared statement announcing Crawford’s firing.

If the allegations are true, some of the dozens of clients represented by Crawford may be entitled to a new trial, Eyewitness News legal analyst Chick Foret said.

"Some of these cases will result in new trials for these defendants,” Foret said.

Crawford faces up to a $1,000 fine and at least two years in jail if she’s found guilty.

In addition to the attorney general's criminal investigation, Crawford is subject to discipline from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel if any trial verdicts are vacated. Crawford and the Public Defender’s office can also be held liable for the cost of any re-trial.

Attempts to reach Crawford have not been successful.