New Orleans’ District Attorney Has a Warped Vision of Justice

We appeared in court last week for the first hearing in our lawsuit, with partner Civil Rights Corps, against the Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s Office. We are challenging the office’s illegal use of fake subpoenas and its practice of arresting crime victims and witnesses on the basis of false information.

The case is, at its core, about the prosecutor’s office abusing its power and coercing the victims and witnesses of crimes in violation of the Constitution. Yet, after the hearing, instead of taking responsibility for his office's unethical and illegal actions, Cannizzaro issued a public statement grossly mischaracterizing the case and, in doing so, further misled the public.

Cannizzaro’s response to the hearing is befitting of a prosecutor’s office so laser-focused on end results that it cannot see the illegalities of its actions or the harm it is causing the very community it is charged with safeguarding. He called our suit “a calculated attack on the criminal justice system” and claimed that its goal was to prevent witnesses from testifying altogether. The district attorney’s office further alleges that our clients are seeking to “disregard their civic duty to testify truthfully.”  

These claims could not be further from the truth.

Our client Lazonia Baham, in fact, dutifully appeared at multiple court dates, but when she did not respond to a fake subpoena, the office sought a material witness warrant against her alleging she failed to communicate with them. She was jailed for 8 days on a $100,000 bond. Ms. Baham was never even called to testify in the criminal case; the defendant accepted a plea deal.

As for the ACLU, we have never challenged the fact that a witness, when properly subpoenaed, must come to court. This case is about the district attorney office’s use of fake subpoenas and illegally obtained material witness warrants that subvert the law. Cannizzaro’s accusations serve only to underscore how misguided he and his team have been in dealing with victims of crime — so misguided that they decided to break the law purportedly to uphold the law.  

Earlier this year, in response to a public records request for the district attorney office’s current training materials on witness contact, Civil Rights Corps received a revelatory and disturbing PowerPoint presentation from Chief of Trials David Pipes, who trains and supervises prosecutors handling trial cases. The presentation included Pipes asking his fellow prosecutors, “Which Of Your Witnesses Will Turn?”; teaching them how to identify “traitors in your midst”; asking them if the victim in their cases is “a cold-blooded liar from the word ‘go’”; and advising them how to be “sure you get the last laugh” when dealing with crime victims and witnesses.  

Pipes didn’t stop there.

He continued by poking fun at family-member witnesses and witnesses with substance-abuse problems — people who may have complicated reasons for their reluctance to work with prosecutors and police.

PowerPoint slides from Assistant District Attorney David Pipes, which describe the types of witnesses who will recant their testimony.

PowerPoint slides from Assistant District Attorney David Pipes, which describe the types of witnesses who will recant their testimony.

Photo: Assistant District Attorney David Pipes' PowerPoint slides, which describe the types of witnesses who will recant their testimony.

Notably absent from the presentation were any suggestions on building rapport with victims and witnesses to have a deeper understanding of why their account may have changed or even a simple recognition that sometimes people do forget events, especially traumatic ones and those that happened many years ago.

Rather than teaching prosecutors how to cultivate relationships with and offer support to reluctant crime victims and witnesses, Pipes teaches prosecutors that from the start they should treat victims and witnesses like they are criminals, too.

Though this behavior and these facts are shocking, Cannizzaro’s callous treatment of victims, like Ms. Baham, comes as no surprise to community members who have suffered through years of aggressive, coercive, and retaliatory treatment at the hands of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. Its recent press statement and Pipes’ presentation are emblematic of the aggressive prosecutorial culture of Cannizzaro’s office, one that prizes a win-at-all-costs mentality over actually protecting community members. The evidence makes clear that these abhorrent attitudes and illegal policies come from the top down.

Our lawsuit is a “calculated attack,” as the district attorney’s office claims, but not on the criminal justice system — it’s an attack on prosecutorial misconduct. Prosecutors are arguably the most powerful actors in local criminal justice systems, and they need to be held accountable when they cross the line into the criminal conduct they’re supposed to fight.

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Joan Masover

It would be nice if you explained why the subpoenas were "fake."
According to the article you linked to, real subpoenas from DAs to appear at the DA's office require a court order in Louisiana.

Anonymous

Louisiana requires all request for a subpoena to sent to the judge. The judge will sign of on the subpoena, if they believe there is probable cause. The DA made up a document that claimed to be a subpoena but lacked that judicial signature.

Dr. Timothy Leary

"You can't please everyone so you might as well please yourself.": Rick Nelson circa 1972.

Injustice out o...

This is a true story... I write empirically.
The criminal injustice system has lost all of it's morals, if it ever had any, is guess work. The system directly supports problematic and offensive prosecutors, their associates and the judges by not regulating internal misconduct committed by officials who are hell bent on winning at their discretion, dictating their abusive process that harms, damages lives and even destroys some people in the the name of justice.

Persons running this system have a mindset of these nasty character types who are either Narcissists, Psychopaths, Machiavellian's, and these types of Prosecutors are criminal to the T. In theory of judgment of their misbehavior with their violation of rules of ethics, justice permits crimes in disguise of the law. The guilty should have a taste of their own medicine, and it should be force fed to them every time they choke on it while in prison. When you or if you ever discover the truth as I have from becoming a victim you will accept my message as fact. As a witness to these human rights atrocities, I will never be the same as I have been tormented by this horrible negative living experience that I can't fully recover from. HELP?

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