NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans’ district attorney has been ordered to pay more than $50,000 in penalties for failing to produce public records related to a 2015 request.
Civil District Judge Ethel Julian’s ruling was issued July 27 against District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro in a public records lawsuit filed in May 2017.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center accused Cannizzaro of refusing to turn over records documenting his use of subpoenas. According to the court record, Cannizzaro had rejected the request as too burdensome and had referred MacArthur center lawyer Emily Washington to the clerk of court.
After the 2015 request was made by the MacArthur center, the online news outlet The Lens revealed that Cannizzaro’s office had sometimes issued documents labeled as subpoenas that did not have court approval, meaning — Washington argued — the clerk of court likely would not have some of the requested records.
Washington filed the lawsuit, resulting in Julien’s ruling.
The district attorney “acted arbitrarily and capriciously in failing to produce the documents,” Julien found. She penalized him $50 a day for a period of 1,029 days — $51,450.
“The District Attorney used false pretenses to compel witnesses to come to his office, sought to jail those who did not appear, and tried to cover up this odious practice by refusing to comply with the Public Records Law,” said Jim Craig, director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s Louisiana office — in a statement after Julien’s decision.
The ruling requires Cannizzaro, who recently announced that he is not seeking a third six-year term, also to pay attorneys’ fees and expenses. The MacArthur center said in a news release that Cannizzaro would be personally responsible to pay the penalties under state law.
“We strongly disagree with the court’s legal analysis and ruling in this matter,” Ken Daley, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, said last week in an emailed response to a request for comment. “We intend to examine our options, including our likely decision to file a suspensive appeal of this judgment before the deadline of Aug. 26.”