Court Roundup

Lawsuit over New Orleans DA's ­subpoena record revived

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A civil rights group's lawsuit against the New Orleans District Attorney over a 2015 public records request was revived Wednesday by a Louisiana appellate court.

The lawsuit was filed in May 2017 by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which said District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro refused to turn over records documenting his use of subpoenas in response to the 2015 request. According to the court record, Cannizzaro had rejected the request as too burdensome and said the Clerk of Court would have records on file.

The issue became more complex two years after the request was made when news outlets reported that Cannizzaro's office sometimes issued documents labeled as subpoenas that did not have court approval - thus the clerk would likely not have custody of them.

The court record also said MacArthur attorney Emily Washington learned that the District Attorney's Office did not have a policy for maintaining records on those documents.

A New Orleans court dismissed Washington's lawsuit in the matter on procedural grounds but the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal revived it Wednesday, sending it back to the district court in New Orleans for further proceedings.

"For over three years, we have waited for the District Attorney to provide public records documenting his use of prosecutorial subpoena power to compel people to come to his office to be interviewed and give evidence," Jim Craig, director of the MacArthur center's Louisiana office, said in a news release. "Now we are entitled to the records, plus damages, penalties, and attorneys' fees for this unjustified delay."

An email from Cannizzaro's public information officer said the district attorney's office would evaluate the ruling before determining its next action.

Judge rejects motion to move case over ­Confederate monument

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A judge in southeastern Louisiana Wednesday rejected a motion by a black defendant to move a case because he worried the presence of a Confederate statue in front of the courthouse inhibits his ability to get a fair trial.

Ronnie Anderson is charged with illegal possession of a stolen firearm in East Feliciana Parish, which is about 110 miles (177 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans. Anderson and his lawyer, Niles Haymer, have argued the 30-foot-high (9-meter-high) statute of the unknown Confederate soldier erected in 1909 during the Jim Crow era in front of the courthouse is a "symbol of oppression and racial intolerance." They filed a motion in September pushing for a change of venue.

"Defendant believes that this Confederate Monument displayed prominently in front of the East Feliciana Parish Courthouse carries a message to African Americans of intimidation and oppression, communicating that justice may not be fair and impartial at a Courthouse that was nostalgic and sentimental over the institution of slavery that the Confederacy fought for," the motion read.

But Haymer said Judge Kathryn Jones rejected the motion. Haymer says his defendant is weighing his options but if the case goes to trial as scheduled next February, he will plan to ask prospective jurors about the statue.

District Attorney Sam D'Aquilla said he agrees with the judge's ruling and that the defendant failed to demonstrate any prejudice that would require the case to be moved. D'Aquilla said he objected to people from outside the parish coming in and stirring up racial divides where there were none. He pointed out the racial diversity among the various governing bodies across the parish.

"We really work hard to make sure justice is color-blind here," he said.

A judge rejected a similar motion in August, saying Haymer filed too late. But at the time the judge also threw out a serious firearms charge against Anderson. When the district attorney filed a new felony charge against Anderson, involving illegal possession of a stolen firearm, Haymer and Anderson refiled their motion to change the venue over the Confederate statue.

Confederate flags and monuments have come under renewed scrutiny following the 2015 shooting by Dylann Roof of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina and the 2017 deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Supporters say the statues are a part of history honoring their ancestors; detractors say they, in effect, honor slavery and in many cases were erected during the Jim Crow era to intimidate black people and bolster white supremacy.

Juvenile judge releases ­defendants after ­election loss

HOUSTON (AP) - A day after losing his re-election bid, a Texas judge released nearly all of the juvenile defendants who appeared before him Wednesday after he asked them whether they planned to kill anyone.

Harris County prosecutors expressed concerns after Judge Glenn Devlin made the decision in Houston. The juveniles face charges ranging from misdemeanors to violent crimes, the Houston Chronicle reported .

"We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age. This could endanger the public," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement.

Devlin, a longtime Republican jurist, rescheduled all of the cases for the first week in January, after the Democrat who beat him during Tuesday's election takes the bench. It's unclear how many juveniles were released, but officials said there were at least seven, including four facing aggravated robbery charges.

"I'm not sure that I can wrap my arms around what he's actually doing," Alex Bunin, Harris County's chief public defender, told the newspaper.

Devlin declined comment Wednesday when contacted by the Houston Chronicle.

Devlin and another Harris County juvenile judge, John Phillips, accounted for more than 20 percent of all youths sent to the state's juvenile prisons last year, according to the newspaper. They also sent younger juveniles to prison, and for less serious offenses, than the county's other juvenile court judge, Mike Schneider.

All three judges were defeated in a Democratic sweep of 59 Harris County judicial seats.

"The voters of Harris County clearly wanted a change in the juvenile courts, and Judge Devlin today is showing us why the voters may have wanted change," said Jay Jenkins, a policy attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Published: Fri, Nov 09, 2018