October 06, 2021

Venable, ACLU, and CRC Secure Landmark Settlement Ending Orleans Parish District Attorney's Use of Fake Subpoenas and Unconstitutional Intimidation Practices

3 min

Washington, DC (October 5, 2021) – Venable LLP is pleased to announce that the plaintiffs in Singleton et al. v. Cannizzaro have reached a historic settlement with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office (OPDA), bringing an end to the OPDA’s years-long use of fake subpoenas and intimidation to illegally coerce and jail victims and witnesses, practices that became commonplace in the office under the supervision of former district attorney Leon Cannizzaro. The settlement was reached with Orleans Parish’s new district attorney, Jason Williams. Venable represented the plaintiffs in conjunction with the Civil Rights Corps (CRC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the ACLU of Louisiana.

“We were pleased to partner with the ACLU and CRC to obtain this significant settlement and accountability from the New Orleans DA office,” said Venable Los Angeles partner Sarah Brooks.

The lawsuit was filed in 2017 against then-DA Cannizzaro and his office for fabricating subpoenas to coerce survivors and witnesses of harm into submitting to private, out-of-court interrogations—a direct violation of Louisiana law. The fake subpoenas bore the OPDA’s official seal and threatened fines and imprisonment as penalties for noncompliance, adding false credibility to the coercive documents.

Though the fake subpoenas had no legal effect, in some cases prosecutors used them as a basis for arresting witnesses to compel their testimony in court. Prosecutors under Cannizzaro also routinely abused their power to seek the arrest of material witnesses, misrepresenting information to the courts in applications for material witness arrest warrants and using the threat of arrest to force cooperation from reluctant witnesses. As a result, people who were not accused of any crime—and in many cases were themselves the victim of the crime—spent days, weeks, and even months in jail.

In addition to ending those practices, the agreement outlines clear steps the OPDA must take for internal supervision of the material witness warrant process, including conducting regular audits to ensure outstanding warrants are closed, documenting communications with survivors and witnesses, providing rigorous training, and more. DA Williams and the OPDA also agreed to an independent external monitor to ensure the office complies with the agreement—a process that is rarely, if ever, agreed to by a district attorney. The settlement also provides significant financial compensation to the three remaining plaintiffs who suffered serious emotional and physical hardships as a result of the OPDA’s coercive tactics.


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