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Federal Judges Decry Louisiana Prosecutors’ Fake Subpoenas

Federal Judges Decry Louisiana Prosecutors’ Fake Subpoenas

Federal appeals court judges were united in their disdain for “fake subpoenas” at a hearing, but they reserved judgment on whether New Orleans prosecutors could be held accountable for using them, reports U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has said civil rights groups could pursue legal claims against individual prosecutors for sending bogus subpoenas to witnesses, a ruling now under review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. For years, New Orleans prosecutors sent documents marked “subpoena” threatening jail time to reluctant witnesses to convince them to meet with prosecutors ahead of trials, even though the office never obtained a valid court order for such a document.

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro discontinued the practice in 2017 when the news site The Lens revealed it, but his office has been fighting a lawsuit from civil rights groups since then. At a hearing Wednesday, his attorneys cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings that grant prosecutors a broad legal shield for their typical tasks ahead of a trial. Still, the three-judge panel expressed shock at the bogus documents. “What’s the classic task of the prosecutor here?” asked Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod. “Drafting fake documents — that’s not a classic task of the prosecutor.” The plaintiffs in the case are seven crime victims or witnesses and a victims support group. They are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, its Louisiana affiliate, and the nonprofit Washington, D.C., law firm Civil Rights Corps. A “friend of the court” brief from prosecutors, including liberal Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and former Bush administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey, said the fake subpoenas undermined the public’s trust in government.


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