Jun 122017
Owen Courrèges

Owen Courrèges

Tensions have been boiling over between District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

On June 7, an opinion piece ran in the New Orleans Advocate by Cannizzaro accusing Landrieu of having “repeatedly placed politics above public safety.”

“The only objective of this policy has been to create the illusion of public safety, regardless of what is actually occurring on the streets,” Cannizzaro continued. “In so doing, he has ultimately endangered the citizens of New Orleans.”

Cannizzaro specifically called out Landrieu for cutting the budget for his office, for imposing an ill-conceived hiring freeze on the N.O.P.D., and for keeping mum while the City Council condemned his office for its use of material witness warrants.

No shrinking violet himself, Landrieu struck back hard against Cannizzaro in a written statement.

“Like President Trump, the District Attorney is trying to create a distraction from several scandals, including his attempts to lock up innocent rape victims and strong-arm witnesses with fake subpoenas,’” the statement read. “The people of New Orleans are smarter than he gives them credit for and understand he is playing politics with public safety because he is upset about a budget cut.”

The wonderful thing about this exchange is that none of the accusations actually contradict one other. They’re also all true.

It’s difficult to gainsay Cannizzaro’s claim that the Landrieu Administration has been an unmitigated disaster for public safety. Landrieu failed to reform the N.O.P.D. and then imposed an across-the-board hiring freeze that that has resulted in fewer clearances and more crime. It’s as though his policies are intentionally designed to increase the crime rate.

In the meantime, Landrieu has invested time, energy, and money into ridiculous distractions, like the removal of four Confederate monuments earlier this year. The city actually spent more money on a no-bid contract with a private out-of-state security firm to spy on activists on both sides than it had previously cut from the D.A.’s office’s budget.

In other words, Landrieu would rather play J. Edgar Hoover with unaccountable spies-for-hire than hire more police or prosecutors.

At the same time, Landrieu has presided over a terrible economy and has directed scarce public resources to tourist-oriented projects like revamping Bourbon Street and constructing new streetcar lines in the French Quarter and CBD. Meanwhile, minimum wage hospitality workers don’t even have reliable bus service.

Nobody should turn to crime, but crushing poverty combined with an manifestly indifferent mayoral administration is certainly the cauldron in which criminals are confected.

However, there’s plenty of blame to go around. As Landrieu noted, Cannizzaro has every reason to want to distract from his office’s own scandals and mismanagement.

Cannizzaro’s policy of utilizing material witness warrants against crime victims received international attention this past April. The prospect of being held in an Orleans Parish jail has a chilling effect on the reporting of crime. It’s also just flat-out cruel.

However, where Cannizzaro really stepped over the line was in issuing bogus subpoenas to witnesses. The Code of Legal Ethics forbids attorneys from lying, even to third parties; literally forging official-looking subpoenas to scare witnesses into appearing doesn’t just step over that line, it sprints past it.

What was truly frightening is that the policy of utilizing fake subpoenas actually predated Cannizzaro, and wasn’t restricted to Orleans Parish. However, Cannizzaro did nothing.

Also, while I don’t normally handle felony-level offenses, I have had a few cases that involved his office and came away with the impression that Cannizzaro tended to be overly zealous to the point of squandering resources.

For example, in one case, a client of mine was facing criminal defamation charges. However, criminal defamation is virtually defunct in practice as it can virtually never be applied constitutionally. Nevertheless, it took the D.A.’s office several months to drop the charge, which carried with it the explicit admission that the charge was unconstitutional. That’s pretty wasteful for a D.A. pleading poverty.

Thus, although the mudslinging between Landrieu and Cannizzaro may appear to be fruitless mudslinging, it is actually quite enlightening. They’re each putting out their best material, and it isn’t being refuted. Landrieu could have defended himself in response to Cannizzaro’s op-ed, but ultimately he didn’t. Instead, he went on the attack, and there’s not much Cannizzaro can really say in response.

Both Cannizzaro and Landrieu are living in glass houses. However, the glass is filthy, and their ill-conceived battle is letting some light shine in.

Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.