An Orleans Parish judge on Tuesday barred a top Orleans Parish prosecutor from trying the criminal case against a public defense investigator accused of impersonating a District Attorney’s Office staffer while she pursued evidence in a 2013 rape case.
Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier recused Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli from the criminal case against investigator Taryn Blume, 25, but she stopped short of removing District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s entire office from prosecuting Blume, as her attorneys had requested.
The ruling came two weeks after a bitter hearing at which Napoli’s legal tactics and courtroom manners came under attack from Blume’s attorneys, Michael Magner and Mark Cunningham. They argued that the felony charge against her was a vengeful response by Napoli to accusations that he had failed to turn over evidence before a 2014 trial in the rape case.
Napoli secured a conviction and life prison sentence for Curtis Hawthorne in December 2014. A few weeks later, he presented the allegations against Blume to a special grand jury, which indicted her on a charge of false personation of a peace officer.
Blume faces a maximum two-year prison term if convicted at a trial slated to start May 10.
Hawthorne’s public defenders had complained that Napoli failed to turn over Housing Authority of New Orleans police logs in the rape case that Blume herself had secured. The logs showed the rape victim reported having been robbed but didn’t mention a sexual assault to the HANO officer she encountered at the Guste apartments in Central City in February 2013.
The victim, a 22-year-old University of Texas senior, was on a Mardi Gras vacation with friends when she flagged down a ride in the French Quarter and ended up raped, bruised and bedraggled near the public housing development.
Blume is accused of misrepresenting herself as a DA’s Office investigator when she approached HANO security officers in early 2014. Her attorneys claim Napoli pursued charges against her out of malice after being caught failing to turn over the logs.
Flemings-Davillier didn’t specify Tuesday exactly why she ordered Napoli, 32, off the case, saying she would issue a written ruling by Friday.
State law allows such recusals only in a few situations: when a prosecutor is related to the accused, has represented or counseled the accused or “has a personal interest in the cause or grand jury proceeding which is in conflict with fair and impartial administration of justice.”
At the April 12 hearing, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman said the evidence proved only that public defenders dislike Napoli, who has produced several high-profile convictions. “Jason Napoli has never been found by any court to have failed to produce evidence,” Bowman said at what he described as a “shameless” hearing.
Just who in Cannizzaro’s office will prosecute Blume is now uncertain.
Bowman said the District Attorney’s Office intends to appeal the ruling.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.