A young investigator with the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office who stands accused of impersonating a peace officer has lodged incendiary claims against District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and one of his top trial deputies, accusing them of devising an indictment against her in a retaliatory backhand.
In a legal filing this week, Taryn Blume, 24, asked a judge to remove Cannizzaro and his office, along with Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli, from the case against her.
Her attorneys claim the December indictment amounts to “an unprecedented effort” to obscure “the most recent failure (by the DA’s Office) to disclose (exculpatory) evidence and to retaliate against public defenders who bring prosecutorial misconduct to the attention of the courts.”
They claim Napoli tried to hide a report by Housing Authority of New Orleans police that might have helped accused rapist Curtis Hawthorne.
The defense eventually got the HANO report but did not present it at the trial, and a jury convicted Hawthorne in December of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping and armed robbery in a Mardi Gras 2013 assault on a University of Texas senior in Central City. Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich in January sentenced Hawthorne, 23, to a 50-year prison term.
But Blume claims legal fussing by the Public Defender’s Office over the late-arriving report, with accusations of foul play lodged against Napoli, sparked a revenge prosecution in which Napoli himself went before a grand jury to secure the indictment.
Blume stands accused of presenting herself as a DA’s investigator when she approached two HANO police supervisors early last year in her work on Hawthorne’s case. Hawthorne was represented by attorneys with Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton’s office.
The indictment against Blume came about two weeks after Hawthorne’s conviction, more than eight months after her alleged crime. She has pleaded not guilty.
Blume’s bid to have Cannizzaro’s office benched in the case has garnered support from Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino, a frequent legal commentator who argued in an affidavit that Napoli and Cannizzaro have a “personal interest in the outcome of these proceedings” and should be barred from Blume’s prosecution. Ciolino said Tuesday that he wasn’t paid for his legal viewpoint.
A spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office declined to comment on the allegations contained in a motion that Blume’s attorneys filed Monday.
“The question that is presently before the court in the case is: Did (Blume) falsely represent herself as a member of a law enforcement agency?” spokesman Christopher Bowman said Tuesday.
“With regard to Jason Napoli, he is a very competent prosecutor, but above all, he is fair. He has the district attorney’s full and unwavering support. We will respond to the accusations in court.”
Blume’s attorneys, Mark Cunningham and former federal prosecutor Michael Magner, of the Jones Walker firm, argue that Cannizzaro’s reputation is too wrapped up in the allegations against Napoli to steer clear of an ethical conflict.
In their legal filing, they noted a long history of violations by Orleans Parish prosecutors of Brady v. Maryland, the 50-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires the government to disclose all evidence favorable to a defendant.
The vast bulk of those well-documented lapses, intentional or otherwise, came during the 30-year tenure of former DA Harry Connick, leaving Cannizzaro’s office in some cases to either defend or swallow the alleged misdeeds of prosecutors past.
The report that Blume’s attorneys accuse Napoli of hiding documented the fact that the victim in the case against Hawthorne initially did not claim rape when she first approached a HANO officer at the Guste high-rise apartments.
Hawthorne’s attorneys got the report directly from HANO shortly before his trial.
Caught “in the middle” of an attempted cover-up “is a 24-year-old recent college graduate who moved to New Orleans from Massachussetts to help root out the very corruption that she now confronts,” Blume’s attorneys argue.
According to the motion, Napoli later blamed Blume for leading HANO police to believe she was a DA’s investigator and conclude that prosecutors had what they needed.
Blume’s attorneys say they intend to call both Cannizzaro and Napoli as witnesses.
The charge against Blume carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
District Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier has given Cannizzaro’s office until March 27 to respond to Blume’s claims.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.