Judge rules sole challenger to DA Leon Cannizzaro can stay in race _lowres

Lon Burns

New Orleans criminal defense attorney Lionel “Lon” Burns Jr. allegedly kicked, punched and grabbed a woman after showing up at her home early one morning last week, according to court records.

A former Orleans Parish prosecutor, Burns, 43, surrendered to police Monday on an arrest warrant issued five days earlier. He was booked on suspicion of simple battery, theft and criminal damage to property, all misdemeanors. Court records show he was released on a $3,000 bond.

Burns appeared briefly Tuesday afternoon in Municipal Court, pleading not guilty to all three counts. Judge Desiree Charbonnet issued a protective order that prohibits Burns from contacting the 22-year-old woman for a year.

Charbonnet set a Jan. 20 trial date in the case.

In August, Burns sought to challenge Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro for his job, but the Louisiana Supreme Court disqualified him from the Nov. 4 election after deciding he had failed to show he had filed required tax returns.

According to an application for an arrest warrant on Burns, he showed up shortly after 2 a.m. Nov. 12 at the woman’s home in the 8500 block of Edinburgh Street in Hollygrove.

After a verbal dispute, Burns “repeatedly kicked the victim in the stomach and pelvic area, punched the victim on the right side of the face twice, punched the victim in the lip causing a small abrasion, then grabbed the victim in the chest area while trying to force her to the coffee table and floor,” NOPD Officer Terry Baham wrote in the arrest warrant application.

The attack caused bruising and redness on the victim’s chest. Burns ripped the woman’s blouse and took her keys from her purse before leaving, the officer wrote.

The court documents do not describe the relationship between Burns and the woman, and Burns’ attorney, Jerry Settle, declined to discuss the allegations.

The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said by phone that the incident “has been blown out of proportion.”

She said she initially called police when she thought Burns had taken her keys, but she later realized they were in her room.

“The police went a little too extra, I’m assuming because of who he is,” she said. “The media has made him out to be a monster.”

The woman hung up the phone when asked about the allegations of physical abuse.

The arrest comes three months after Burns, who ran a failed campaign for Criminal District Court judge in 2008, launched a campaign to unseat Cannizzaro, only to be challenged by a Cannizzaro supporter over a statement Burns made in qualifying that he had filed his taxes.

Burns, who didn’t file taxes for four straight years beginning in 2009, argued successfully before the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that he had straightened out his tax issues and sent his returns to the state through a tax preparer. But the state’s high court said that wasn’t enough because an official with the Department of Revenue testified that the agency never received the returns.

Settle said Tuesday that bad blood over Burns’ brief candidacy was a reason for Cannizzaro’s office to recuse itself from the criminal case.

He added that Burns believes Cannizzaro’s office is pushing to prosecute the case against him to keep him from representing some of the five New Orleans police detectives who were accused last week of failing to investigate hundreds of sex crimes cases in recent years.

Burns reached out to some of those detectives, who could face criminal charges. He claims the DA’s office got wind of it and now aims to silence him, Settle said, though he added that none of the detectives has yet decided to hire Burns.

“Mr. Burns has reached out to those officers. He’s not going to sit by and watch them be railroaded and possibly indicted,” Settle said.

Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, said he was not aware that Burns had spoken to any of the NOPD detectives, none of whom has been charged with a crime. He said Burns’ allegation “doesn’t even merit a response.”

The criminal allegations against Burns came from police. Cannizzaro’s office picked up the case on Tuesday.

Bowman said there is no ethical reason for the office to step away from the case and it won’t.

Dane Ciolino, a Loyola Law School professor, agreed.

“There is no basis for recusal of Mr. Cannizzaro under the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure. Moreover, the prosecution of the case by Mr. Cannizzaro’s office does not involve an impermissible conflict of interest under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct,” Ciolino said.

Burns has represented some high-profile clients in recent years, including the family of Wendell Allen, a 20-year-old man who was shot and killed in his Gentilly home by a New Orleans police officer who later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and accepted a four-year prison sentence.

Burns also represents Chelsea Thornton, who faces two counts of first-degree murder for allegedly killing her two young children in their Gert Town apartment.

Staff writer Dan Lawton contributed to this story. Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.