State Attorney General Jeff Landry wants all 13 of the judges at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to be recused from handling any matters related to his investigation into Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell’s credit-card spending.
In a motion filed Friday, Landry asked the state Supreme Court to appoint a special ad hoc judge to oversee the matter — including, presumably, any criminal case that might grow out of the probe.
Landry's motion says conflicts of interest have already arisen at Criminal District Court, and that Cantrell's position as incoming mayor creates more potential for problems.
"Due to Mrs. Cantrell’s connexity to the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court as future mayor of the City of New Orleans ... the state respectfully asks this court to recuse itself, en banc, in order to avoid any appearance of bias or impartiality," the motion read.
No decision was made Friday on Landry's motion, which relies on a law that allows judges to be removed from criminal cases if they are found to be biased. No criminal charges have been filed regarding Cantrell’s spending.
Landry, however, says he's encountered resistance from seven of the court’s 13 judges even as his work remains at the investigation stage.
Five judges, citing conflicts, refused to sign subpoenas Landry requested for credit-card accounts Cantrell has controlled as a City Council member, according to the motion. Another said he believed he did not have jurisdiction to handle the matter.
The motion also notes that Criminal District Court Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell is Cantrell’s father-in-law.
And Judge Camille Buras, who did sign the subpoenas on Monday, recused herself on Friday from any further involvement with the investigation, citing “contested issues that have been presented in a motion to quash” the subpoenas that required her recusal.
David Winkler-Schmit, a spokesman for LaToya Cantrell, said Friday that he had no information about a motion to quash. A spokeswoman for Landry said she did not have a copy of the motion.
The subpoenas Landry requested this week were the first sign that Cantrell’s use of a credit card tied to her City Council office might go beyond being a campaign issue and potentially become a criminal matter. The state Legislative Auditor's Office has also requested records related to the use of credit cards by Cantrell and other council members.
The motion for recusal filed Friday seems to signal that the probe is a priority for Landry.
The City Council’s credit card use became a flashpoint in the mayor’s race after candidate Desiree Charbonnet alleged that Cantrell had used cards paid for by her office for personal expenses and trips.
Though Cantrell had paid back about $9,000 of those expenses, Charbonnet claimed the reimbursements, many of which were made shortly before Cantrell qualified to run for mayor, offered proof that the card had been misused.
But Cantrell said she simply wanted to reassure taxpayers they hadn't paid for any personal or political expenses.
A later examination of records from all seven council offices showed that Cantrell’s spending, though higher, was not significantly different from that of her colleagues.
The political drama around the spending gained further steam when a spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, a Charbonnet supporter, announced that the DA's Office had received an "anonymous complaint" about Cantrell's spending. In a break with usual practice, the office said publicly that the matter had been forwarded to the Attorney General's Office for potential investigation.
Cannizzaro’s handling of the matter prompted Cantrell’s camp to suggest he was using his office for political purposes and to file an ethics complaint against him.
Under the City Charter, Cantrell would be precluded from taking office in May if she pleads guilty to, or is convicted of, a felony.