A New Orleans Municipal Court judge has tossed out misdemeanor battery and theft charges against former district attorney candidate Lionel “Lon” Burns, finding insufficient evidence that Burns last year kicked and punched a woman he’d dated for more than a year after responding to her Craigslist personals ad.
Judge Desiree Charbonnet granted a motion of acquittal late Friday after prosecutors rested their case against the 43-year-old criminal defense attorney.
The trial had been continued from early this month, when the purported victim took the stand and began arguing with Burns’ attorney, Jerry Settle, when he attacked her credibility.
Her testimony continued on Friday, and at one point, Charbonnet ordered her off the witness stand to sit handcuffed in a side gallery after she became combative, Settle said.
The New Orleans Advocate does not name women who claim they are victims of domestic violence, even if the charges are dismissed.
The woman denied being the voice heard on audio tapes saying the police report on the incident was exaggerated and that she’d first hit Burns about three times on the November night she called police and reported the alleged battery. The woman had earlier testified that it was her voice.
She testified that Burns arrived at her home in Hollygrove late one night in November, that they bickered over another woman and that Burns hit her twice in the face, kicked her in the pelvis and swiped her keys.
Settle said the woman admitted on the stand that she’d lied. He said she “displayed nothing but contempt for the judge and the judicial process throughout the entire trial.”
Early on in the trial, Settle seized on a note from a domestic violence counselor for the District Attorney’s Office who spoke to the woman shortly after the incident.
The counselor wrote to a prosecutor with District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office that the woman acknowledged calling police “because she wanted her keys and thought he had them. After I read the police report to her, she stated that maybe those things did happen due to the fact she was in his face and (trying) to pull him toward her.”
On the witness stand, the woman denied ever making the statement and insisted that Burns had attacked her.
Charbonnet’s ruling cut off the trial before Burns offered a defense against the misdemeanor charges against him.
The woman could not be reached Monday for comment.
Following the judge’s decision, Burns repeated an allegation that his prosecution was payback for his brief, aborted bid last year to unseat Cannizzaro.
Burns was booted from the race for failing to show that he had filed his tax returns over a four-year period beginning in 2009, after declaring on his sworn candidacy form that he had. He lost in a court challenge filed by a Cannizzaro supporter.
“It’s just a continuation of that. Anything where they can malign me or cast me in a negative light,” Burns said of the latest case against him.
Burns, who ran a failed campaign for Criminal District Court judge in 2008, 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 in the death of her two young children in their Gert Town apartment.
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, declined to comment on the acquittal.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.