An attorney for New Orleans Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell is fighting a bid by state Attorney General Jeff Landry's office to recuse all 12 judges of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court from his office's investigation into her credit card spending as a councilwoman.
Cantrell has hired a legal heavy hitter, attorney Billy Gibbens, a former federal prosecutor who has defended several high-profile criminal defendants and government targets.
Gibbens recently filed an opposition to Landry's motion, which asks for the entire court to back away from the matter and let the Louisiana Supreme Court appoint a special ad hoc judge to take it over.
State prosecutors claim none of the dozen judges at Criminal District Court can fairly oversee the investigation or any criminal case that might stem from it. They are expected to spell out their arguments Friday morning at a hearing before Judge Laurie White, the court's chief judge.
Gibbens also has filed a motion to quash subpoenas for bank records that another of the court's judges, Camille Buras, signed for Landry's office on Nov. 27, according to a recusal notice that Buras signed on Friday. Buras sealed the three subpoenas she signed.
Landry is seeking those bank records as he launches an investigation into a complaint that appears to be identical to one raised by Cantrell's runoff opponent, former Municipal Court Judge Desiree Charbonnet, during the campaign.
Charbonnet accused Cantrell of misspending thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on her official credit card, an accusation that rests partly on the fact that she later paid back about $9,000 of it — including more than $4,000 after she qualified to run for the city's top office. The reimbursements amounted to an admission of guilt, the Charbonnet campaign said.
Cantrell argued, and voters apparently agreed, that her decision to pay the money back showed she was diligent in ensuring personal expenses didn't land on the public dime.
The issue roiled the campaign even more after District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office publicly announced it had received a complaint and was referring it to Landry's office for investigation. Cannizzaro was a prominent champion of Charbonnet's mayoral bid, and Cantrell claimed the DA was using his office for political ends by making the referral public.
White signed an order Monday sealing all legal filings by both sides. She did not state a reason. She did note in her order that "this matter is not an open case nor are there charges pending," adding that she was tapped to handle the case by random allotment after Buras recused herself.
Gibbens declined to comment on anything to do with the matter, citing the seal orders.
Cantrell is only the latest big name on Gibbens' client list. That roster also has included Darren Sharper, the former Saints safety and admitted serial rapist; Robert Durst, the New York real estate heir and reality-TV celebrity murder suspect; and local trash magnate Fred Heebe.
Led by Gibbens, Heebe's aggressive counterattack while in the cross-hairs of the FBI included exposing the notorious online posting scandal inside former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office.
The 2012 scandal, featuring anonymous online commentary on pending federal cases that Heebe's team connected to two of Letten's most trusted deputies, led to the departures of Letten and three of his top aides. It also led the feds to take the rare step of announcing that they were ending their probe into Heebe.