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Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr., responds loudly as New Orleans Councilmember-At-Large Jason Williams drills him about the use of fake subpoenas and the jailing of witness that had not committed a crime during a budget hearing for the DA's office in City Council Cambers at City Hall in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

Support among voters for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has fallen to its lowest point in years following a series of recent controversies, with less than half of the electorate approving of his job performance, according to a new poll conducted for The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV.  

Just 46 percent of voters said they approve of Cannizzaro's performance — a decline from the 55 percent approval he had when voters were asked to weigh in on the matter early last year. 

The new poll, conducted by the Clarus Research Group, was based on interviews last week with 500 likely voters in New Orleans. It has a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

Ed Chervenak, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans, said Cannizzaro's popularity likely has been hurt by a confluence of factors, including a scandal in which prosecutors in his office acknowledged using "fake subpoenas" to pressure witnesses into cooperating in criminal cases.

Cannizzaro ended the practice after it was exposed by The Lens, the investigative news website. He told WWL-TV that the practice was "improper."  

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"It was incorrect for us to label those notices as a subpoena," he said at the time. 

Cannizzaro has repeatedly clashed with Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration over violent crime in the city, with the DA complaining about a cut in funding to his office and suggesting that the Landrieu administration is soft on crime.

Cannizzaro's office also has drawn widespread criticism for its use of so-called material witness warrants to jail victims in an effort to force them to testify — a practice that was made public and excoriated by Court Watch NOLA. In one case last year, a woman who had accused a man of rape was arrested and held in jail for eight days. 

Cannizzaro defended the use of such warrants, describing them as necessary at times to "ensure the safety of a community that is being torn apart by violent crime." But Court Watch NOLA's report generated widespread outrage, and Cannizzaro found himself on the defensive as dozens of people protested on the steps of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.   

"When you go from a majority approval to less than majority approval, I think that says something," said Chervenak. "It could be a cumulative effect of all the negative headlines."  

A spokesman for Cannizzaro declined to comment on the poll.

Cannizzaro, a former longtime judge, won a second six-year term in 2014 after the Louisiana Supreme Court disqualified his lone challenger. He is up for re-election again in 2020. 

The Advocate/WWL-TV poll found that Police Superintendent Michael Harrison has a solid approval rating of 60 percent — support that could affect whether Mayor Mitch Landrieu's successor decides to keep Harrison at the helm or commission a search to replace him.

Harrison, who was appointed to replace former Police Chief Ronal Serpas in 2014, remains a relatively low-key leader when compared to some of the city's previous police chiefs.  

"Appointing the police chief will be the most important decision that a mayor will make when he or she comes into office," said Ron Faucheux, president of the Clarus Research Group, which did the poll. "I think what this poll shows is that the voters in the city are not blaming Chief Harrison for the crime problem." 

Some 63 percent of the poll's respondents said they approve of the performance of the New Orleans Police Department. That is significantly higher than the findings of a poll conducted just three weeks earlier by the New Orleans Crime Coalition, which put the department's approval rating at 51 percent. 

Some of the disparity could be the result of the polls' different methodology. The coalition polled about 600 residents, roughly 75 apiece from each of the city's eight police districts.

"A lot of people believe that police officers are doing their best under difficult circumstances," Faucheux said. 

Harrison said in a statement, “I’m extremely proud of the men and women of our department, and of how far they’ve come in building trust and respect from our community. While there is always more work to be done, seeing 63 percent of our citizens approve of the NOPD is a testament to the hard work our officers do every day to make people safe, and to make people feel safe.”

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.