Lawyer in Darren Sharper case accuses DA of 'judge-shopping' _lowres

Leon Cannizzaro

Some judges like to play kissy face with prosecutors, but Laurie White of New Orleans Criminal District Court is not one of them.

If presiding over a trial, however, even she would hardly opine that DA Leon Cannizzaro is a liar and political whore. Although she did not put it quite that baldly, her meaning was clear enough, and judicial decorum does not allow such candor.

White evidently felt she was under no constraint when she appeared in court last week in the unfamiliar role of crime victim. The depth of the animosity she revealed towards Cannizzaro from the witness stand, however, may make it difficult for her to maintain the impartiality required in her regular seat. Indeed, prosecutors might one day cite her remarks as grounds for her recusal.

That would be plenty ironic, considering that White was calling for Cannizzaro's recusal in the case of a drunk Crimson Tide fan who broke into her French Quarter courtyard at 6 a.m. last year and got into fisticuffs with her husband. White wants Cannizzaro's office off the case because she doesn't think she will “get a fair trial.”

The ironies abound here. White was only in court because the defendant, an Alabama attorney called Joshua Stemle, wanted Cannizzaro's office replaced. Stemle argued that White's sympathies would likely be with the prosecutors, since working alongside them is part of her daily routine.

Just how wide of the mark that premise was became apparent after Stemle subpoenaed White to testify at the recusal hearing, where she allowed, “I've always made it clear I do not like the district attorney. He is not always truthful. He is always concerned with the political outcome of decisions.”

When both sides figure the DA is against them, a fair trial seems virtually assured. The recusal motion failed.

A further irony is that Cannizzaro did White a favor after NOPD arrested Stemle and booked him with the relatively mild offense of trespass under municipal law. When White raised a ruckus, Cannizzaro agreed to up the ante and charge Stemle with the state crime of home invasion.

That left Stemle, who claims his judgment was impaired on the night of the break-in when the effects of too much drink were exacerbated by a belt on the noggin from a mugger, facing a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. Whatever gratitude White felt did not last long.

Even as White testified at the hearing on Stemle's recusal motion, the state Supreme Court was considering a challenge from Cannizzaro to her decision a week earlier declaring a mistrial in a sexual assault case.

After the defendant testified in that case, a couple of the victim's relatives, who were in the courtroom, advised prosecutors that he had lied.

When prosecutors then advised they intended to call the relatives to the stand, the defense attorney objected on grounds that witnesses must be sequestered when a trial is in progress.

In fact, the sequestration requirement does not apply to a victim's family members and there was no way of knowing in advance that rebuttal testimony would be needed. White duly allowed the testimony, but prosecutors' jaws dropped when, as soon as it was over, she went on to cite it as grounds for declaring a mistrial.

Hours after White testified in the Stemle recusal hearing, the state Supreme Court ruled she had “abused her vast discretion” in the sexual assault case and ordered the trial to resume. It ended with a hung jury anyway.

Cannizzaro and White never did hit it off. A couple of years ago, he made her mad by announcing that he had checked how often Criminal Court judges were absent from the bench and fingered her as the worst offender. Now she is running for the state Court of Appeal, and Cannizzaro has endorsed her opponent, Civil District Court judge Regina Bartholomew Woods.

As for Stemle, Cannizzaro has said that, in light of White's unflattering remarks, he will consider whether to ask Attorney General Jeff Landry to take over the prosecution. There doesn't seem much chance, however, that Cannizzaro and White will ever kiss and make up.