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Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro waits for the press conference to begin at Orleans Justice Center in New Orleans, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. Governor John Bel Edwards announced Justice Reinvestment grants are being distributed to Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

A federal judge will allow people who received material-witness arrest warrants and bogus subpoenas to proceed with most of their claims against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo’s order this week preserves almost all of the claims filed against Cannizzaro and his prosecutors in an October 2017 lawsuit.

Cannizzaro's office had asked Milazzo to dismiss the lawsuit in March 2018, but the judge had given no sign as to how she would rule since a hearing in May.

Civil rights lawyers say the judge’s ruling opens the door for them to explore exactly what happened when prosecutors issued so-called “subpoenas” without judges' signatures, and also had witnesses they said were uncooperative arrested ahead of trials.

“It's really serious misconduct, and it deserves to be explored. We're glad the court recognized that,” said Katie Chamblee-Ryan, an attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law firm Civil Rights Corps. “We're really happy for our plaintiffs, who are really brave to stand up to these prosecutors.”

Civil Rights Corps brought the case with the American Civil Liberties Union and the latter's Louisiana affiliate.

The groups faced headwinds from U.S. Supreme Court rulings, which give prosecutors a broad legal shield for actions they take in the course of their jobs.

The District Attorney’s Office could still win the case by pointing to those precedents, but Milazzo’s decision lets the plaintiffs advance toward arguing their case at a trial.

“This is a major win,” said Bruce Hamilton, an attorney with the ACLU of Louisiana. “The court is very clear that prosecutors can’t just do whatever they want and get away with it because they’re prosecutors.”

All eight plaintiffs in the case had at least one claim against the District Attorney's Office preserved by Milazzo's ruling.

The district attorney's treatment of victims and witnesses has become one of the defining controversies of his second term. The judge's ruling means that hearings in the case could continue in the months ahead of the next election for the office in 2020. Cannizzaro has not said whether he intends to run again.

The District Attorney’s Office did not comment on the judge's ruling. 


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432