An Orleans Parish Criminal District Court judge said Friday she will review personal “chat room” messages sent by one of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s top prosecutors that defense attorneys claim will show a personal motive behind the prosecution of an employee of the Public Defenders Office.

Taryn Blume was indicted on a charge of impersonating a District Attorney’s Office staffer to obtain police logs from the Housing Authority of New Orleans while gathering evidence to defend Curtis Hawthorne against a rape charge. Blume faces two years in jail if convicted.
Blume, however, claims her indictment was payback for accusations by the Public Defenders Office that Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli tried to hide those potentially exculpatory police logs leading up to the 2014 trial, which ended with Hawthorne’s conviction.

Napoli, who presented the evidence against Blume to a grand jury to secure the December 2014 indictment, was ordered off the case by Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier in April at the request of Blume’s lawyers, though Cannizzaro’s office was allowed to continue to prosecute the case.

At a hearing Friday, Flemings-Davillier refused a defense motion to throw out Blume’s indictment, but she did allow for the review of the chat room messages, as well as documentation that a Housing Authority employee who is expected to be called as a witness for the prosecution might suffer from dementia.

Those messages, defense attorney Mark Cunningham said, were exchanged in a fantasy football chat room among Napoli, District Attorney’s Office spokesman Christopher Bowman, private attorney Blake Arcuri and others inside and outside Cannizzaro’s office.

Cunningham said the messages will show what Napoli wanted to accomplish with the indictment, that he is aware that Blume has done nothing wrong, that he withheld evidence and that “he has views that reflect a specific personal bias against Ms. Blume.”

Assistant District Attorney Laura Cannizzaro Rodrigue replied that Blume’s lawyers, rather than laying out the required specifics about what information they want and why, instead were on a “fishing expedition” based on what they hope to find.

Rodrigue accused the defense of trying to turn the case into a trial of Napoli, though she said the prosecution actually would look forward to that. She did not elaborate.

Rodrigue also followed up Flemings-Davillier’s ruling by indicating prosecutors will try to compel the disclosure of text messages sent among Blume’s defense attorneys, though the judge indicated she has seen nothing to suggest she should grant such a motion.

Flemings-Davillier said she would privately review both the chat room messages and any medical records pertinent to the potential witness’s mental fitness. She did not set a date for a ruling on whether the messages should go before a jury or whether they’re irrelevant.

Cunningham indicated in court Friday that the messages likely would come from Arcuri’s account because he is a local participant in the chats who would be covered by a subpoena.

On the defense’s unsuccessful motion to throw out the entire indictment, Flemings-Davillier rejected the Blume team’s three-pronged argument that Blume would have achieved no special privilege by impersonating a District Attorney’s Office staffer because the police logs were public; that the statute concerning special privilege is vague; and, most important, that the indictment was secured while there was an unauthorized person in the room with the grand jury, namely Napoli.

Flemings-Davallier said even though she has ruled Napoli should be recused from the case, at the time of the indictment, he still had the right to be involved and nothing in the law allows her to retroactively declare that he didn’t.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.