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Controversial New Orleans district attorney won't run again

2 years 10 months 1 week ago Friday, July 24 2020 Jul 24, 2020 July 24, 2020 4:56 PM July 24, 2020 in News
Source: Associated Press
Photo: WWL-TV

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Friday that he would not run for a third term in a race that drew two sitting city judges and one of his fiercest critics, a city council member whose own political future has been muddied by a federal indictment on tax charges.

Cannizzaro was elected in 2008 after having served as a state district judge in New Orleans and on the state’s 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. During his time in office the city’s murder rate fell — a statistic he said was attributable in large part to his staff’s conviction of 675 homicide suspects.

But his tactics drew condemnation, and litigation, from some criminal justice activists. His office remains a defendant in a federal lawsuit after some of his staff coerced witnesses into interviews by using documents labeled as subpoenas — even though they hadn’t been approved by a judge.

In a statement Friday announcing his decision, Cannizzaro said after discussions with his family, he decided he didn’t have much interest in another term and instead wanted to spend more time with family.

“The job of District Attorney in this city may often be a thankless one, but that does not diminish its importance. I am proud of our achievements over 12 years in this office,” he said. He cited work done to dismantle street gangs, improving relations with the police department and his office’s diversion program as accomplishments while in office.

But Cannizzaro has drawn hard criticism for threatening crime victims with jail time if they don’t testify in criminal cases. The City Council passed a resolution calling for an end to the practice in 2019 — over the objections of Cannizzaro, who said the tactic was rarely used but sometimes necessary.

But the practice was described as “misogynistic,” “barbaric” and “despicable” by Council President Jason Williams — who filed to run for Cannizzaro’s job Wednesday morning.

Williams had long been considered a likely challenger to Cannizzaro. But he now has to contend with a federal indictment.

Less than a month before the Nov. 3 election sign-up period opened, federal prosecutors in Lafayette accused Williams of inflating his business expenses from 2013 to 2017 to reduce his tax liability by more than $200,000.

The indictment also said Williams, a criminal defense lawyer, and Nicole Burdett, an attorney in his law office who also handled administrative duties, failed to file the proper reports on cash payments from clients totaling $66,516.

Williams pleaded not guilty last week and has said he believes the probe has its roots in politics, blaming Cannizzaro for triggering the inquiry, although Cannizzaro has no authority over federal investigators.

Also running are two former New Orleans-based state district judges, Arthur Hunter and Keva Landrum, both of whom stepped down from the bench as the race approached.

Landrum, who was serving as chief judge of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, is also a former prosecutor who served as acting district attorney from 2007, when then-incumbent Eddie Jordan resigned, into 2008.

Hunter, a judge since 1997, is known for his support of public defenders for indigent defendants, including a 2006 threat to free defendants unless the state increased funding for public defenders.

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