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Prosecutor must ID lawyers who sent ‘fake subpoenas’

NEW ORLEANS — A judge ordered New Orleans’ criminal prosecutor on Tuesday to give the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana names of lawyers who used what the civil rights group calls “fake subpoenas” over the past five years.

Prosecutors have 20 days to turn over names from the past year, and another 15 days after that for each of the previous four years, news media reported.

The ACLU sued District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro in May, after news reports said his office sometimes sent documents labeled as subpoenas without getting a judge’s approval. Cannizzaro has said it no longer does that.

“This ruling is a victory for the people of Orleans Parish and an important step toward restoring justice,” Marjorie R. Esman, ACLU of Louisiana executive director, said in a news release. “These false subpoenas were used to deceive people and violate their rights — Louisianans deserve to know who was responsible.”

The District Attorney’s Office will review the written decision before deciding what to do next, Cannizzaro’s spokesman, Assistant District Attorney Chris Bowman, wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

David Fink, who represented Cannizzaro, said during the hearing that the ACLU’s request would require pulling prosecutors from their usual work to check whether the department’s case files held such documents, news media reported.

“The DA’s office has at least 15,000 files a year” and no index to show what documents are in each file, Fink said.

ACLU attorney Bruce Hamilton countered, “To turn a blind eye to this and say there’s not an index or a spreadsheet is looking for ways not to comply with our request.”

Civil District Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott said she understood the difficulty, but the public has a right to the information.

Emails might help reveal the answer, she suggested.

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