Dear despondent leftists still holding out hope for electoralism: the single most important election for New Orleanians in 2020 is for district attorney (currently slated for November 3) and this one is actually winnable. Not to be too “good vs. evil” but since 2008, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has been immiserating our city from the perch of his eldritch tower ‘neath the Eye of Sauron. Two presumptive challengers, Councilmember Jason Williams and former Criminal Court Judge Arthur Hunter, have received some excitement from various flanks of the social justice community. Williams, a criminal defense attorney, has spoken positively about ending the cash bail system. Meanwhile, Hunter is a favorite amongst the public defender crowd, with a well-earned reputation for compassion and leniency. While neither has come out swinging with the wild-stye bravado of current progressive DA icons like Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner or San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin, either would represent a monumental shift in our criminal justice system. But as Tolkien once suggested through a single metaphor that took 1200 pages to write: beware the corrupting power of the ring!
But rather than providing you with a far-too-early voter guide, let’s just talk shit about Cannizzaro and his office for a whole column. You already know that Leon Cannizarro is the baddest of the baddies: a racist and unethical MFer that imprisons victims who won’t testify against their rapists. You probably know that he’s thus far scoffed at the idea of allowing non-violent offenders out of jail during the COVID-19 outbreak. But did you also know that his subordinates are just as bad or even worse?
The Frampton Complaints
Former Orleans Public Defender Thomas Frampton is a mini-hero. After leaving his post at the Orleans Public Defender to lecture at Harvard Law he filed two bar complaints against the District Attorney’s office. A bar complaint is ostensibly how lawyers face discipline and there’ll be more on this later. The complaint outlines how the attorneys at the Cannizzaro office—including the man, the myth, the gargoyle himself—repeatedly lied to the court and to fellow attorneys in service of maintaining racial supremacy.
First in the crosshairs is Assistant District Attorney Scott Vincent. In one criminal case, State vs. Ernest Cloud, a preliminary hearing was held to determine if there was probable cause to keep Mr. Cloud detained. At the hearing, one of Cannizzaro’s unnamed ghouls submitted literally no evidence into the record and the judge ruled that Cloud was free to leave. Later in the afternoon, with no attorney present, this ghoul added evidence into the record to try and establish the probable cause. This is a huge no-no. Everything in court happens on the record, with both parties having the opportunity for their lawyer to object. Scott Vincent, the appellate court attorney for the district attorney’s office, doubled down in front of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, pretending the evidentiary omission was a court reporter’s mistake and lying about the procedural posture of the case. The complaint goes on to detail nine other instances of Vincent blatantly misrepresenting facts to the appellate court. One funny little detail at the end of the bar complaint explains that not only is Vincent a hack, but he routinely overreacts to minor infractions by the public defender’s office. For example, he asked that Orleans Public Defender Aaron Zagory be sanctioned for using the word “undersigned counsel” rather than “co-counsel.” He’s probably also fun at parties.
In a second complaint, Frampton catches Vincent in another string of blatant lies, only this time he decides to go and have a meeting with Cannizzaro. The lies told by Vincent in this case are significant: he claims that a key witness was unavailable, when in reality the DA’s office barely looked for him, resulting in the witness’ previous testimony being read to the jury. Vincent also completely fabricated a law, according to Frampton’s complaint, with a fake citation and all, to justify the court’s decision to hold a mistrial. According to Frampton, he went and met face-to-face with Cannizzaro and pointed out what his employee had done. Cannizzaro acknowledged the lie but chose to do nothing about it. All the while, at the time of this printing, the defendant in this case, Lerone Lewis, is still incarcerated and waiting for the Louisiana Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
In Re: Eusi Hekima Phillips
So it’s legitimately great that Frampton filed those bar complaints against the Cannizzaro office. And now it’s time for sweet, sweet justice to be served. Well, not quite. You see, prosecutors have absolute immunity from lawsuits, even if they intentionally suppress evidence that could free innocent people. The only mechanism that the justice system provides to punish bad-acting prosecutors is internal and requires someone to report a lawyer to the state’s disciplinary committee. However, while Louisiana has a well-earned reputation for prosecutorial misconduct, it has been over 15 years since any prosecutor has faced any discipline for withholding favorable information in the State of Louisiana.
Recently, the Louisiana Supreme Court heard the case of Eusi Hekima Phillips, a former assistant district attorney. The very basic details of the case are as follows: A jailhouse snitch named Morris Greene sent a letter to the Cannizzaro office claiming that a man named Jamaal Tucker, currently awaiting trial, had confessed to murder. At a pre-trial meeting, Greene asked the prosecutor, “[W]hat am I gonna get for providing you with this information?” According to the Cannizzaro office, they did not promise him anything. He later testified at Tucker’s grand jury hearing (a grand jury is the trial that happens before the actual trial to decide if there is probable cause to prosecute the accused) and claimed “I haven’t been promised nothing from nobody.” Tucker was indicted for second degree murder. A few months later, Greene wrote a letter to the Cannizzaro office explaining, “you guaranteed me that I would [be] transferred from here and I have not… hold up your end I’ll hold up mine.”
There were three trials for Jamaal Tucker, and Greene testified at all three. In one trial, Greene was cross-examined by Tucker’s attorney. Tucker’s attorney asked Greene repeatedly whether or not he’d been offered anything in exchange for his testimony. Greene repeatedly stated that there was nothing in it for him. The prosecutor, Eusi Phillips, closed the case by giving a long defense of Greene, explaining that if he was as bad a guy as the defense attorney was making him out to be, why would he be testifying in the case without getting anything in exchange? Tucker was convicted. After the trial, Cannizzaro called the district attorney from Lafayette, where Greene was being held; and Greene was cut a very favorable plea bargain. This is clear corruption and Tucker spotted it immediately. He appealed the conviction and it was overturned on the basis of a Brady violation (the name for when prosecutors withhold favorable evidence from a defendant).
So what happened to the prosecutor who withheld the information in this case? Literally nothing. A bar complaint was filed, there was an investigation that dismissed the charges against him, and the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the discharge. So, to reiterate: you can’t personally sue a prosecutor for withholding evidence of your innocence; instead, you need to file a bar complaint. If you file a bar complaint with overwhelming evidence against a prosecutor, the disciplinary committee still won’t do anything. If you disagree with the disciplinary committee you can ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to take a second look but they also won’t do anything. In other words, there is literally nobody who can or is willing to do anything about prosecutorial misconduct in Louisiana. It’s a horrible system, completely devoid of any accountability, and the only glimmer of hope is to actually elect a district attorney that cares about their own integrity and that of their staff.
And finally, a note to law students and those considering entering the legal field in New Orleans: at some point during law school a career counselor or trusted professor will recommend an internship in the district attorney office. They will say, “It will look good on your resume” or “sure you want to be a public defender but don’t you want to go behind enemy lines?” Don’t do it. The stench of complicity will follow you, haunting your resume like the ghost of morals past.
Morris Blart has no affiliation with and is not a representative of billboard lawyer and handsome elder Morris Bart. And while Morris Blart is definitely 100% a lawyer you can trust, this column does not constitute legal advice. If you have any cases, ethics opinions, funny depositions, etc. that you would like to see covered in this column, please send leads to MorrisBlartandAssociates@gmail.com.
illustrations Luke Howard