Mimesis Law
25 March 2017

New Orleans DA Continues Epic Temper Tantrum

January 6, 2017 (Fault Lines) – From time to time, people get into pissing contests. One person irks another person and a grudge develops. Hopefully, most of us are grownup enough to leave it at that. And hopefully, most of us never find ourselves in a pissing contest with a prosecutor’s office. Especially if it’s Leon Cannizzaro’s office in Orleans Parish, Louisiana.

Taryn Blume is a young woman who worked as a private investigator for the Orleans Parish Public Defender’s Office in New Orleans. She was indicted for doing her job and has been pursued by the New Orleans District Attorney with a vengeance. Her case should have ended this week, and the title of this post would be different. But unfortunately for Ms. Blume, the DA had one last bullshit move to pull.

Blume’s case goes back to the 2013 Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. A man named Curtis Hawthorne was accused of raping a college student. The accuser was doing what one does at Mardi Gras when Hawthorne picked her up. The stories diverge at this point, of course.

The accuser said Hawthorne pretended to be a cab driver and then forced her to have sex with him. Hawthorne, on the other hand, testified the woman insisted on getting a ride from him. She then came on to him and they had consensual sex. The jury believed the woman, and Hawthorne received 50 years in prison.

Arguing a rape was really consensual sex is no easy task. A great deal of effort is required to find information that will corroborate consent, if it’s even possible. In this case, New Orleans public defenders sought a form from the Housing Authority of New Orleans police that showed the victim only reported a robbery, not a rape.

Based on the victim’s story, this would be a big deal. So, of course, in New Orleans the evidence gets hidden. Because that’s how it goes in the Big Easy.

In their legal filing, [Ms. Blume’s attorneys] noted a long history of violations by Orleans Parish prosecutors of Brady v. Maryland, the 50-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires the government to disclose all evidence favorable to a defendant.

The vast bulk of those well-documented lapses, intentional or otherwise, came during the 30-year tenure of former DA Harry Connick, leaving [current District Attorney Leon] Cannizzaro’s office in some cases to either defend or swallow the alleged misdeeds of prosecutors past.

Ms. Blume, on behalf of the public defenders handling Hawthorne’s case, ultimately obtained the report. While the public defenders seemed unhappy with the fact the report was never turned over, it must not have been particularly helpful. They didn’t use it at trial.

In grownup land, that should have been the end of that. The prosecutors hid some evidence that wasn’t all that helpful and then the defense lawyers found it and didn’t use it but were pissed they had to get it on their own. Move along. Nothing to see here. Standard discovery shenanigans. Nobody is going to care.

Except in this case. Apparently the prosecutor got really pissed about being accused of hiding evidence, which is strange in that office since it probably earned him a ribbon. Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli decided to teach the public defenders, and specifically Taryn Blume, a lesson.

Napoli got it in his head Blume impersonated an employee of the district attorney’s office to obtain the report. Which would be…not really that big of a deal. She isn’t a lawyer, so she isn’t bound by any ethics rules. And Napoli was hiding the report in the first place, which is a much bigger deal. Sure you can get all caught up in two rights don’t make a wrong and all that nonsense. But this is criminal law. People are going to jail for a long time. Grow up.

But Napoli indicted her for a felony. Which is a decidedly serious way to respond to what probably shouldn’t have warranted much thought.

The case has now dragged on for over two years. What seems like a petty dispute over a pretty big criminal case has turned into a pretty big criminal case of its own. The DA’s hotshot assistant DA daughter, Laura Rodrigue, is prosecuting the case. She usually handles real cases where people are accused of real crimes. So this is a pretty clear indication her dad is losing his shit over this case.

Blume faces two years in prison if she is convicted. Not just any prison, but a Louisiana prison. Which you may know from old stories and country songs are really bad prisons, even compared to the regular bad prison. Because Bloom pissed off what sounds like the pettiest prosecutor’s office in the country, she faces heading to Angola instead of completing her graduate studies at Fordham University.

Things were scheduled to come to a head earlier this week. Taryn Blume’s big-time defense lawyers, Michael Magner and Mark Cunningham of the Jones Walker firm, would finally face off against the District Attorney’s kid. All the maneuvering and posturing would be cast aside and everybody gets real in front of a jury.

Not this time. The prosecutors, hell-bent on teaching Blume a lesson, decided they weren’t actually ready for trial after all this time. Because…they received evidence late from the defense. Funny how that works. You are putting a man in jail for the rest of his life and forgetting critical evidence is no big deal. Wasting two years on a silly vindictive prosecution and you get some evidence a little late, stop the whole train.

The judge said no more continuances. So the New Orleans prosecutors decided to drop the case. Except it’s not really dropped. It can be brought back up any time before early 2018. And based on the behavior we have seen so far, it’s likely the threat will just hang there. Because Ms. Blume needs to understand the cost of crossing a prosecutor.

This is all pretty insulting to a city that has a criminal justice system hanging by a thread. Over two years spent prosecuting an investigator who uncovered evidence the prosecutors were trying to hide. Here is an idea. Why don’t you just stop hiding evidence?

UPDATE: In case you think I am being too hard on Mr. Napoli, he was found in contempt yesterday for being an asshole to a judge.

7 Comments on this post.

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  • ChrisPD
    6 January 2017 at 10:07 am - Reply

    Reading that article on Napoli’s contempt hearing it seemed to me that the judge was in the wrong. I’ll be surprised if it stands. He asked the judge to not talk about him behind his back, and seemed fairly respectful about it. I’m not sure what followed constitutes a valid court order.

    • Josh
      6 January 2017 at 10:50 am - Reply

      Maybe. That is why I think he was being an asshole, as opposed to being something else. He was not accomplishing anything, but wouldn’t let it go.

      Same thing with this prosecution. If you have “probable cause” for criminal activity and you can convince a grand jury to indict, I suppose you then have a prosecution. That doesn’t make you right for prosecuting.

  • ChrisPD
    6 January 2017 at 11:17 am - Reply

    I completely agree. The exchange read like both parties had to have the last word. Neither came off as particularly noble. I just don’t think what he did constitutes contempt.

    And, I agree with your broader point. Prosecutors have discretion for, at least theoretically, a reason. Mr. Napoli sounds like he should use his more wisely.

  • Jay
    6 January 2017 at 11:35 am - Reply

    …pretending to be a member of law enforcement is a crime. Lying to 3rd parties is an ethics violation for the lawyers this investigator was working for. What 2 bit jurisdiction are you from kid?

    • shg
      6 January 2017 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    • Greg Prickett
      6 January 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      You know, if Blume said that she was an Orleans Parrish investigator, that would not have been a lie, even if it left the other party with the mistaken impression that she was with the DA’s office. Blume was an Orleans Parrish investigator, but for the PD, not the DA.

      Did you really not think this through all the way?

    • Chris PD
      6 January 2017 at 11:16 pm - Reply

      In one of the linked sources in this very piece you can read this quote, “… the two witnesses who claimed they were misled subsequently conceded that they and their subordinate received business cards from Ms. Blume identifying her as an investigator for the public defenders.”

      If anyone was misled it’s because they didn’t pay attention to the information given directly to them.