We have enough cause for public scrutiny of our political offices right here in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes.
From the Lafourche School Board’s inexcusable refusal to reduce its own bloated size, to the Lafourche parish president’s inability to explain even the simplest of his actions, to the Terrebonne Parish recreation districts objecting to reasonable oversight, there is plenty of reason for local folks to look askance at local institutions.
But sometimes people who don’t even live here can step into a spotlight brought on by arrogance and deceit in public office.
Such is the case with New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and a host of his assistants.
Cannizzaro’s office has come under fire from various rights groups and news organizations that cannot understand his hostility toward witnesses and crime victims.
The New Orleans DA’s Office has used an inexplicably cruel system of imprisonment and falsehoods to compel testimony and punish noncompliance by witnesses and victims – pretty much exactly what any public servant tasked with law enforcement should avoid.
The ACLU and Civil Rights Corps have filed a lawsuit on behalf of six individuals and the victims’ advocacy group Silence is Violence. Cannizzaro and nine of his assistants are named as defendants.
The whole story defies logic and spits in the face of justice.
Cannizzaro’s office, the lawsuit alleges, has routinely sought arrest warrants for witnesses and even victims who were unwilling to cooperate with prosecutors.
While it might be tempting to blame folks who won’t participate in the prosecution of suspected criminals, one would think that any prosecutor would understand and empathize with that reluctance – even if it makes his job more difficult.
Two of the cases cited in the lawsuit are particularly troubling. A domestic violence victim was jailed for five days. And the victim in a sex-trafficking case was imprisoned for nearly four months, the suit says.
In other cases, victims and witnesses avoided being locked behind bars, but they fell under the DA’s abusive system of lies, the lawsuit says. The office had a practice of sending bogus papers that claimed to be subpoenas to witnesses without receiving the approval of judges.
Since these deceitful practices became public, Cannizzaro has said that his office has stopped them. But how many people were victimized or manipulated by a system that should be there to protect them?
Now, in addition to the public’s understandable frustration, Cannizzaro faces questions from the New Orleans City Council. (Note to self: If the New Orleans City Council ever finds moral high ground from which it can attack me, it is time to reassess every decision that brought me to that point.)
The center of the story is the same as it is in the vast majority of cases that involve abusive, ineffectual or criminal public servants: These people are tempted to think that their little fiefdoms are their own rather than the property and province of the public.
They tend to surround themselves with supporters who seek favor rather than sharing wisdom or counsel. They have power over decision making, a power they often confuse with the right to use their offices’ resources as they wish. And they quickly become immersed in a system that all too often is there to work in spite of the public, not in support of the public.
This is far too broad a statement, of course. Most of our public servants do the very best they can under difficult circumstances. They try to make money go as far as it can while pleasing as many people as possible and disappointing as few as possible.
But when they get caught looking after themselves at the expense of the long-suffering public, it is an unbecoming sight – though one to which we have grown unfortunately accustomed.
Editorial Page Editor Michael Gorman can be reached at 448-7612 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.