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Weil Amicus Briefs Help Advance Crime Victims’ Claims over Fake Subpoenas

Weil represents pro bono clients the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault (LaFASA), DV LEAP, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV) as amici curiae in Singleton v. Cannizzaro, a case brought in federal court in New Orleans in 2017 challenging a practice by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office of using fake “subpoenas” to coerce crime victims and witnesses to meet with them and cooperate with their criminal investigations.

On April 21, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the defendants -- several assistant district attorneys and District Attorney Cannizzaro -- are not absolutely immune in their individual capacities for the issuance of fake subpoenas. The court found, as the amici argued in their brief, that by “allegedly intentionally avoid[ing] the judicial process that Louisiana law requires for obtaining subpoenas,” the District Attorney’s office had operated free of “the checks and safeguards inherent in the judicial process.”

The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and Civil Rights Corps, are individuals who received the purported subpoenas and, in some cases, were threatened with imprisonment (and in one case imprisoned) for failure to comply. The plaintiffs asserted claims based on, among other things, violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

In the district court amicus brief, the Weil team argued that use of the fake subpoenas to coerce out-of-court testimony violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights not to be compelled to speak. The district court declined to dismiss the compelled speech count.

In the Fifth Circuit amicus brief, Weil argued that creating and serving fake subpoenas without court approval fell outside the scope of absolute immunity, the purpose of which is to safeguard the integrity of the judicial process. The brief also argued that the tactic was counterproductive because it would engender greater reluctance on the part of vulnerable individuals (victims of sexual crimes and/or domestic abuse) to cooperate with law enforcement.

The Weil pro bono team was led by counsel Jonathan Bloom and included associate Victor S. Leung.

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