- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Lawyers for the New Orleans district attorney’s office asked a federal judge Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit claiming they illegally intimidate uncooperative witnesses - including crime victims - with fake or wrongfully obtained subpoenas and jail time.

The lawsuit sought unspecified damages from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. Lawyers for that office argued that they are legally immune to such lawsuits and that those who were jailed were legally arrested. Cannizzaro spokesman Ken Daley, in a statement after Wednesday’s arguments, called the suit an “attack on the criminal justice system” that would allow witnesses to disregard their duty to testify.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo did not say when she would rule on the dismissal motion. The suit was filed in October by the Civil Rights Corps and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Renata Singleton is the lead plaintiff. The suit says she was jailed after she declined to pursue charges against a man who shattered her cellphone during a fight. The suit says she had ended her relationship with the man. She told a representative of Cannizzaro’s office she considered the situation resolved and did not want to risk having to take time off from work to pursue the case.

The suit said she was later arrested on a material witness warrant - which allows arrest and detention of an uncooperative witness - and jailed on $100,000 bond. She spent five days behind bars before the bond was reduced and she was sent home with an ankle monitor, according to the suit.

“Despite plaintiffs’ attempts to insinuate otherwise, Ms. Singleton was jailed by order of the court, because she failed to honor multiple court-issued subpoenas and was actively avoiding service,” the statement from Daley said.

The suit also says Cannizzaro’s staff used phony subpoenas issued without judicial approval to coerce victims and witnesses to submit to questioning. Cannizzaro said earlier this year that the practice had been stopped.

Katie Chamblee-Ryan, head of the Civil Rights Corps Prosecutors Project, said in an interview Wednesday that even if that practice has stopped, other improper practices alleged in the suit continue.

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