The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office could possibly manipulate the process in which judges are selected for some criminal cases.
The ruling would force the Orleans Criminal Court to reselect a judge for the co-defendants of former Saints standout Darren Sharper.
"They're not accusing the DA of doing anything wrong, but what they're saying is this system could be subject to abuse based upon the fact that the DA can arbitrarily come up with a date on a bill of information if they don't have an exact date of a crime that would allow them to dictate a judge that makes it a non-random allotment," said FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.
The courts normally select judges based on the date of the crime, but when the crime doesn't have a hard date, like a series of sexual assaults, the DA is allowed to pick an approximate date for the allotment process.
Attorneys for Erik Nunez and Brandon Licciardi argued because the DA used arbitrary dates, he could possibly hand-pick a judge.
In a statement released to FOX 8 Tuesday afternoon, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro argued there was no prejudice against any defendants:
"I respectfully disagree with the Fourth Circuit's holding, and my office will seek review in the Louisiana Supreme Court. Not a single judge on the Fourth Circuit found the existence of any evidence that the DA's office had actually manipulated the allotment process in this case. As such, I find it difficult for the defendants to argue that they suffered any actual prejudice. The present allotment system was the product of a long term collaborative project between my office, the Criminal District Court, and the Public Defenders' office. The present allotment process constitutes one of the progressive reforms to modernize and streamline what had become a beleaguered criminal justice system in New Orleans. I believe the recent ruling was a step backwards, and I will seek review in a higher court so that we can continue to move forward for this community and the safety of her citizens."
While the DA's office is already planning to appeal the ruling to the Louisiana Supreme Court, legal experts warn the decision could affect other cases in the criminal court.
"That's the real big issue here that it could affect dozens or hundreds of cases whereby your date was picked arbitrarily, or so you allege, and that could upset the apple cart and have a Pandora's box of all these cases coming back and passing through that building again and that would be a real nightmare, so I'm sure they're going to find some way to avoid that possibility," Raspanti said.