Could the AG's probe disrupt Mayor-Elect Cantrell's transition?

Could the AG's probe disrupt Mayor-Elect Cantrell's transition?
Updated: Dec. 8, 2017 at 9:15 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Attorney General Jeff Landry pushed back Friday afternoon after losing a round in court in his ongoing investigation of Mayor-Elect Latoya Cantrell's use of a City Council-issued credit card. Meanwhile, some pundits ponder whether publicity over the probe could overshadow the long transition period Cantrell has been handed after winning the mayor's race.

Orleans Parish Criminal Court Judge Laurie White denied the AG's motion to bar her and the other judges at Criminal Court from any involvement in court matters involving his investigation into the thousands of dollars in expenditures Cantrell made with her city credit card.

Cantrell's father-in-law, Harry Cantrell, is a magistrate judge at the courthouse.

"I think this whole recusal nonsense is a little bit of show-boating on the attorney general's part because the way it should work is that it gets allotted to a section, and that judge makes a decision for themselves to recuse or not, and then it gets allotted to the next judge who does the same thing," said FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

The attorney general is handling an anonymous criminal complaint against Cantrell that came after her runoff opponent gave the media public records showing thousands of dollars in questionable purchases made with Cantrell's city credit card. Records show Cantrell purchased turkeys, hens, other meals, beverages and even feminine products with her card.

Days before she qualified for the mayor's race, she reimbursed the city $4,400 and insists she did nothing wrong.

Landry issued a statement after the Friday morning court hearing:

"I am neither surprised, nor deterred by today's hearing. We will appeal and continue our fight to end public corruption in Louisiana."

Cantrell has not been charged with a crime, but this week she tried to get away from reporters' questions about the investigation into her credit card use.

"You know what? I have no idea. I'm learning more from the media than I am. Excuse me," said Cantrell as she walked away.

Robert Collins, a professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University, also teaches urban politics and urban government. He thinks Cantrell may not be getting the full effect of a long transition period because of the credit card controversy.

"It's certainly going to be more of a challenge than normal mayors-elect have, because normal mayors-elect don't have legal issues as soon as they're elected," said Collins.

Collins knows politics well, having worked on Capitol Hill in Washington for former Louisiana senators J. Bennett Johnson and John Breaux.

"If she were being sworn in January, this would be a serious issue because she would be dealing with transition issues, having to appoint department heads right away, having to deal with the budget right away" said Collins.

Cantrell has hired respected defense attorney Billy Gibbens, a former federal prosecutor. Gibbens refused to do an interview after the court hearing but said another hearing will be held in January on their motion to quash some subpoenas related to Cantrell's spending.

"I don't know whether it's an indictable offense, or not. I do know that this lady won with 60 percent of the vote in Orleans Parish, and those are the same people that would be sitting on a jury in Orleans Parish," said Raspanti.

Collins said the ongoing news headlines over Cantrell's credit card use are not helpful.

A former New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, continues to serve time in federal prison after being convicted on corruption charges.

"It's always a concern, because as New Orleans voters know and as voters in Louisiana know, we've had a bad reputation nationally as far as corruption, as far as basically the voters and the people here in the past sort of tolerating a certain amount of corruption, a certain amount of graft. In recent years, there was the goal that we've cleaned up our act, and I know the economic developers in the city had been promoting that, they've been promoting that we have a strong U.S. Attorney's Office, they've rooted out the corruption, things are clear here, so if you're a business owner you can come here without being afraid that anyone's going to shake you down. So I know that the economic developers had been working hard on that issue, so sure - this does take a hit.  This is certainly not the type of national publicity that they would want," Collins said.

And Collins believes the longer transition period also sets up an interesting dynamic as it relates to the current mayor of New Orleans and the future mayor.

"It's going to be very interesting for the next five months, because we're going to basically have co-mayors, and I know people are going to be expecting their positions on every issue, and every time the mayor takes an issue people will go talk to the mayor-elect to see if she agrees with that position, or if she opposes it," Collins stated.

FOX 8 News reached out to Gibbens for comment on Landry's statement after the hearing ,but so far, he has not responded.

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