DALLAS - Orleans Parish district attorney Leon Cannizzaro Jr. has temporarily withdrawn a petition for bankruptcy filed with the Louisiana State Bond Commission over a $15 million federal court judgment against his office for withholding evidence.
State Treasurer John N. Kennedy, chairman of the Bond Commission, said he would call an emergency meeting of the panel if Cannizzaro changes his mind and resubmits the petition.
The State Bond Commission must approve bankruptcy filings by any local governmental entity.
Cannizzaro filed a written request Dec. 24 with Kennedy, Attorney General James D. "Buddy" Caldwell, and Gov. Bobby Jindal to allow for the filing under Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection "when it becomes necessary to preserve the uninterrupted operation of my office."
In a letter to Kennedy, Cannizzaro said a Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing "is the only option available" to ensure continued operations. Cannizzaro, who was sworn in as DA in mid-November, said his office does not have the funds to pay the judgment.
Kennedy said the state faces several issues with the judgment.
"First, the DA has to have sufficient money to operate in a city, and $15 million is that office's complete annual budget," he said. "Second, it is a huge amount of money. And third, we have a moral issue: The government put an innocent man in jail, it did it intentionally, and the government should have to pay for it."
The state may have to resolve the problem, according to Kennedy.
"Technically it is a parish issue, but New Orleans is an important part of our state," he said.
Nina Killeen, a spokeswoman for the DA's office, said the petition for bankruptcy protection was withdrawn until an appeal is resolved. She said Cannizzaro reserves the option to re-file the bankruptcy request at any time.
Exonerated former death row inmate John Thompson won the judgment against the Orleans Parish district attorney's office in 2007. The judgment was affirmed Dec. 19 by a three-judge panel from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The court gave Cannizzaro until Jan. 16 to file a motion asking that the case be reconsidered by all the judges on the 5th Circuit Court.
A jury awarded Thompson $14 million plus lawyers' fees after finding that former Orleans Parish DA Harry Connick was "deliberately indifferent" to whether his assistants provided all evidence to defense counsel.
Thompson was sentenced to death in the 1984 killing of a hotel executive, but information was revealed in 1999 that a former assistant DA withheld evidence in the case that would have helped Thompson's defense. The conviction was overturned at a second trial in 2003.
Thompson spent 18 years in prison for the conviction, including 14 years on Angola State Penitentiary's death row.