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D.A. Criticizes Verdict on Talk Radio, Then Judge Calls in

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

The police cruiser's camera caught the entire incident on tape. A handcuffed suspect was beaten, repeatedly, by an officer while three other officers stood nearby. District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro thought it was a slam-dunk verdict. Except it wasn't, and Judge Ben Willard let the defendant off the hook.

Last Friday, Cannizzaro was discussing the high-profile case on the radio with the two hosts of a WBOK-AM radio program. For ten minutes, Cannizzaro and the two hosts criticized the not guilty of malfeasance verdict.

And then the judge called in, reports the Advocate.

"I can tell you right here and right now I'm doing fine. My conscience is clear. It's always been clear," the judge told the show's hosts. He then defended his verdict, noting that the alleged victim did not show up to court, despite a material witness bond. Judge Willard said that he was "shocked, surprised, and appalled," that the state failed to bring the victim in.

No identified victim, no crime, apparently.

Things seemed to get a bit more testy from there, with the hosts asking Cannizzaro to respond, but Judge Willard, perhaps thinking that he was still on the bench, kept talking. Cannizzaro argued that the he only had to prove that any human was battered, not a specific identified human.

And then the judge showed up at the radio station, asking the hosts to let him in to the building. They refused, and cut the line.

Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor, told the Advocate that the judge did not violate any ethics rules by commenting on an already-concluded case, and indeed, Louisiana's Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit such an activity. The pertinent rule, Canon 3(A)(8) states:

A judge shall not, while a proceeding is pending in any Louisiana state court, make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness ...

Once the case is over, radio appearances, invited or not, are fair game.

Of course, you have to question the wisdom of the radio appearance for both parties. Can Cannizzaro really expect fair treatment from Judge Willard after publicly lambasting his verdict? And can Judge Willard portray such fairness and impartiality in Cannizzaro's cases after storming the radio station like the beaches of Normandy?

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