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Nola.com reports that a prosecutor with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has been suspended without pay pending an internal investigation into an incident which subsequently led to a criminal charge being laid against him.

Assistant district attorney Matthew Kirkham allegedly engaged in public drunkenness on the streets of New Orleans as Mardi Gras Day drew to a close last week.  Nola.com has little further to report, except that Kirkham’s trial is scheduled for March 27.

It is curious that a prosecutor is suspended without pay by the Orleans DA’s Office for alleged public drunkenness on the eve of Mardi Gras, while multiple assistant district attorneys who are responsible for the withholding of exculpatory evidence and who knowingly allow witnesses to give false testimony receive no repercussions whatsoever. See summaries of cases, old and new, that have resulted in reversals because of Brady violations and other forms of misconduct out of the Orleans’ DA’s office on our New Orleans page.

During a recent oral argument in a capital case, Smith v. Cain (2012), out New Orleans at the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor pointed to these incidents and the Orleans DA’s Office’s reluctance to take responsibility for them:

“There have been serious accusations against the practices of your office, not yours in particular, but prior ones,” Justice Sotomayor said. “It is disconcerting to me that when I asked you the question directly, should this material have been turned over, you gave an absolute no.”     
“That’s really troubling,” Justice Sotomayor added.

Disciplinary action aside, the Orleans DA’s Office does not even promise to conduct internal investigations into these matters as it has in the case of Kirkham. Even upon findings of misconduct by this country’s highest court, the office continues on with no concessions of wrongdoing and no commitment to implement mechanisms for accountability. District Attorney Cannizzaro simply tries to reassure the public that prosecutors are receiving all the training they need, and that they disclose all the material they ought to. Cases like that of Jamaal Tucker suggest this is simply not true.

One does not begrudge the Orleans DA’s Office from taking steps like it has in Kirkham’s case to ensure its prosecutors perform their duties with the high standards that their role demands. But it’s not too much to ask that the office would do so in a consistent manner. Men have come within inches of losing their lives because of wrongdoing on the part of the Orleans’ DA’s Office, which continues to respond to these injustices by shirking responsibility.


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