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Beasley v. Cannizzaro

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

November 21, 2018

EMILY BEASLEY
v.
LEON CANNIZZARO IN HIS CAPACITY AS DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOR THE PARISH OF ORLEANS

          APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2018-01980, DIVISION "G" Honorable Robin M. Giarrusso, Judge.

          Michael A. Foley Avery B. Pardee P. J. KEE JONES WALKER LLP COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE.

          Irena Zajickova Assistant District Attorney Donna R. Andrieu Assistant District Attorney And David M. Fink Bernard Louis Charbonnet, Jr. THE LAW OFFICE OF BERNARD L. CHARBONNET, JR., A PROFESSIONAL LAW CORPORATION COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT.

          Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Tiffany G. Chase

          Terri F. Love, Judge.

         This appeal arises from the trial court's judgment ordering the Orleans Parish District Attorney to produce certain charge conference sheets in redacted form. We find the District Attorney failed to carry its burden of proving that refusal to disclose the charge conference sheets in their entirety was warranted. Additionally, he has not shown that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering an in camera inspection of the charge conference sheets or that the trial court's factual findings are manifest error. Therefore, we affirm the trial court's judgment and order the trial court to conduct a hearing to assess and award Ms. Beasley reasonable attorney's fees and other litigation costs pursuant to La. R.S. 44:35(D).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Emily Beasley ("Ms. Beasley") is a private investigator retained by pro bono counsel representing Steven Williams ("Mr. Williams") in post-conviction proceedings. Mr. Williams was convicted on January 9, 2013, of the April 3, 2006 murder of Demarcus Jordan. The State's conviction of Mr. Williams relied on the testimony of a single eyewitness. At the time the murder occurred, Mr. Williams was 17 years old, and the charges against him were twice refused between 2006 and 2009. Counsel for Mr. Williams claims that it remains unknown what exculpatory facts led to the charges against Mr. Williams initially being refused only to be accepted when presented a third time.

         Ms. Beasley made a public records request of Leon Cannizzaro, in his official capacity as the District Attorney for Orleans Parish ("District Attorney"), for documents relating to the screening, investigating, and prosecution of Mr. Williams. In response to Ms. Beasley's request, the District Attorney provided a "privileged list" identifying 38 items which his office claimed were being withheld pursuant to La. R.S. 44:4.1(C). Among the items withheld were charge conference sheets identified as items 22, 31, and 34.

         Ms. Beasley thereafter filed a petition for writ of mandamus seeking a court order directing the District Attorney to produce the charge conference sheets. The District Attorney opposed the petition asserting that the charge conference sheets constitute privileged work product. The trial court thereafter issued a judgment ordering the District Attorney to produce to the trial court for an in camera inspection the charge conference sheets identified as items 22, 31, and 34 in the privileged list attached to the petition for writ of mandamus.

         Following the in camera inspection, the trial court granted Ms. Beasley's petition for a writ of mandamus. In the April 2018 judgment granting Ms. Beasley's petition, the trial court ordered the District Attorney to redact certain information and ordered the District Attorney to produce all other documents requested. The District Attorney files this timely appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "[A] district court's findings of fact in a mandamus proceeding are subject to a manifest error standard of review." St. Bernard Port, Harbor and Terminal District v. Guy Hopkins Construction Co., Inc., 16-0907, p. 4 (La.App. 4 Cir. 4/5/17), 220 So.3d 6, 10 (citing Hess v. M & C, Inc., 14-962, p. 3 (La.App. 3 Cir. 2/11/15), 157 So.3d 1200, 1203). In this case, the District Attorney challenges the trial court's factual finding as to what constitutes privileged information in order to be considered exempt from a public records request. The trial court determined that only portions of the charge conference sheets constitute attorney work product, which can be redacted. Accordingly, this Court reviews the trial court's factual findings under a manifest error standard of review. Roper v. City of Baton Rouge/ Parish of East Baton Rouge, 16-1025, p. 13 (La.App. 1 Cir. 3/15/18), 244 So.3d 450, 460 (finding determination of whether defendants produced all non-exempt documents responsive to a public records request is a factual determination and subject to manifest error standard of review); See also Kimpton Hotel & ...


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