Leon A. Cannizzaro Jr. has devoted his professional life to public service in New Orleans, working to enhance public safety as a prosecutor, Criminal District Court judge, appellate court judge and District Attorney for Orleans Parish.
Since first being elected DA in November 2008, Cannizzaro has worked tirelessly to reform New Orleans’ criminal justice system and to protect the city’s citizens and visitors from violent criminals. He has consistently advocated — sometimes at great political cost — for policies that are both tough and smart on crime. In the so-called City of Yes, Cannizzaro has been the rare elected official courageous enough to say no when public safety is being jeopardized by poor policy decisions.
Cannizzaro has been an outspoken critic of city leaders when warranted. And a champion of common-sense approaches that would have a real effect on stemming violent crime.
During Cannizzaro’s tenure, New Orleans’ annual murder rate has plummeted, in large part because his prosecutors have taken more than 675 killers off the streets through successful homicide convictions. DA Cannizzaro also has shown the compassion to give more than 4,800 arrestees a second chance through his Diversion program, sparing them the stigma of a criminal conviction when alternative measures were deemed more appropriate.
Among Cannizzaro’s reform achievements:
- Working with multiple stakeholders within the criminal justice system, he executed a policy to move non-violent misdemeanors from Criminal District Court to Municipal Court, allowing the criminal court judges to focus more attention on the backlog of violent crimes awaiting adjudication.
- He exponentially expanded pre-trial Diversion upon taking office, lowering the client enrollment cost from more than $1,000 during the Eddie Jordan administration to around $200 in most cases (with a person’s ability to pay never a reason for disqualification). Under Cannizzaro’s administration, more than 4,800 arrestees over the past 10 years have gotten second chances by having their cases diverted from the criminal justice system and into a rehabilitation program.
- It was DA Cannizzaro who first proposed to New Orleans’ City Council in August 2009 that cases of simple marijuana possession should no longer be prosecuted in Criminal District Court, but rather be treated as a Municipal Court matter handled by the City Attorney’s office by summons and possible misdemeanor fine. At the time, the City Council unanimously opposed this proposal before adopting it a year later.
- Cannizzaro also helped design and implement in Orleans Parish Magistrate Court a system of “continuous notice,” so that criminal defendants would be informed of their next court date at the conclusion of each court appearance, making it less likely they would be re-arrested for failing to appear.
- Cannizzaro also implemented a streamlined screening system within the DA’s office, expediting the disposition of criminal charges to reduce pre-trial delays and prevent unnecessarily lengthy detention for new arrestees.
- He also worked with other stakeholders in developing a Pretrial Services program intended to ensure violent criminals weren’t foolishly released while making certain that low-level and non-violent offenders were not held in jail simply because they were poor.
Cannizzaro developed his broad understanding of our criminal justice system through years of hard work and experience. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Orleans Parish, working his way up to Chief of the Trials Division in just five years. After leaving the District Attorney’s office, he worked in private practice and as a staff attorney for the Orleans Indigent Defenders Program for a short time.
In 1986, Cannizzaro embarked on a 17-year career as a judge in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. He instituted such innovations as Drug Court and intensive probation, and distinguished himself by presiding over more jury trials than any judge in the history of Louisiana. As a jurist, Cannizzaro often received recognition for his efficiency and innovation in the courtroom.
In the District Court, Judge Cannizzaro earned the respect of colleagues on the bench as well as multiple good-government watchdogs. He was elected by colleagues to serve as Chief Judge, and was named the Top Overall Performing Judge by the Metropolitan Crime Commission in multiple years. He also received the Outstanding Jurist Award from Victims and Citizens Against Crime.
Cannizzaro next ascended to an elected seat on the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, where he served for five years as an appellate judge. Additionally, he has served as a faculty member at the University of New Orleans and the Tulane University School of Law.
Cannizzaro is a lifelong resident of New Orleans. His father worked as a shoe salesman and his mother as a cashier who later ran a daycare center. Cannizzaro is a graduate of De La Salle High School and the University of New Orleans. It was at UNO that he met Norma Gonzalez, his future wife.
Cannizzaro earned his law degree from the Loyola University School of Law. He and Norma have been married for 40 years and are the proud parents of four children and kept busy by nine grandchildren.