Judge Upholds City Council Subpoena of ‘Smart City’ Records from Cantrell Aide

Photo Credit: Jenn Bentley, Big Easy Magazine

On Wednesday, a New Orleans judge upheld the City Council’s right to subpoena documents and records regarding the “smart cities” broadband project from Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s Chief of Staff Clifton Davis.

“I suspect this is not over,” said Civil District Court Judge Sidney Cates IV after denying the city’s request for a preliminary and permanent injunction against the subpoena issued last month. Attorney James Garner, who was hired by the Mayor’s Office to represent Davis in this case, immediately stated the city’s intention to file a writ with the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal within the next 48 hours.

Davis is one of five Cantrell administration officials subpoenaed as part of the Council’s investigation into potential bid-rigging in the so-called “smart city” plan. In April, it was revealed that the consortium of technology companies that won the right to negotiate a contract for the plan had outside ties to two city officials involved in the procurement process, and the City Council launched an investigation into the process.

On May 10, the Council sent subpoenas to Davis and two other city officials asking for documents related to that procurement process. Rather than turning over the documents by the May 31 deadline, Davis filed a lawsuit against the City Council on June 1, and on June 2 secured a temporary restraining order blocking the subpoena.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Garner argued that the Council’s investigation interferes with a simultaneous investigation by Inspector General Ed Michel that was also requested by the City Council. However, City Council attorney Adam Swensek noted that Michel and City Attorney Donesia Turner have stated there is no legal reason the Council couldn’t pursue its own investigation.

Both attorneys brought up broad legal questions regarding separation of powers, constitutionality, and legal right to counsel, but Judge Cates said his decision was based on narrower grounds. Because Davis has not been subpoena in the inspector general’s investigation of the matter, there was no reason to find a conflict between the investigations.

“The issues just don’t appear to be that broad, and you both seem to be expanding this beyond what’s before me today,” Cates said in his ruling.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for government transparency and accountability in its purest form,” said City Council Vice President JP Morrell in a joint statement with City Council President Helena Moreno. “There is absolutely no reason for city employees to shield records from the public, especially after a legally-binding subpoena was issued. The truth will come to light, and the public will be able to discern for themselves, alongside the New Orleans City Council, the contents of these public records.”

The Cantrell administration called the judge’s decision “regrettable,” and said they intend to cooperate with the Office of Inspector General’s investigation.

“Although Judge Sidney Cates’ ruling is regrettable, we respect the court’s decision,” said Gregory Joseph, Director of Communications. “Our office will continue to fully cooperate with the Office of Inspector General’s inquiry and work with the City Council to satisfy their demands in a timely manner.”

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