Alumni Spotlights

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Alumnus Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr.Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr.

District Attorney Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr., a life-long resident of New Orleans, has served the citizens of New Orleans and their criminal justice system for his entire career. His father worked as a shoe salesman and his mother worked as a cashier and later ran a daycare center. After graduating from De La Salle High School, Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr.  became the first-generation in his family to attend college, choosing the University of New Orleans because he knew a UNO degree would look good on his law school applications. While a student, he was impressed, if not always thrilled, with the rigors of the UNO learning environment. It was at the University of New Orleans, that he met Norma Gonzalez, his wife of over 30 years with whom he has four children.  Cannizzaro knows first-hand that “education sets you free and gives you options.” The University of New Orleans certainly did that for DA Cannizzaro who capitalized on the options given to him to continue his education, earning his law degree, and to build a career of successfully serving his community. 

Since being elected District Attorney in November of 2008, Leon has worked aggressively to reform New Orleans’ criminal justice system and to protect the citizens of this city from violent criminals. To accomplish this goal, he has instituted reforms to allow non-violent and juvenile offenders to obtain meaningful rehabilitation rather than a criminal conviction. Working with multiple stakeholders within the criminal justice system, he executed a policy to move misdemeanors from Criminal District Court to Municipal Court, which he believes will allow the judges of Criminal District Court to focus their attention on violent crimes.

District Attorney Cannizzaro possesses a broad understanding of our criminal justice system, which makes him uniquely qualified to lead it through this period of transformation and rebirth. Leon began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Orleans Parish. During his five years as an ADA, he worked his way up to chief of the trials division. 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, Leon embarked on a 17 yearlong calling as a judge in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court. Due to his establishment of programs such as the Drug Court and Intensive Probation as well as his distinction of presiding over more jury trials than any judge in the history of Louisiana, Judge Cannizzaro often received notable recognition for his efficiency and innovation in the courtroom.

In the District Court, Judge Cannizzaro earned the respect of his colleagues on the bench as well as multiple good government groups. Not only was he chosen by his colleagues on the bench to serve as the Chief Judge, but he also was named the Top Overall Performing Judge by the Metropolitan Crime Commission year after year and received the Outstanding Jurist Award from Victims and Citizens Against Crime.

Prior to being elected District Attorney, he served this community as a judge on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal for five years. He returned to the University of New Orleans, this time as a member of the faculty, until his election made it necessary for him to resign his post to focus on his new responsibilities. As an instructor later in life, he appreciated the caliber of his students, many of whom were "nontraditional" students working full time and raising families. His message to his students? "College is a CHOICE. Do not stop attempting to educate yourself, it opens doors for you. Education is a way you improve on yourself." 

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