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DOJ releases report on online misconduct

28th May 2014   ·   0 Comments

A Justice Department report into the once-anonymous online postings of two former federal prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana makes clear they engaged in “extensive and intentional prosecutorial misconduct” connected to several criminal cases, according to a ruling filed by two federal judges.

The Associated Press reported last week that the probe concluded that there is no evidence that the two disgraced prosecutors’ colleagues or their boss, former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, knew of the misconduct.

U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon and U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson revealed information from the still-secret report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility late Tuesday. The disclosures were contained in a ruling on by the defense attorney for Stacey Jackson. Jackson is charged with taking kickbacks when she was director of a New Orleans housing agency.

Jackson’s lawyer, Edward Castaing, has asked for a copy of the report while he seeks dismissal of the indictment, The Associated Press reported.

Lemmon and Wilkinson, however, ruled against providing Castaing with the report. They said that while the Justice Department report noted misconduct in several high-profile cases, it has no reference to misconduct involving Jackson’s case.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jan Mann and Sal Perricone acknowledged in 2012 that they posted anonymous comments about cases on the nola.com website.

Both resigned. Letten resigned later as the fallout from the scandal grew, although he was not implicated in online postings.

“The overall conclusion of the OPR Report is that prosecutorial misconduct of the kind committed by Perricone and Mann was confined to them and was neither sanctioned by the United States Attorney nor engaged in by others in the office,” Lemmon and Wilkinson wrote.

Cases affected by the scandal include the convictions of five former NOPD officers connected to deadly shootings of unarmed people following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Four officers allegedly involved in the shooting and one tied to a subsequent cover-up are awaiting a new trial after a federal judge last September threw out the convictions, citing the online postings.

Civil rights leaders and community activists in New Orleans questioned whether the online posting scandal was an attempt by supporters of the NOPD defendants to ensure that their convictions would be thrown out and that they would be granted new trials outside of New Orleans. Despite the findings of the report released last week, many local leaders also expressed doubt about Letten, the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the nation’s history, not knowing about the online postings involving his top prosecutors.

The overturned convictions of the Danziger cops, coupled with the acquittal of former NOPD officer David Warren in the post-Katrina murder of Henry Glover, have cast a shadow over DOJ efforts to clean up the city’s embattled police department and raised public concern about equity and fairness in the local justice system.

“All of this makes it very difficult to trust the police, prosecutors, judges and the criminal justice system as a whole,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Someone needs to come down to New Orleans and take a long, hard look at how law enforcement and justice are being administered here.”

The latest ruling also revealed that a court review of material from Nola.com/The Times-Pica­yune, which the news agency was ordered to turn over, failed to determine the identity of an online commenter known as “Aircheck.” Castaing wants to know whether Aircheck was a government official. Lemmon and Wilkinson refused to order more material from the news operation regarding still another online poster identified as “kefir.”

Former New Orleans City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, who was convicted of federal racketeering charges and ordered to report to jail on June 30, filed documents Thursday, May 22, in federal court seeking to have her conviction overturned because of the online posting scandal. U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle sentenced Gill Pratt to 50 months behind bars after the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court threw out her initial seven-year sentence but upheld the former councilwoman’s 2011 conviction.

Defense attorney Mike Fawer told WDSU News that there are still a number of questions that have not been answered about the actions of federal prosecutors and investigators.

“The extent to which prejudicial blogging on Nola.com was attributable to other (prosecutors) or law enforcement personnel is unknown,” Fawer said.

WDSU News reported Tuesday that former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, currently serving a three and half year sentence in Florida, also plans to cite the online posting scandal as the basis for seeking to overturn his conviction on federal conspiracy and theft charges.

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin tried unsuccessfully to have federal corruption charges against him thrown out because his legal defense team believed the Justice Department’s case against him might have been also tainted by the online posting scandal. He was convicted in February 2014 and is awaiting sentencing.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the May 26, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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