We may not have to wait long to see if there's any fallout from the reversal of the convictions in the Danziger Bridge shooting case due largely to anonymous online posts by federal prosecutors before and during the trial. Former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin is due to face trial on 21 federal counts of taking kickbacks from three city contractors and strongarming Home Depot to give a company he partly owns a granite installation contract. But on Thursday, only 48 hours after the Danziger Bridge convictions were deep-sixed, Nagin sought to have the trial postponed indefinitely due to comments posted about him while the investigation was underway.
The same misconduct cited in the Danziger Bridge case -- federal prosecutors making anonymous comments on NOLA.com about ongoing criminal matters -- are a concern for Nagin, his attorney Robert Jenkins said in the filing.Jenkins further argues that until a report drafted by Atlanta-based federal prosecutor John Horn is fully made public, there's no real way to determine how much those posts could impact Nagin's chances of getting a fair trial.
Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and his senior staff, who were blasted for misconduct in the Danziger case, were at the helm of the office during the investigation of Nagin, the filing notes. And many of the findings regarding misconduct in the case against the police officers convicted in that case "will bear directly upon the Department of Justice personnel with regard to Mr. Nagin."
The common link in both cases is Sal Perricone, the former top trial lawyer for the Eastern District of Louisiana. He was exposed in March 2012 as the man behind several handles on NOLA.com that were posting unusually detailed comments about federal cases. For those who missed it, an investigation revealed that Perricone had been making posts attacking the New Orleans Police Department and the five former cops on trial for the shootings as early as 2008, and had been posting commentary on trial testimony while the trial was underway. If I'm reading the order for a new trial right, Perricone's actions amounted to an attempt to "poison the well" before the trial and influence the jurors thinking while the trial was underway (the jurors weren't sequestered). In other words, high-tech jury tampering--a situation that you simply cannot tolerate in a criminal trial.
However, at least one comment now proven to have been made by Perricone may have gone much farther than simply poisoning the well.
For all of you who have a penchant for firearms and how they work, Ray Nagin lives on Park Island.I really hope I'm misreading that comment. I really am. If I'm not, then Perricone may have to worry about more serious charges other than obstruction of justice.
On Friday morning, the government moved to foreclose any efforts by Nagin to claim that the investigation of him was tainted by prosecutorial misconduct. I have to admit to being puzzled by this move. After all, if a judge was willing to torpedo a conviction in a case where the evidence was as overwhelming as the Danziger Bridge case, it says a lot. Seems to me that the government is merely delaying the inevitable case where another manifestly guilty person ends up getting a new trial because of these shenanigans. To my mind, if it's as serious as it sounds, the only remedy might be moving the trial outside of Louisiana. Given that Perricone was posting about federal trials for at least four years, it may be very hard to empanel a jury anywhere in the state.