Disgraced former federal prosecutors Jan Mann and Sal Perricone, whose online comments tainted cases and led to new trials, have taken plea bargains of a sort, with both agreeing to permanently resign from practicing law in the local federal court “in lieu of discipline.”
The disciplinary cases against Mann and Perricone have been under seal for weeks, but U.S. District Court Chief Judge Sarah Vance unsealed the resignation documents Thursday.
Further discipline may be in the works for Mann and Perricone outside of federal court.
Currently, both are members in good standing with the Louisiana Bar Association, meaning they can practice in local courts around the state, but that could change.
“My office is obviously aware of the issues involving Mr. Perricone and Ms. Mann,” said Charles Plattsmier, chief disciplinary counsel for the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. “The matter is currently under review.”
The documents unsealed in federal court Thursday state that Mann and Perricone each petitioned the court to be allowed to resign from the court’s roll of attorneys rather than receive discipline. Judge Jay Zainey granted Mann’s request March 25, and Judge Martin Feldman granted Perricone’s request April 3.
A letter filed last week by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office notified the court that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility had completed an investigation into Mann’s and Perricone’s actions. The result of that probe has not been made public, and it is not clear whether it played a role in determining the appropriate punishment for Mann and Perricone.
The OPR probe is separate from one — also under wraps — that was conducted by prosecutor John Horn at the request of U.S District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.
Mann and Perricone admitted in 2012 that they posted comments about active cases under news stories on nola.com. Engelhardt said that amounted to “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” and ordered a new trial for five police officers who had been convicted in connection to the shooting of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
Defense attorneys Billy Gibbens and Kyle Schonekas aggressively pursued the unmasking of Perricone and Mann, who had posted their comments under online aliases. Those revelations led both prosecutors to resign in 2012, along with their boss, longtime U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
Fallout from the scandal was among the reasons the Justice Department decided to drop a long-running investigation into River Birch Landfill owners Fred Heebe and Jim Ward. The department also overturned the indictments of two Heebe associates.
The current federal case against Stacey Jackson, the former head of a New Orleans house-gutting program, has been affected, as well. Defense attorney Eddie Castaing has sought to expose the identities of two people who made online comments related to Jackson’s indictment, saying he believes the pair could be federal law enforcement officials. One of them, “jammer1954,” is not a fed, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson said last week.
Now that the Office of Professional Responsibility investigation is complete, Castaing asked Wilkinson on Thursday to release its findings.
As for the possible disciplinary action on the state level, Plattsmier said his office took the view that “the matters pending in the federal court needed to be addressed first, because that’s where the conduct occurred.” He said his office is “actively reviewing” the matter with attorneys for Mann and Perricone.
The Attorney Disciplinary Board could seek a deal with the two former prosecutors similar to the one struck in federal court; it’s also possible, should no resolution be reached, that the disciplinary board could file formal charges. Plattsmier declined to speculate on what punishment the board will mete out.
“The full range of disciplines are certainly available,” he said. “It would be premature for anyone to speak about what might be the outcome.”
Messages left for Mann’s and Perricone’s attorneys were not immediately returned.