Former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard is once again asking a federal judge to vacate the public corruption conviction that landed him a 46-month federal prison sentence.
Broussard’s attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, requested the ruling last week based on a recently released federal report detailing how Jan Mann, the lead federal prosecutor in the case against Broussard, had overseen the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s response to an online commenting scandal that she would later be implicated in, as well.
Lemann noted that the report actually singles out Broussard’s case at one point: A Justice Department attorney who was brought in after the commenting scandal broke to decide which cases U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office should recuse itself from is quoted as saying that he would have included the Broussard case had he known Mann was involved. Instead, the office kept the case, and Broussard pleaded guilty.
The commenting scandal erupted publicly in March 2012 after it became known that prosecutor Sal Perricone had made anonymous posts under thousands of online news stories about attorneys, judges and cases, many of which Letten’s office was prosecuting. Mann initially handled the office’s response to the scandal, but months later, she admitted that she, too, had made similarly inappropriate online comments. Letten was forced to resign by the end of the year, as was Mann.
A report released this month by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility in response to a public-records request provided the most detailed account to date of what the agency turned up during its subsequent investigation.
It also has given more fodder to lawyers hoping that the scandal will torpedo federal cases against their clients.
“The big revelation from the OPR report with regard to Jan Mann,” Lemann explained Thursday, “wasn’t the blogging activity. It’s that she was covering up her blogging activity from the Justice Department while she continued to be involved in the Broussard case as the senior prosecutor, making critical decisions … and saying Letten’s office need not be recused.”
The statement by the Justice Department attorney put in charge of deciding which cases Letten’s office should recuse itself from “is a pretty significant bombshell,” Lemann said.
U.S. District Judge Hayden Head this week ordered federal prosecutors to counter Broussard’s motion to vacate the case by May 4 and explain why the conviction shouldn’t be thrown out. Head will consider the issue on May 11.
Lemann said he plans to ask Head to order the Justice Department to release an unredacted version of the 152-page OPR report.
“If the redacted report has exculpatory evidence in it,” Lemann said, “who knows what’s in the unredacted report?”
One of the obstacles in Broussard’s post-conviction legal efforts has been that he voluntarily pleaded guilty to the conspiracy, wire fraud and theft charges that sent him to prison. Judges also have noted that the online comments made by prosecutors did not appear to prejudice the case against him.
Head refused Broussard’s original request to vacate his conviction last year, and in March, a federal appeals court panel denied Broussard’s request to force Letten, Perricone and Mann to testify.
The commenting scandal has been invoked by defendants in several other high-profile corruption cases, including those of former Mayor Ray Nagin, former City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt and former city official Stacey Jackson, but to little effect.
The scandal did provide the rationale for a federal judge’s decision to vacate the convictions of five New Orleans police officers in the Danziger Bridge shootings and cover-up. An appeal of that decision is pending.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter @Chad_Calder