A pair of federal judges who pressed the website Nola.com to turn over information on two anonymous online commenters so the judges could determine whether they were prosecutors or other federal agents have ruled out that possibility in one case.
The person who went by “Jammer1954” and posted comments under stories about the scandal surrounding former New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Director Stacey Jackson “was not an agent or employee of the United States Attorney’s Office or any of the five governmental agencies involved in the investigation, grand jury proceedings or prosecution of this case,” U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon and Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson wrote Thursday in a joint order.
The identity of the second online commenter, who penned online comments under the alias “Aircheck,” remains under evaluation, the judges wrote.
The order comes two weeks after the website, under subpoena, turned over a pile of information on the two online commenters.
The announcement amounts to a partial setback for Jackson in her quest to get the corruption case against her dismissed on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct — an increasingly familiar claim by several high-profile criminal defendants who were the subject of anonymous online critiques by former federal prosecutors and others.
In the meantime, a top official with U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr.’s office disclosed Thursday in a letter to Wilkinson that the Justice Department’s internal investigative arm has concluded its probe into the online posting scandal involving former prosecutors Jan Mann and Sal Perricone, and that the “discipline process” regarding Mann and Perricone is “now complete.”
Just what discipline, if any, was meted out to the pair was uncertain, however. An official with Polite’s office refused to divulge the results of the investigation.
Anna Christman, an assistant to Polite, said neither the report nor the conclusions are “available for public dissemination.”
The U.S. Department of Justice’s press office in Washington did not respond to a request for a copy of the report and disclosure of the findings by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
Charles Plattsmier, head of the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, said his office has “both of those individuals under review at this time.”
Because Mann and Perricone were both admitted to the bar in Louisiana, they can be disciplined by state as well as federal authorities for any violations of professional codes of conduct.
Perricone, reached by phone Thursday, refused to comment, while an attorney who has represented Mann did not return a call for comment.
Former longtime U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, who resigned in the wake of the posting scandal after 11 widely heralded years in office, did not return a call for comment. Letten, who left office in December 2012, has remained quiet about the scandal, despite rumors that he was the hand behind “Jammer1954.”
The judges’ order suggests scant factual basis for the whispers.
The online posting scandal had claimed the jobs of Letten and two of his top lieutenants, Perricone and Mann, well before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt hurled a bombshell in September, tossing out the convictions of five New Orleans police officers in the Danziger Bridge shootings and cover-up.
Engelhardt, denouncing “grotesque” misconduct by federal prosecutors in that case, based his ruling largely on the findings of John Horn, a federal prosecutor called in from Georgia to root out the online posting scandal. Horn’s reports to Engelhardt remain tightly guarded secrets, even as attorneys for several criminal defendants, including Jackson, have sought to review them to find evidence of similar misconduct in their cases.
In the background has been the review of the posting scandal by the Office of Professional Responsibility, which launched its investigation in 2012 after the scandal erupted around Perricone, who quickly confessed to Letten and resigned.
Mann, whose husband, federal prosecutor Jim Mann, also resigned in late 2012, suggested in testimony shortly before she left the job that neither Letten nor OPR investigators seemed interested in rooting out other online posters following Perricone’s outing.
“He didn’t want to ask people that,” Mann said of Letten. “Washington didn’t want us to ask that.”
Horn’s investigation, however, turned up a third online commenter within the DOJ: federal trial attorney Karla Dobinski, who led a “taint” team tasked with protecting the rights of the officer defendants in the Danziger case.
The OPR has faced scrutiny for opening inquiries or investigations into only a fraction of the complaints it receives annually about possible misconduct, and then finding most to be unwarranted.
In 2012, the year of the online posting scandal, the office fielded 1,026 complaints, opening investigations and inquiries in 123 of them — a 12 percent rate.
Complaints about “abuse of authority, including abuse of prosecutorial discretion” led to a quarter of the inquiries opened, according to the OPR’s annual report for 2012.
Of the 32 cases that rose to the level of a full investigation for 2012, the office found professional misconduct in 14 cases. Mostly, prosecutors were found to be “acting in reckless disregard of an applicable obligation or standard,” rather than intentional misconduct, the report said.
Jackson, who headed up the quasi-city nonprofit agency known as NOAH, was indicted on bribery, obstruction and theft charges for allegedly steering federal money to contractors and receiving kickbacks in cash, property and services from 2005 to 2008.
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday pushed for the court to scrap her bid to have the indictment dismissed, arguing that Perricone’s posts about her came well before Jackson’s June 2013 indictment and that she has failed to prove any of her claims of prejudice.
Her attorney, Eddie Castaing, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday on the judges’ announcement.
Staff writer Laura Maggi contributed to this report.