Aaron Broussard’s latest attempt to have his 2012 corruption conviction overturned has met the same fate as the last, with a federal judge ruling this week that fallout from an online-commenting scandal at the U.S. Attorney’s Office isn’t enough to undo the guilty plea that sent the former Jefferson Parish president to a Florida prison for 46 months.
U.S. District Judge Hayden Head denied Broussard’s motion to vacate his conviction following a roughly one-hour conference call Monday with Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Boitmann and Broussard’s attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann.
Lemann cited a federal report released this spring that said the Justice Department would have recused U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office from handling Broussard’s case had department leaders known at the time that lead prosecutor Jan Mann was involved in the commenting scandal that erupted publicly earlier in 2012.
Mann and fellow prosecutor Sal Perricone were found to have been commenting anonymously online about cases Letten’s office was investigating or prosecuting. The scandal forced all three to resign by the end of the year and has been used several times — mostly unsuccessfully — to try to overturn some of the office’s high-profile convictions.
Head has yet to publish the reasoning behind his decision, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s response to the request argued that Broussard offered no evidence that he would have decided to take the case to trial had another prosecutor stepped in to replace Letten’s team. It would have been the same evidence, the same witnesses testifying against him and the same plea options, Boitmann wrote last month.
Lemann said it is too early to say what comes next.
“I’m very disappointed,” he said. “But I’ll wait to see what the judge’s reasons were before I decide what, if anything, to do.”
Lemann said he thought Broussard had a strong case because of the Justice Department’s revelation, but he said his client’s admission of guilt makes the conviction difficult to overturn.
“In criminal law,” he said, “there is a mountain known as the guilty plea. And it’s next to impossible to move that mountain. I’ve been trying to budge it, but so far without success.”
Head ruled last year that while the scandal rose to the level of prosecutorial misconduct, it wasn’t so appalling that it negated Broussard’s decision to plead guilty. Nor did it prevent Broussard from getting adequate legal representation, he found.
Broussard then asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to force Mann, Perricone and Letten to answer questions about how the scandal might have affected his case, but a three-judge panel quickly threw out that request.
The commenting scandal has been invoked by defendants in several other high-profile corruption cases, including Mayor Ray Nagin, former City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt and former city official Stacey Jackson, but to little effect.
The scandal did largely 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.
Broussard, 66, is scheduled to be released from jail in September 2016, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.