Federal prosecutors say former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard hasn’t demonstrated he would have decided to go to trial on corruption charges instead of pleading guilty three years ago had an online commenting scandal kept former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office from handling the case.
Broussard, who is serving a 46-month sentence in federal prison, filed his latest legal challenge to his conviction last month. In it, his lawyer, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann, said a recent revelation — that Letten’s office likely would have recused itself from the case had the full extent of the online commenting scandal been known at the time — should provide sufficient grounds to throw out Broussard’s guilty plea.
But in a response filed this week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that Broussard has made no effort to show that things would have been different if top Letten aide Jan Mann’s involvement in the 2012 scandal had indeed forced Letten’s office to step away from the case, as was suggested in a Justice Department report released last month.
That admission in the Justice report “does not establish that Broussard would have maintained his plea of not guilty and proceeded to trial,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Boitmann wrote. “Based on the overwhelming evidence that would have been presented at trial, the several co-conspirators that had pleaded guilty and were positioned to testify against Broussard and the substantial benefits Broussard received through his plea agreement, it is not reasonable that Broussard would have insisted on going to trial based on (a) recommendation of recusal.”
Lemann is scheduled take his case before U.S. District Judge Hayden Head on Monday, though prosecutors say the matter should be heard in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rather than the district court.
Both courts have ruled against Broussard in his earlier efforts for post-conviction relief.
Head ruled last year that the misconduct on the part of Mann and fellow prosecutor Sal Perricone — both of whom made online comments under pseudonyms about cases Letten’s office was prosecuting — wasn’t so appalling that it negated Broussard’s decision to plead guilty. Nor did it prevent Broussard from getting adequate legal representation, the judge found.
Last month, the 5th Circuit quickly dismissed Broussard’s request to force Mann, Perricone and Letten to answer questions about how the scandal might have affected his case.
That ruling came just days before the Justice Department released a heavily redacted report in which a supervising attorney tasked with deciding which cases Letten’s office should step away from in light of the scandal said he would have put Broussard’s case on that list had he known the extent of Mann’s misconduct at the time.
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.