When former north shore District Attorney Walter Reed goes to trial on federal corruption charges this spring, he should not have to face one set of charges about public money and another set about campaign spending at the same time, his attorney argued Thursday.
During a hearing before U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, attorney Richard Simmons hammered on a familiar theme: that the government’s case against the long-serving DA focuses on how he spent campaign donations — a matter Simmons said is governed by state statute, not federal law.
The former district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes also is accused of taking money from St. Tammany Parish Hospital for his private civil practice when it should have gone to the DA’s Office.
The motion to divide the charges in the 19-count case against Reed was one of several that Fallon considered at Thursday’s hearing. Neither Reed nor his son and co-defendant, Steven Reed, was in court.
Simmons said the two sets of charges should be dealt with in separate trials, indicating that Reed is likely to be called as a witness to testify about his arrangement with the hospital.
Simmons also asked for the dismissal of a new charge against his client, dealing with Reed’s contribution of $25,000 in campaign funds to a Franklinton church, and for removal of language in the indictment that he said is prejudicial.
Glenn Burris, who represents Steven Reed, argued that the younger Reed should be tried separately from his father, saying he was not involved with the hospital deal.
The younger Reed is accused of conspiring with his father in a scheme to divert campaign cash to the son.
Much of the one-hour hearing dealt with Simmons’ efforts to remove language from the indictment that he said would confuse a jury. He rejected the argument that the judge can deal with that when giving the jury its instructions. “A well-crafted indictment is better,” he said.
Simmons took issue with frequent references in the indictment to expenditures that prosecutors say were not related to Reed’s campaigns. State law allows campaign donations to be used on costs related to holding of public office, he said.
Simmons interpreted that broadly, noting that an elected official might be expected to send flowers to a funeral or a bouquet to a sick employee. “You send flowers to a funeral and spend 20 years in prison?” he asked rhetorically.
Reed spent campaign money on dinners, Simmons said, but they were in St. Tammany and Washington parishes, “not the Bahamas, not Antoine’s or Arnaud’s.”
The government’s position shows naivete about politics, he said.
Fallon said the government is accusing Reed of spending campaign money to get business for his civil practice and to entertain a “lady friend who probably would have voted for him anyway.”
“Not now,” Simmons said, alluding to the fact that a former girlfriend of Reed’s has gone public with allegations that he misspent campaign money.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Ginsberg, who is prosecuting the case, defended the language in the indictment, saying it shows a concerted scheme on the part of Reed to mislead his campaign donors. “I’m sure he’d like us to change the way we draft the indictment in any number of ways,” Ginsberg said.
Fallon said the defense was arguing that everything Reed did had a political aspect, but Ginsberg said the argument that everything an elected official does is related to the office is ridiculous if taken to its logical conclusion. What the defense believes to be relevant to a public official’s job is a factual issue that can be dealt with at trial, he said.
Fallon did not say when he would rule on the motions.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.