Walter Reed and his son will be allowed to remain free on bail while they appeal their convictions on multiple public corruption counts, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon wrote in an eight-page ruling that the Reeds have raised a substantial question of law that might result in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court tossing out their convictions.
That's one of the four requirements a federal defendant must meet to remain free on bail pending appeal. Attorneys for the defendants appeared before Fallon on Wednesday to argue that such a reversal was likely based on numerous issues they raised before, during and after the Reeds' trial last spring.
Fallon said he sees no harm to the government in permitting the Reeds to remain free during their appeals. "This court does, however, appreciate the risk of great harm to the defendants if they were to spend a year or more in jail, only to have their convictions later thrown out or retried," he said.
Walter Reed, who was district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes for 30 years, was convicted in May on 18 of 19 counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, mail fraud and making false statements on tax returns.
His son Steven was found guilty on three counts: conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering.
Walter Reed's attorney, Richard Simmons, raised a number of legal issues that he believes could result in a new trial, Fallon noted, including lack of proper jurisdiction, violations of the principles of federalism, and misconduct and overreach by the prosecution.
Simmons also argued that counts charging Reed with misuse of campaign money should have been tried separately from counts accusing him of pocketing money from a public hospital that were meant for his office.
Fallon also acknowledged a recent Supreme Court ruling that is one of the pegs on which Reed is hanging his hopes for reversal. That case involved former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who was accused of taking gifts, trips and loans from a businessman who sought his help in dealing with state officials.
The high court reversed McDonnell's conviction on charges of "honest services" fraud, and some lawyers think that ruling raised the bar for corruption prosecutions of public officials.
In arguing that the Reeds should not be allowed to remain free during the 18 to 24 months that an appeal is likely to take, the U.S. Attorney's Office didn't claim that the Reeds are a flight risk or a danger to others or that their appeals are simply a delaying tactic.
But prosecutors disagreed that the defense had raised substantial issues that could result in an overall reversal or new trial on all the counts. The McDonnell ruling doesn't have any bearing on the counts involving the hospital money, prosecutors said, and the "substantial question of law" raised by the defense therefore could not result in an overall reversal or an order for a new trial on all counts.
The possible sentence Walter Reed faces for the hospital counts alone is greater than the time it will take to pursue his appeals, the government said.
But Fallon said an appellate decision in favor of the defense could result in an acquittal or new trial on all counts. He said a higher court could find that convictions on other counts "suffered from prejudicial spillover," because the hospital counts and campaign fund counts were not tried separately.
In a written statement, Simmons said the defense is thankful for the judge's ruling that the substantial issues raised should be decided by appellate courts before Reed faces certain prison time.
"It is also important that these issues be settled before other state public officials are the subject of prosecutorial overreaching into state af`fairs and subjected to the same ordeal Walter Reed has endured these last three years," Simmons said.