'An Olympic-sized leap': Walter Reed calls for conviction to be thrown out

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Former St. Tammany/Washington parish District Attorney Walter Reed leaves federal court in New Orleans after being arraigned on an 18 count indictment Monday, May 4, 2015.

Walter Reed, the former north shore district attorney who was found guilty on 18 federal counts last month, is asking the trial judge to throw out his conviction, raising issues that the defense is likely to argue on appeal if the judge refuses.

Reed does not face sentencing until Sept. 15 and can’t appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until after that happens.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, who presided over the 11-day trial, will rule on the motions that were filed late Tuesday asking him to acquit Reed or else order a new trial. The judge will hear oral arguments July 21.

Such motions are not unusual after jury trials, according to former federal prosecutor Matt Coman, who said they are not usually successful.

But the motions provide a window into what issues Reed’s lawyer, Richard Simmons, thinks could result in a reversal on appeal.

The defense argued strenuously before and during the trial that the federal government was overreaching in prosecuting the five-term district attorney, essentially trying him for violations of state campaign finance disclosure laws. Much of the case dealt with how Reed spent campaign donations.

Simmons is continuing to sound that theme, calling the government’s case “an Olympic-sized leap over the prudent bounds of federalism.”

But he also argues that his client deserves a new trial because some evidence was improperly excluded and because the court wouldn’t sever the various counts against Reed into separate trials or separate his prosecution from that of his son and co-defendant, Steven Reed — all issues that were argued to some extent before the trial.

Steven Reed, who was convicted on three of four counts, was granted a request for a public defender Tuesday. Glenn Burns, who represented him at the trial, withdrew last month, saying he is being considered for positions in the legal community that wouldn’t allow him to continue in a criminal case.

Walter Reed’s motion for a new trial accuses prosecutors of misconduct, including character assassination, saying their opening statement to the jury in particular was “highly prejudicial.”

“There, the prosecution set out its themes of greed, womanizing and corruption, and characterized Walter Reed as a ‘ruthless politician,’ ” the motion says.

The motion also accuses prosecutors of using evidence that stemmed from information a former girlfriend of Reed had hacked from his computer.

Reed’s lawyers asked the court a half-dozen times to separate the various charges against the former St. Tammany and Washington parishes district attorney. They said the counts related to Reed’s spending of campaign money and those dealing with his taking payments from a public hospital that were intended for the District Attorney’s Office were unrelated — a theme that also appears in the request for a new trial.

Reed’s attorney also argues that the court’s decision to limit the testimony of Gray Sexton, former administrator for the state Board of Ethics, was improper and deprived Reed of testimony that would have shown he did not have any intention to defraud anyone because he believed his use of campaign funds was legal.

Sexton wasn’t allowed to testify, for example, that candidates frequently have a dual purpose in spending money — testimony the motion said would have helped Reed, who claimed dinners he held for family and friends with campaign money also helped shore up his political support.

Simmons’ requests for a judgment of acquittal and an arrest of judgment, which essentially ask Fallon to throw out the jury’s verdict, reiterate the position that the case is really about state law and that the federal government lacks jurisdiction.

The 35-page document questions how a “reasonable jury” could have found a housewarming party thrown by Walter Reed was an instance of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The party was clearly a political event, the motion says, calling it “naive and narrow” to insist that events must have a fundraising component to be political.

The motion makes similar arguments concerning Thanksgiving dinners put on by Reed, donations to churches and a purchase of flowers for a constituent.

As for the $30,000 a year Reed was paid by St. Tammany Parish Hospital, the motion says Reed set his own salary under state law and could have increased it by the amount paid by the hospital, boosting his retirement benefits. Instead, he listed the money as personal income on Board of Ethics disclosure forms.

“No rational jury could have considered the evidence presented at trial and rendered the verdict that was handed down on May 2, 2016, after just four hours of deliberation,” the motion concludes.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.