'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.

A federal judge has denied last-ditch motions to move or delay former 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed’s corruption trial, slated to begin April 18.

Judge Eldon Fallon issued his decision Friday afternoon following a hearing late Thursday.

In his ruling, Fallon said attorneys for Walter Reed and his son Steven Reed had not presented a compelling reason to relocate or delay the trial.

Defense attorneys had argued that intense media scrutiny — especially stories in The New Orleans Advocate and on WWL-TV that detailed prosecutors’ request to introduce evidence from the dating website Sugardaddie.com — had tainted the jury pool.

Defense attorneys have opposed the introduction of the Sugardaddie.com material, and a hearing on that issue is scheduled for next week. Thus, they said, the stories have put what may be ruled inadmissible evidence in full view of the public, and the trial should be moved to a place where Walter Reed is not as well known.

Fallon didn’t buy it.

“The publicity here does not rise to the level of prejudicial pretrial publicity that courts have used as the basis” for moving a trial, Fallon wrote, echoing prosecutors’ argument in their motion opposing the move. “This matter received media attention prior to the inception of criminal charges, and coverage of the trial will continue regardless of when and where it occurs.”

Fallon called an alternate motion to delay the trial by one week “similarly unnecessary.”

The prosecution has subpoenaed about 60 witnesses for the case, and jury questionnaires have been sent out, Fallon wrote. What’s more, he said, a week’s delay is no guarantee that media coverage would die down.

Fallon also denied a motion to separate the two Reeds’ trials as well as a move by Walter Reed to separate subsets of his 19 charges into two different trials.

It wasn’t all bad news for Walter Reed, though. Fallon also formalized a ruling he made earlier this week preventing prosecutors from using the term “kickback” to refer to a payment from Walter Reed’s campaign fund to Faith Tabernacle Church in Franklinton. The elder Reed’s attorneys argued that the term has a negative connotation and would prejudice jurors against their client.

Fallon agreed, saying the term — as well as the term “charitable contribution,” which is preferred by Walter Reed’s attorneys — could prejudice the jury. He ordered that both sides refer to it simply as a “$25,000 payment” when presenting evidence but said they are free to call it whatever they want in closing arguments.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.