St. Tammany DA candidates attack each other on websites _lowres

Brian Trainor, left, and Warren Montgomery

The front line in the runoff for district attorney of St. Tammany and Washington parishes has moved to cyberspace with the launching of two websites, one by Brian Trainor’s camp that attacks Warren Montgomery’s criminal defense work and the other a defense from Montgomery that accuses his opponent of playing dirty.

The Trainor site, Investigate, went up the week after the Nov. 4 primary, outlining Montgomery’s representation of what it presents as unsavory clients, including “illegal immigrants” and defendants accused of drug and sex offenses.

The site also points to political contributions Montgomery made to embattled incumbent 22nd Judicial District DA Walter Reed, and a fine Montgomery had to pay for filing an election report nine days late when he ran for judge. Montgomery says his campaign treasurer’s death delayed the filing.

But the site reserves most of its outrage for Montgomery’s work on behalf of criminal defendants, pointing out that he had to sign up to be a member of the Criminal Justice Act Panel, which provides lawyers to indigent defendants in federal court.

“Warren didn’t defend federal criminals out of obligation. He did it to line his pockets with a quarter-million of your tax dollars,’’ the website says.

Montgomery, who ran second to Trainor in the primary, fired back this week with a website of his own, accusing Trainor of making false statements about him.

“As the election gets closer, the lies get bigger,’’ Montgomery’s site says. “It’s a shame what Brian Trainor is doing, but it’s just machine politics. Hence the need for this website, Take’’

Montgomery has portrayed his defense work for accused felons as something he has done at the order of federal judges. He decided to sign up for the program, he said, because he wanted to polish up his litigation skills after spending several years working in business rather than law and because he believes lawyers have a moral obligation to do such work.

His website points to his fluency in Spanish and his background in prosecuting drug cases as reasons judges have chosen him to represent certain defendants.

But while Montgomery has repeatedly said all of his felony trial work has been on a pro bono basis, that doesn’t mean he was paid nothing for his work. Indeed, Trainor’s website pegs his earnings representing indigents in federal court at $250,000.

Montgomery quibbles with Trainor’s math, saying the total was $242,946, not $250,000. Over a nine-year period, that works about to about $27,000 per year. His indigent defense work in court is not the bulk of his law practice, he says, and because his expenses on those cases also come out of that money, his compensation was really less.

He points to a recent flier put out by the Trainor campaign that he said implies the total amount he was paid was for defending immigrants, which Montgomery said is untrue. The biggest case dollar-wise was nearly $62,000 for defending David Samuels in a mail- and wire-fraud case. Samuels is from the West Bank, Montgomery said.

Montgomery also takes some shots at Trainor on his website, saying, for example, that his opponent — who is on leave as chief deputy of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office — has never tried a felony case nor made an arrest.

“When you have no experience, no credentials, and you depend on machine politics for your positions, you have to tear down your opponent to mislead the voters,’’ the site says, calling Trainor’s tactics “trashy politics’’ and the legacy of Reed.

Reed, believed to be the subject of a federal grand jury probe, announced in July that he would not be running for a sixth term.

Trainor, who has tried to position himself as the law-and-order candidate in the race, was in charge of misdemeanors during his eight years in Reed’s office. But he has claimed some felony experience, gained by assisting other assistant district attorneys in what he described as a handful of cases. His campaign says there were three: a second-degree murder case, a multiple-offense drug case and a multiple-offense DWI case.

Trainor also has made arrests since joining the Sheriff’s Office, including one in 2013 in which he chased down and handcuffed a DWI suspect, spokesman Jay Connaughton said.

Montgomery maintains that assisting a lead prosecutor on a felony case isn’t the same thing as being the person who picks the jury, makes the opening and closing arguments, and questions witnesses.

Trainor’s website, however, downplays his opponent’s prosecutorial résumé, although Montgomery worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for several years in the 1980s. “Warren Montgomery hasn’t prosecuted a case in nearly 30 years,’’ the Trainor website says. “He’s just soft on crime.’’

Trainor pounds that theme relentlessly, pointing to cases like that of Ceasar J. Harper III, who was convicted of raping an 8-year-old girl. Montgomery tried to get his client a new trial and asked the court to reconsider the life sentence he received, Trainor’s site says. “Apparently, Warren Montgomery thinks life in prison for the rapist of an 8-year-old is too harsh. Is that the kind of DA you want?’’ it asks.

Montgomery’s response says he was appointed by 22nd Judicial District Court Judge Larry Green to represent Harper, an indigent client. “He received a fair trial and was convicted,’’ Montgomery’s site says. “The motion to reconsider the sentence was a standard legal action that attorneys file to avoid legal malpractice or misrepresentation.’’

Trainor’s site mentions several ongoing cases that Montgomery is handling, including that of Derrick Carter, who will be sentenced in federal court next month.

“Even while running to be the north shore’s top prosecutor, Warren Montgomery is continuing to defend south shore criminals,’’ Trainor’s site says, noting that Carter has been convicted of conspiracy to carry a firearm in drug trafficking crimes and distribution of crack cocaine.

“Now that Warren’s client is convicted of these crimes, Warren’s job is to get the convicted felon as easy a sentence as possible,’’ the site says.

Montgomery says the attacks on his defense work show a fundamental lack of understanding of the criminal justice system and the constitutional guarantees to a fair trial. “That’s what you want in a district attorney, someone who knows the law and the arguments and the facts,’’ he said.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.