Whether former North Shore District Attorney Walter Reed will go to jail or possibly back to court is a question that should be answered in the coming year, when his case goes before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Reed was sentenced to four years in prison in April by U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, nearly a year after a jury found him guilty on 18 of 19 public corruption counts.
For now, though, the 71-year-old former longtime district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes remains free on bail and living in Covington.
He can frequently be spotted during the morning hours at the Abita Roasting Co., not far from the St. Tammany Parish Justice Center, where he held sway for decades. He's often in the company of his brother, Richard Reed, who finished serving his own prison term — for obscenity and impeding a witness — in the fall.
Fallon decided in March that Walter Reed and his son and co-defendant, Steven Reed, could remain free on bail while they appealed their convictions, a process that legal observers said could take 18 to 24 months.
In an eight-page ruling, Fallon said the two had raised a substantial question of law that might result in their convictions being tossed out — one of the four requirements a federal defendant must meet to remain free.
Among the issues raised by his attorney, Richard Simmons, were lack of proper jurisdiction, violations of the principles of federalism, and misconduct and overreach by the government.
Simmons also argued that the counts charging Reed with misuse of campaign funds should have been tried separately from those that accused him of pocketing money from St. Tammany Parish Hospital that was meant for his government office.
On Tuesday, Simmons said he thinks the case could be scheduled for oral arguments before the appeals court as early as February or at least by April, and that a decision might come by midsummer.
Simmons, who mounted an aggressive defense of Reed both before and during his trial, has argued that the government overreached in prosecuting the longtime 22nd Judicial District district attorney.
The defense also hopes that Reed will be helped by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year that reversed the conviction of 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 ruling generally raised the bar for corruption prosecutions of public officials, and Fallon acknowledged the import of the McDonnell case in agreeing to let Reed remain free.
Steven Reed is heading to the appellate court with new legal representation. His lawyer filed a 105-page brief in November after seeking permission from the court to exceed the usual page limit, pointing to the fact that the record is "at least 11,928 pages long" and deals with tax evasion, money laundering and wire fraud spanning a period of 20 years.
"Moreover, the complexity of this matter is increased by the fact that two co-defendants were tried together," the filing said.
Steven Reed was convicted on three of four counts he faced and was sentenced to five years of probation.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has until Jan. 19 to file its brief, and Simmons said he will have 30 days after that to file a response.
The two men's fate will be decided after the court hears oral arguments, a process that usually lasts about an hour.
For Reed, it will be the end of a long legal saga that began with a federal probe that came to light in 2014, prompting him to announce he would not seek a sixth term in office. He was indicted in April 2015 and went to trial a year later, with the jury finding him guilty of all but one count after an 11-day trial.
But the Reeds got some breaks in 2017. First, Fallon decided to sentence Walter Reed to just four years, less than half the range called for by federal guidelines, and limited the younger Reed's punishment to probation. The judge also agreed to let Walter Reed stay out of jail while he exhausts his appeals.
In a statement issued after that decision, Simmons highlighted Fallon's finding that the defense had raised "substantial issues of fact and law" and said it is important for those to be settled "before other state public officials are the subject of prosecutorial overreaching into state affairs and subjected to the same ordeal that Walter Reed has endured these last three years."