It was probably inevitable that an increasingly heated election battle for top prosecutor in St. Tammany and Washington parishes would be handed over to the lawyers.
Rykert Toledano, one of the contingent of attorneys supporting Brian Trainor in the race to succeed longtime incumbent Walter Reed, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Trainor’s opponent, Warren Montgomery, on Thursday.
The letter told Montgomery to stop “all defamation of Brian Trainor’s reputation and character” and accused Montgomery of making false and slanderous statements about Trainor through a variety of campaign materials and comments in the media.
The issue is Montgomery’s claim that Trainor, in his eight years as an assistant district attorney, never tried a felony case. Further, Montgomery has said Trainor — who since 2010 has served in the Sheriff’s Office, first heading up the jail and most recently as Sheriff Jack Strain’s chief deputy — has never made an arrest.
Those claims, the letter says, are false.
“I’ve prosecuted felony trials in addition to prosecuting over 10,000 criminal misdemeanors and overseeing thousands of traffic violations,” Trainor said in a news release that accompanied a copy of the letter sent to The New Orleans Advocate.
Should Montgomery fail to stop making the claims, the letter threatens to pursue a temporary or permanent restraining order to bar him from doing so.
Trainor also took to social media to defend his history, posting an open letter on Facebook. As evidence of his experience working on felony cases, Trainor included in the letter comments from two current assistant district attorneys, Joseph Oubre and Ronald Gracianette, who cite cases in which they say Trainor played a key role in the prosecution.
In a case against Cecil Pouncey, who has a litany of misdemeanor and felony convictions, Oubre said, Trainor’s questioning of the arresting officer was “instrumental in the prosecution” of Pouncey, who was convicted in 2008 of possession of cocaine.
Gracianette said Trainor worked closely with him on the second-degree murder prosecution of Kealo Higgins, and that his work helped obtain a conviction in 2003.
Late Friday afternoon, Trainor’s campaign released documents they said backed up those claims. One details Trainor questioning a police officer during the trial of Pouncey. A second has his name in the transcript of the opening of the Higgins trial. Trainor is not listed among those appearing for the state, but Gracianette names himself and Trainor as present for the state in the trial.
The documents did little to cow Montgomery, who previously challenged the Trainor camp to furnish evidence that he had tried felony cases.
“If he can show me a trial transcript, then I will reconsider my position,” he said before seeing the documents.
Montgomery has claimed that Trainor never “picked a jury, cross-examined a witness or made opening or closing statements.”
Later Friday, after being shown the documents provided by the Trainor campaign, Montgomery backed off — a little.
“In his entire career, he examined one witness in a felony case,” Montgomery said. “The fact that he had only one witness in eight years of litigation shows that he does not have the qualifications to be district attorney.”
The brouhaha over Trainor’s background is the latest twist in an increasingly bare-knuckled campaign in which the debate over whose experience is better is a key point of contention.
Just a week after the Nov. 4 election, Trainor’s camp produced a website, investigatewarren.com, that attacked Montgomery for serving as a defense attorney for illegal immigrants and people accused of drug and sex crimes.
Montgomery countered with his own website, takedownthemachine.com, that accused Trainor of being part of a corrupt and misleading political establishment.
The runoff is Dec. 6.
Tammany coroner backs Trainor in runoff election
Add another St. Tammany Parish politician to the list of those endorsing Brian Trainor for district attorney.
Coroner Charles Preston, who was elected in the spring, threw his support behind Trainor in the latter’s runoff battle against Warren Montgomery to serve as DA of St. Tammany and Washington parishes.
“I trust Brian Trainor to restore integrity and accountability to the position of district attorney,” Preston said in a release issued by Trainor’s camp late this week.
Earlier in the week, Trainor picked up endorsements from Slidell Mayor Freddy Drennan, Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith and other leaders in Slidell. He also has the endorsement of Sheriff Jack Strain, for whom Trainor serves as chief deputy, though he is on leave while he campaigns.
If he wins, Trainor may want to seek Preston’s advice on how to pick up the pieces of an office wracked by investigations and scandal.
Current District Attorney Walter Reed, for whom Trainor formerly worked for eight years, has been beset by negative news reports and a federal investigation into his campaign spending. Reed announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t seek a sixth term.
Preston became the parish’s first elected coroner after the resignation of Peter Galvan, a three-term incumbent who is now serving a 24-month federal prison term — with another 12 months of state prison time to follow — for his misuse of public funds while in office.
Compiled by Faimon A. Roberts III