Former north shore District Attorney Walter Reed will face one trial this spring rather than the two he had sought, and he and his son, Steven Reed, will be tried together in the corruption case brought against them by federal prosecutors, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon ruled Tuesday on a raft of motions that attorneys for the Reeds filed last fall, including one that sought to separate counts related to Walter Reed’s dealings with a public hospital from those involved with his campaign spending and another that sought to give Steven Reed a separate trial.
Fallon denied those motions and most of the others.
However, the defense did succeed in persuading the judge to strip some language from the 19-count indictment on the grounds that it was prejudicial.
Fallon removed three paragraphs from the 32-page indictment. But he did not dismiss any of the counts against Walter Reed, who served as district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes for 30 years.
Reed did not seek a sixth term in the face of a federal investigation that resulted in his indictment in April on counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and filing false statements on income taxes.
The case against Reed rests on the claim that he fattened his personal coffers by helping himself to taxpayer money and converting campaign cash to his personal use.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a superseding indictment in October that added another wire fraud charge focused on a $25,000 donation Reed made from his campaign fund to Faith Tabernacle Church, a Pentecostal church in Franklinton. Prosecutors said the money actually was payment for a referral of private legal work that the church’s pastor, Jerry Wayne Cox, steered to Reed.
Fallon had earlier denied a motion by Reed’s attorney, Richard Simmons, to dismiss the bulk of the case against Reed on the basis that the counts related to campaign spending are federal overreach because state, not federal, law governs campaign spending.
Simmons filed a motion requesting Fallon to reconsider that decision. But Fallon on Tuesday denied that motion and another one to dismiss the new count involving Faith Tabernacle.
In other motions, Reed asked for two separate trials, arguing that the counts related to campaign spending and those related to his dealings with St. Tammany Parish Hospital are distinct from one another and combining them in a single trial would undermine his right to properly defend himself.
Reed’s attorney said his client may wish to testify in his own defense against some charges but not others. Reed’s testimony regarding the hospital is critical, his attorney contends, because only he can testify about his understanding that his deal with the hospital was with him as a private lawyer — not with the District Attorney’s Office — and about communications between him and Paul Cordes, the now-deceased chairman of the hospital’s board.
But when it comes to the campaign counts, Simmons said, Reed has a strong need to stay off the stand “to prevent the government from launching a character assassination against him, which will likely prejudice the jury,” and also to limit the government’s opportunity to call past romantic partners to testify “who have nothing but scandal to add to this case,” Fallon noted in his ruling.
The judge called the argument about what a potential witness might say “entirely speculative” and said the need for judicial economy outweighs Reed’s interest in having a free choice with respect to testifying.
The defense scored a small victory in the language that will be removed. All three paragraphs were in the lengthy conspiracy count.
Fallon’s ruling said two of the paragraphs qualified as inflammatory, confusing and/or prejudicial because they effectively alleged “honest services” fraud and violations of state campaign finance disclosure regulations — neither of which was charged in the indictment.
The paragraphs created the perception of additional charges and victims by alluding to a scheme to defraud the public and the Louisiana Board of Ethics, the judge wrote.
Another paragraph was booted because the judge deemed it potentially confusing to a jury. Fallon said it strongly implied that campaign expenditures must be used solely for campaign purposes, when in fact, the money also can be legitimately used for expenditures related to holding office.
Simmons said his concern was that the language was confusing to a potential jury and to the public. The allegation is that Reed defrauded his campaign contributors — not the public or the state, he said. Campaign money is not public money, Simmons stressed.
Fallon, however, did not remove as much language from the indictment as the defense sought. The defense targeted eight additional areas. For example, it argued that multiple phrases that call specific expenditures “unrelated to the campaign of the defendant” are prejudicial misstatements of the law.
But Fallon said those phrases were not statements of law but factual allegations concerning transactions that were part of a scheme to defraud.
The Reeds are scheduled to go to trial on April 18.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.