Sal Perricone

Sal Perricone

Schadenfreude is an unworthy emotion, even when adversity strikes a man with a prodigious talent for causing offense.

As a former cop, FBI agent and federal prosecutor, Sal Perricone was all about putting people behind bars, so he had made many enemies to be proud of. But a dim view of Perricone was by no means limited to the criminal classes once he was unmasked as the snarkiest and most prolific troll on a website affiliated with what was then the largest newspaper in Louisiana.

Perricone, when working as an assistant U.S. attorney in New Orleans, used at least five aliases to issue a barrage of personal insults, but it would be picayunish to withhold sympathy for his discomfiture on that account. In fact, if you were a defense attorney, politician or a journalist, you hadn't arrived until one or other of Perricone's alter egos unloaded on you.

Now that the disciplinary proceedings against him have finally reached a conclusion, a pang of sympathy may not be out of place. As Justice Scott Crichton observed in concurring with the state Supreme Court ruling that disbarred him, Perricone has received “essentially a legal profession death sentence.” He is 67, and cannot even apply for reinstatement for five years.

Not that he can blame anyone but himself. Of the 2,600 comments he posted, the vast majority were not about pending federal cases, and there was no need for such a self-professed tough guy as Perricone to hide behind a pseudonym when opining, say, on LSU football.

But in 200 or so posts, Perricone took highly prejudicial positions on pending federal prosecutions. He couldn't do that under his own name; as an assistant U.S. attorney, Perricone was supposed to dummy up.

Perricone gave up the right to practice in the federal Eastern District of Louisiana but tried to remain active in the Middle District, claiming that, because he had been taking the sleep drug Ambien, he could hardly remember posting. He also argued that the Justice Department rule forbidding assistant U.S. attorneys to make “extrajudicial statements” that might deny defendants a fair trial was a violation of his own rights under the First Amendment. That theory was so bizarre that he was promptly banned.

Perricone's online taunts had forced federal judge Kurt Engelhardt to overturn the convictions of the cops who shot unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the Katrina aftermath — they later received much-reduced sentences — and derailed an investigation of the hugely lucrative and allegedly crooked landfill business in Jefferson Parish. The harm he did to the criminal justice system underscores the wisdom of the rule. If professional ethics impose modest limits on free speech, that is a reasonable price to pay for due process.

Perricone did not rely on the Ambien defense as the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, and later the Supreme Court, pondered his fate. This time he argued that, as a result of the grisly scenes he had witnessed as a cop, he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. That cut no ice, however, because it was acknowledged that he knew what he was doing was wrong.

After the Supreme Court disbarred him, Perricone declared, “Those of you who relish in this decision are just as corrupt as the state of Louisiana” — his reasoning being every bit as creaky as his syntax — and vowed to “speak my mind consistent with the First Amendment.” Whether anyone will care what he has to say is the big question.

Perricone must be glad that as his case wended its way through the system, there was no court insider with a false name to offer the kind of running commentary he used to pen in his days as a prosecutor. There was nobody to gloat, “Perricone's goose is cooked,” as he wrote of Fred Heebe, the Jefferson Parish landfill owner who went on to finger him as the demon troll of nola.com. Perricone was wrong about that; the investigation of Heebe was abandoned.

“Archie, your time is up,” legacyusa, aka Perricone, wrote of a cop charged in the Danziger Bridge massacre. So is yours, Sal.