James Gill: Is Broussard’s rise Buddy Lemann’s fault? _lowres

Advocate staff photo by Jim Mustian -- Defense attorney Arthur "Buddy" Lemann walks of of the Federal courthouse in New Orleans Wednesday, November 5, 2014. He had been defending former New Orleans police Officer Donald Nides in a case there. Nides killed himself last night.

Perhaps you are wondering how former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, two years into a 46-month federal prison sentence, could afford to hire such a leading light of the defense bar as Buddy Lemann.

The answer is he couldn’t. Lemann provided his services gratis on the whimsical grounds that Broussard’s predicament is all his fault.

Lemann did not succeed in getting Broussard’s guilty plea set aside, but he pursued the case all the way to the federal appeals court. That level of representation normally costs enough to make the most prosperous felon blanch. It certainly would be way beyond Broussard’s means.

But, in a letter from the pen, Brossard pointed out that he wouldn’t have been in a position to betray the public trust had Lemann not gotten him into politics in the first place.

That was 40 years ago, when Lemann was teaching law at Loyola, and Broussard was one of the students whose aid he enlisted in his campaign for president of the Young Democrats of Louisiana. Lemann won that election, but it was Broussard, exposed to politics for the first time, who wound up hooked. After that, he was never out of public office in Jefferson Parish until he resigned the presidency as the grand jury closed in five years ago.

Once prison loomed, Broussard declared he would preach the Gospel there. If he followed through on that plan, many of the other inmates must have wished him well in his efforts to get out.

Alas, they will either have to earn their own release or put up with him until he completes his sentence. Persuading the courts to set aside a guilty plea is always a tall order, but the judges of the federal appeals court did not so much reject Broussard’s petition as give him the bum’s rush.

Lemann says he was yet to unpack his briefcase the day after oral arguments when he got the bad news. Lemann had argued that Broussard might not have been advised to plead guilty had the ethical failings of the U.S. Attorney’s Office been fully revealed to his trial attorney, Robert Jenkins.

But prosecutor Sal Perricone already had lost his job for posting pseudonymous comments online about pending cases when Broussard went on trial. By the time he came up for sentencing, Perricone’s supervisor, Jan Mann, had been exposed for playing the same game and soon would be out the door too, as would U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.

The judges evidently did not see what else Broussard needed to know in order to decide whether to cop a plea or go to trial. Besides, any defendant pleading guilty in federal court is required to swear up and down that he did indeed do the crime and understands that this will bring proceedings to a close.

Broussard in any case would have been crazy to fight the 27 counts in his indictment, when prosecutors had a string of witnesses and documents to prove that he was just another crooked politician. In the event, he got a pretty good deal when prosecutors agreed to let him plead guilty to just two counts. Had Lemann managed to have the plea withdrawn, he had no desire for a retrial. His hope was to have the case remanded to the trial court and get Broussard released for time served.

Broussard admitted arranging a do-nothing parish job for his wife and taking bribes from a contractor. This confirmed that religious zeal can go hand in hand with a larcenous disposition, and few politicians have been so keen to praise the Lord as Broussard, a veteran of the Medjugorje pilgrimage and a regular at Manresa, the Jesuit retreat in Convent. It was thus no shock, when preparing to begin his 46-month sentence two years ago, he vowed to spread the word behind bars.

Broussard used to have plenty of fans in Jefferson Parish, else he would not have survived in office so long. But, if Lemann bears any responsibility for Broussard’s political career, few are likely to thank him for it now.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.