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Prosecutors' web posts at issue again in politician's appeal of conviction in charity scandal


NEW ORLEANS — The lawyer for a former Louisiana legislator convicted of corruption in 2011 told a federal appeals court Tuesday that she should get a new trial because a former prosecutor's then-anonymous online postings tainted the judicial process.

Arguing on behalf of imprisoned former state Rep. Renee Gill Pratt, defense lawyer Michael Fawer told a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that there is no way to quantify how much of an effect the online posting had on the New Orleans Democrat's trial. He said the misconduct itself was so "extensive and pernicious" that there should be a "presumption of prejudice."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone resigned in 2012 after it was revealed that he and other prosecutors had posted online comments about various cases. Defense lawyers in several high-profile cases have tried with little success to use the resulting scandal to seek new trials. In a decision recently upheld by the 5th Circuit, a judge ruled that five former police officers deserve a new trial in connection with deadly shootings of unarmed civilians following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

But others convicted of corruption, including Gill Pratt and former Mayor Ray Nagin, have so far failed to win new trials. Nagin is serving a 10-year sentence for corruption. Gill Pratt, who served in the state House and later on the New Orleans City Council, is serving a sentence of four years and two months for racketeering conspiracy. She is currently due for release in April 2018.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Boitmann told the three-judge 5th Circuit panel that Perricone's behavior was improper. However, he noted that Perricone was not part of the prosecution team in Gill Pratt's case, and he outlined steps taken by the trial judge to make sure the jury was not prejudiced.

"Don't flip an untainted verdict to punish Sal Perricone," Boitmann said.

The judges, Carolyn Dineen King, James L. Dennis and Priscilla Owen, gave no indication when they would rule.

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