Prosecutors' website scandal revived in imprisoned official's appeal

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NEW ORLEANS — An online-posting scandal that led to the resignation of a once-popular U.S. attorney will be revived Tuesday in the appeal of a former Louisiana official serving prison time for bribery and payroll fraud.

Aaron Broussard is the former president of Jefferson Parish, which borders New Orleans. He pleaded guilty to two criminal counts in 2012 and was sentenced to nearly four years in prison.

In an appeal set for a hearing at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Broussard's defense claims he was denied effective counsel because his lawyer at the time was kept in the dark about the extent of prosecutors' misconduct. That misconduct included alleged leaks and anonymous comments prosecutors made about various cases — including Broussard's — on a newspaper's website.

Broussard's appeal briefs cite numerous comments by former assistant U.S. attorneys Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, who were revealed to be anonymous posters on Nola.com, the site of The Times-Picayune.

Perricone and Mann both left the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2012. Their boss at the time, Jim Letten, who rose to prominence in successfully prosecuting former Gov. Edwin Edwards and other public officials, also resigned. He was never accused of making online postings.

Broussard is due for release in September 2016. His current attorney, Arthur Lemann, wants the 5th Circuit to order a district judge to hold an evidentiary hearing on issues involving the online postings and alleged leaks about the investigation, in hopes of either vacating Broussard's conviction or reducing the sentence.

Perricone's postings had become public knowledge by the time Broussard entered his September 2012 plea. Mann's did not become public knowledge until November 2012. Lemann says former Broussard attorney Robert Jenkins' lack of information about the depth of the scandal rendered his legal advice that Broussard should plead guilty ineffective.

Lemann's briefs note that the anonymous postings were a major reason that a U.S. district judge threw out the convictions of five New Orleans police officers implicated in the Danziger Bridge case — the shootings of unarmed civilians amid the post-Hurricane Katrina chaos and the subsequent cover-up. Federal prosecutors are appealing the Danziger ruling.

In the Broussard case, prosecutors say in briefs that Broussard has failed to show how the comments that Mann or Perricone posted related to an "ineffective counsel" argument. They note that Lemann would like the opportunity to question Letten about the case in an evidentiary hearing but add that Lemann "fails to explain how any information obtained would help prove that his lawyer rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance."

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