NEW ORLEANS -- The same by-the-book judge who presided over the case of former New Orleans police officers, accused in the post-Katrina shootings of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge, is now front and center in the investigation into two top federal prosecutors accused of wrongdoing.
In response to a motion for a new trial in the Danziger case, Judge Kurt Engelhardt ordered the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana to hand over more documents and evidence concerning improper online posting by former First Assistant Jan Mann and former senior prosecutor Sal Perricone.
"What I think Judge Engelhardt was most disappointed in, was that it was represented to him in court, in writings and orally, by members of the United States Attorneys Office that Sal Perricone was the only blogger," said Eyewitness News legal analyst Donald "Chick" Foret. "Judge Engelhardt now knows that wasn't true, that there was at least one other."
In a 50-page order filed Monday in Federal Court, Engelhardt references several hearings about Perricone's postings where Jan Mann was present and failed to acknowledge her on online commenting under the name "eweman."
In one letter to the court, dated October 19, 2012, Mann writes: "Prior to the Perricone incident, I was not a follower of nola.com and had no real sense of what was happening there. I believe that the Perricone incident was a valuable teaching moment for everyone about the perils of the Internet. We are now keenly aware of the potential for individuals posting and will remain vigilant for abuses."
Engelhardt points out, "Jan Mann was posting inappropriate comments on nola.com between November 2011 and March 2012. It is alleged that approximately 63 percent of the posts by "eweman" appear with comments by Perricone."
"She omitted explaining to the court exactly what she knew," said Foret. "Not only that, there is a direct quote in the opinion, which talks about that she was not a follower of nola.com. I don't know how Jan Mann is going to be able to reconcile the facts with what she put in her writing to Judge Engelhardt."
The judge urged the U.S. Department of Justice to seriously consider appointment of an independent counsel to review the activities of Perricone and Jan Mann.
Engelhardt wrote, "The Court has little confidence the Office of Professional Responsibility will fully investigate and come to conclusions with anywhere near the efficiency and certainty offered by suitable court-approved independent counsel. Should the DOJ determine not to proceed accordingly, the Court is left to proceed as it sees fit."
"There's the possibility that folks could be held in contempt of court," said Foret. "He could make a finding of prosecutorial misconduct. He talked about in his order, of perhaps prosecutable misconduct. Judge Engelhardt is going to find out what happened and I feel sorry for those who may have misstepped, whether it be ethically or perhaps even worse than that, any folks who may have committed any crimes."
Engelhardt also wrote about the possibility the online posting would overturn the Danziger verdicts.
"Prosecutorial misconduct in this case is a very near and present thing; however, the possibility of it ripening into grounds for relief remain somewhat distant."
Engelhardt sent copies of his order to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board of the Louisiana Bar Association and to the EDLA Lawyers Disciplinary Enforcement Committee.
The government now has 30 days to respond to the judge's order.