NEW ORLEANS - Disgraced former federal prosecutors Jan Mann and Sal Perricone, whose online comments tainted cases and led to new trials, have taken plea bargains of a sort, with both agreeing to permanently resign from practicing law in the Eastern District of Louisiana federal court “in lieu of discipline.”
The disciplinary cases against Mann and Perricone have been under seal for weeks, but U.S. District Chief Judge Sarah Vance unsealed the resignation documents Thursday.
Further discipline may well be in the works for Mann and Perricone. Currently, both are members in good standing with the Louisiana Bar Association, meaning they can practice in local courts around the state.
“My office is obviously aware of the issues involving Mr. Perricone and Ms. Mann,” said Charles Plattsmier, chief disclipinary counsel for the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. “The matter is currently under review.”
The documents unsealed in federal court Thursday state that Mann and Perricone each petitioned the court to be allowed to resign from the federal court rolls rather than receive discipline. Judge Jay Zainey granted Mann’s request on March 25 and Judge Martin Feldman granted Perricone’s request on April 3.
A letter filed by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office last Thursday notified the court that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility had completed an investigation into Mann and Perricone’s actions. The results of that probe have not been made public; it is not clear whether that report was used in determining the appropriate punishment for Mann and Perricone.
Both former prosecutors admitted in 2012 that they posted comments about active cases under news stories on nola.com. Judge Kurt Engelhardt said that amounted to “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” and ordered a new trial for five police officers who had been convicted in connection to the shooting of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
Defense attorneys Billy Gibbens and Kyle Schonekas aggressively pursued the unmasking of Perricone and Mann, who had posted their comments under online handles. Those revelations led both prosecutors to resign in 2012, along with their boss, longtime U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
Fallout from the scandal was certainly among the reasons the Justice Department decided to drop a long-running and ambitious investigation into River Birch Landfill owners Fred Heebe and Jim Ward. The department also overturned the indictments of two Heebe associates.
And the current case against Stacey Jackson, the former head of a New Orleans house-gutting program, has been affected as well. Defense attorney Eddie Castaing has sought unsuccessfully to expose the identities of online commenters related to Jackson’s indictment.
But now that the Office of Professional Responsibility investigation is complete, Castaing asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson on Thursday to release those findings.
As far as the pending state discipline, Plattsmier said his office took the view that “the matters pending in the federal court needed to be addressed first, because that’s where the conduct occurred.” He said his office is “actively reviewing” the matter with lawyers representing Mann and Perricone.
The Attorney Disciplinary Board could seek a similar deal with the two former prosecutors to the one struck in federal court; it’s also possible, should no resolution be reached, that the disciplinary board could file formal charges. Plattsmier declined to speculate on what punishment the board will mete out.
“The full range of disciplines are certainly available,” he said. “It would be premature for anyone to speak about what might be the outcome.”
Messages left for Mann’s and Perricone’s attorneys were not immediately returned.