NEW ORLEANS -- It’s time to gear up again for the trial of former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, and it appears the third time should be the last.
Wednesday’s pre-trial gathering of Nagin’s attorneys, federal prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan is expected to either lead shortly to a guilty plea by the former mayor or lock the parties in for a final showdown in court starting Jan. 27.
Sources tell WWL-TV that little has changed since the last near-miss in October, when Berrigan granted Nagin a delay just three days before the trial was to start. In other words: Even though the government’s offer to reduce the charges and thus limit potential jail time has stood through one rejection after another, Nagin remains as determined as ever to fighting the 21-felony counts of bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and fraud, while the government has its stable of witnesses ready to testify against the former mayor.
But these same sources also agree that this week, with the meeting in Berrigan’s chambers as a centerpiece, is likely the pivot-point in whether there is a deal or a trial.
“They have had their opportunity, the trial is set. If this doesn’t get scheduled in the next few days for a re-arraignment and guilty plea proceeding, I would expect that everyone’s ready for trial,” said Loyola Law Professor Dane Ciolino.
Berrigan has encouraged the sides to resolve the case without a trial and her decision to wait until the last moment to delay the trial a third time was seen as a last-ditch effort to bring Nagin to the negotiating table.
But Ciolino said she cannot and won’t really have much influence in that regard.
“I’m not sure she can do much more,” he said. “She certainly can’t actively interject herself into those discussions and in my experience, she doesn’t do that. So, if this is going to get resolved, it’s going to get resolved by Mr. Nagin and these lawyers without any assistance from Judge Berrigan.”
Even before the January 18, 2013 indictment, many wondered if the feds would use their ace in the hole to get Nagin to deal: By charging Nagin’s sons for their role in allegedly accepting money and other freebies on their father’s behalf, using the countertop installation business they all owned together to receive and disguise bribes.
But Ciolino and many others now believe that ship, too, has sailed.
“This case has been pending for a long time. It’s been under investigation even longer,” he said. “If at this late stage the government were to proceed with indictments against those men, it would appear heavy-handed and to be done as something out of spite to punish the mayor for exercising his constitutional right to go to trial or to force a plea.”
Jeremy and Jarin Nagin’s attorney, Clarence Roby Jr., echoed those sentiments.
If the government were to charge the sons at this point, “it would be quite unfortunate because I would rather that decision had been made long ago,” Roby said. “They’ve had ample time to do it.”