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December 6, 2012

"U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigns amid online commenting scandal in his office"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable federal criminal justice story out of New Orleans.  Here are the highlights:

Amid a metastasizing scandal in his office, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten announced his resignation at a news conference Thursday morning, ending an 11-year run in the post.  He was the nation's longest-serving U.S. Attorney, having been kept in the job by President Barack Obama despite his Republican Party affiliation.

Letten said his resignation would be effective Tuesday, but that he would stay on briefly -- not as head of the office -- to aid in the transition.  He delivered an emotional, 10-minute speech in which he spoke of his pride in having served for more than a decade as the region's top federal law enforcement officer....

Dana Boente, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, will serve as Letten's interim replacement, the Justice Department announced in a release issued shortly after Letten's news conference.  Boente has been a federal prosecutor for 28 years, according to the release.   The news release also said that John Horn, First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, will investigate leaks and other matters in the Danziger Bridge case, a probe that U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt requested in a tartly worded Nov. 26 order.

The series of moves comes eight months into a scandal revolving around anonymous online commenting by high-ranking prosecutors in his office, including the shocking revelation that Letten's longtime First Assistant, Jan Mann, was involved.

The troubles for Letten began in March, when landfill owner Fred Heebe -- the target of a sprawling federal probe -- filed a civil lawsuit alleging that prosecutor Sal Perricone had been using an online alias to savage him and other federal targets in comments posted at NOLA.com.

Perricone, the office's senior litigation counsel and a member of Letten's inner circle, quickly admitted his sins and resigned.  The matter was referred to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility for investigation, and the scandal seemed to die down.  In an interview with New Orleans magazine published in August, Perricone insisted the commenting brouhaha started and ended with him, saying no one else in the office had been aware of his activities.

But last month, the scandal reignited with a vengeance, when Heebe filed a second defamation suit, this one claiming Mann had been commenting about federal targets and judges as "eweman" on NOLA.com.  Many of the comments by "eweman" were adjacent to comments made by Perricone under one of his online aliases, suggesting a coordinated campaign.

Mann soon admitted she had commented online at NOLA.com, but did not cop to a specific alias.  Letten, meanwhile, announced that she was being demoted from her ranking posts of First Assistant U.S. Attorney and chief of the office's criminal division. Mann did not step down, however, and the problems for Letten's office continued to mount.  Engelhardt -- who had asked for a full investigation into leaks in the Danziger Bridge case earlier this year -- issued a stinging order in late November in which he essentially accused Mann and Perricone of untruthfulness....

Ironically, Heebe -- the architect of Letten's downfall -- had been a leading candidate for the U.S. Attorney post after George W. Bush was elected president in 2000.  But his nomination foundered amid allegations of domestic abuse, and Letten, who had been the acting U.S. Attorney, ended up getting a presidential appointment.  Years later, Heebe would become a target of the office.

I cannot help but react to this story by wanting to remind all my students (not to mention all others) that one should be extra sure to think twice (and then a couple more times) about any comments being made online if and whenever one needs a pseudonym to be willing to make such comments.

December 6, 2012 at 06:16 PM | Permalink

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Comments

If you will search my comments, you will surely find my strongest urging several times, that all innocent federal defendants seek total e-discovery of all government thug computers, work, and private. The reason would be to search for an improper motive. The other aim is to search for child porn, and to refer it to the FBI.

No defense lawyer has ever done that because the defense bar owes its job not to the defendant but to their pals, the prosecutors. They may actually be personal friends having once worked in the prosecutor's office. That is why all defendants should have a second lawyer, an expert in lawyer malpractice to terrorize the defense lawyer traitor into carrying out his full duty to the defendant.

This is never done, but not so extreme, according to experience defense lawyers.

What absolutely no one else wants to do, ever ever, under no circumstances? Do e-discovery on the vermin filth on the bench. Only a pro se litigant will ever have the courage for that self-evident tactic.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 6, 2012 9:40:42 PM

True anonomity never existed on the internet and never can if it continues to function. Heck, if the FBI can catch the director of the CIA then who is safe? No one.

I simply assume that whenever I post everyone already knows who I am even if I just go by Daniel. Which, for the record, is my real first name. The reason I don't use my full name is because I oppose systems of reputation. Ideas should be based not on the class or the personality that advocates them but on their cogency, logic, and truthfulness.

The tragedy is that for every person who wants to use the internet for good there is another poo tossing monkey who will hide behind a mask to slander, demean, and disparage others. The great irony, as these recent cases show, is that it is these same people who often hold the highest positions of public repute.

*Never trust a man with a public reputation* Those are the words you should be teaching your students, Doug.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 7, 2012 8:03:25 PM

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