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Convicted ex-president of Jefferson Parish seeks hearing on prosecutors' misconduct in appeal

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NEW ORLEANS — An attorney for jailed former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard told federal appeals judges that Broussard is entitled to a hearing with testimony from former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and two former prosecutors concerning the online-commenting scandal that led to their resignations.

But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pressed attorney Arthur "Buddy" Lemann to say Tuesday exactly how the comments made online by Letten's assistants affected Broussard's 2012 guilty plea to charges related to a payroll fraud scheme and bribes.

The New Orleans Advocate reports that Lemann told the judges that if Broussard had known the depth of the unfolding posting scandal at the time, it would have improved his bargaining power (http://bit.ly/1DIyTds).

The appeals judges did not indicate when they would rule.

Broussard is due for release in September 2016. He is serving a 46-month sentence.

Broussard asked a year ago for his guilty plea and conviction to be thrown out, but a federal district judge denied the claim in July.

Lemann told appellate judges Edward Prado, Jerry Smith and Priscilla Owen that Judge Hayden Head didn't apply the appropriate legal standard to his client's claim that Letten's office prevented him from receiving effective counsel by not disclosing the extent of the scandal.

Counsel for the U.S. Attorney's Office told the panel that the comments had been public knowledge for as long as five months when Broussard entered his plea. In addition, government lawyers said, the comments were irrelevant to the facts in the case and should not cause a legitimate conviction to be thrown out.

The judges were intent on finding instances where comments actually prejudiced the case against Broussard.

"Tell us how that directly impacted the guilty plea," Owen asked at one point.

Prado asked Kevin Boitmann, a lawyer with the U.S. Attorney's Office, whether anything about the indictment was ever disclosed online in anonymous comments, and Boitmann responded that no such instance has been found.

In that scandal, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann and prosecutor Sal Perricone were found to have commented online about cases their office was pursuing, including the one against Broussard. Both prosecutors resigned — Perricone before Broussard pleaded guilty and Mann afterward — and Letten stepped down in late 2012.

Lemann dismissed the idea that prosecutors' comments on other cases were unrelated to Broussard's case.

"I know in my heart of hearts that I could prove in an evidentiary hearing that the real target (in the Broussard case) was Fred Heebe," he said, referring to a prominent attorney and landfill operator. It was Heebe's attorneys who brought the online postings to light as his landfill operation was being investigated. He was never charged with wrongdoing.


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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