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Federal judge to quiz jurors in Renee Gill Pratt's trial about online postings


NEW ORLEANS — Two members of the jury that convicted former New Orleans City Council member Renee Gill Pratt will have to answer questions related to the online commenting scandal that has plagued the U.S. attorney's office. Times Picayune reports ( U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle set a deadline of Aug. 1 for the jurors to report to the clerk's office to answer a written questionnaire about their service on panel that convicted Gill Pratt of racketeering. Following a hearing last month, Lemelle said he would determine how many jurors would need to be surveyed.

Lemelle's ruling to pursue the juror inquiry allowed Gill Pratt to remain out of prison just days before she was finally due to report to a federal lockup, after successfully avoiding custody since her indictment in 2009.

Gill Pratt's defense lawyer Michael Fawer said Monday that while both he and prosecutors have submitted questions they wanted to pose to jurors, he did not know what queries appear on the questionnaire. He also had hoped that more than just the two jurors who stated they read regularly.

"We wanted to talk to six or seven jurors, and depose several people in the U.S. Attorney's office," Fawer said.

The two jurors had said during jury selection that they read, where high-ranking members of the U.S. attorney's staff had posted comments about cases pending before the court.

The comments, posted under various aliases, led another judge to overturn the convictions of former New Orleans police officers charged with shooting unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and two of his top prosecutors, Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, left the office amid the fallout from the scandal, and Gill Pratt's attorney has sought to have the judge let him question other prosecutors to get the full scope of "who knew what, and when."

The judge in the Danziger Bridge case, Kurt Engelhardt, called the prosecutors' commenting "grotesque" misconduct in granting a new trial for the officers. Gill Pratt is not the first high-profile criminal defendants to cite the commenting scandal in hopes of winning a new trial.

In unsuccessful requests for appeals, former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard both have noted prosecutors in Letten's office made online comments that could have biased jurors against them.

Information from: The Times-Picayune,

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