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A New Orleans Tribune Editorial
We are delighted at the news that former mayor Ray Nagin’s trial has been postponed.
The continuance ostensibly allows additional time for all parties involved to better prepare for the trial.
Our agreement with the recent decision to delay the start of Nagin’s trial does not speak to any opinion regarding guilt or innocence, only to the concept of justice. And as this trial, which is set for Jan. 27, plays out, our one desire is that the former mayor receives a fair trial.
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan granted Nagin’s defense team request for a delay on Oct. 24, essentially saying the request for more time was justifiable so that the evidence in the case could be carefully and thoroughly examined.
If the government’s case is strong, then additional time will not hurt it. And Nagin and his attorney’s certainly have the right to meticulously examine any evidence against him. While Nagin has a right to a speedy trial, there is no requirement to rush the proceedings, especially if his team says they need more time.
Though happy with her recent decision, we were a bit surprised with one of Judge Berrigan’s earlier rulings wherein she denied the defense’s motion for a delay in the trial in the wake of the overturning of the verdicts in the Danzinger Bridge case. Defense attorneys were asking for time to determine whether the online comments of former U.S. attorneys Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, whose prosecutorial misconduct played a significant role in the overturning of the Danzinger verdicts, might have some impact on Nagin’s case since he too was the subject of some of Mann’s and Perricone’s vicious pseudonymous online comments.
One of Perricone’s comments went so far as to provide the some directions to Nagin’s home and suggest to readers that they visit him if they have a “penchant for firearms and how they work.”
We were especially taken aback by her characterization of Mann’s and Perricone’s scandalous, if not lawless behavior as “utterly juvenile postings” when those postings in fact had just dismantled the Danzinger case—which brought to justice five NOPD offices for their roles in the cover-up and murders of two innocent men and the wounding of several others as they searched for safety days in after Hurricane Katrina devastated this community. Those guilty verdicts brought some measure of closure to the families and the entire community. As such, there was hardly anything “juvenile” about the impact of Mann and Perricone’s reckless behavior. What they did was dangerous, serious and grievous. And to suggest that because they had also commented on Nagin that perhaps the government’s case against him had been tainted is not so far-fetched, we thought. All they had asked for was more time to examine the matter.
The Real Goal
During an interview with The New Orleans Tribune, newly-appointed U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite made a general comment that we are reminded of as we consider Nagin’s upcoming trial. In essence, he said that all too often the real purpose of a prosecutor’s office is misunderstood. There are those who believe the goal is to rack up prosecutions, to tally up wins. Well, Mr. Polite says it is not. The real goal is to seek justice. And we were left thinking, “man, that’s good—justice, justice.”
Unfortunately, in recent years, we have watched with mixed emotions as justice has been meted out in our community. Relentless high-profile prosecutions and persecutions of elected officials and others have allowed some to put a feather or two in their caps or notches in the belts, while others wait for justice with baited breath; and then when it is administered, they have had to watch as it is snatched away—from the Danzinger verdicts because of the injudicious behavior of federal prosecutors to the overturning of convictions in the murder of Anthony Glover, who was also killed by police officers in the wake of Katrina.
We even watched as one target of a federal prosecution was able to stop the wheels from turning. With his own money and power, Fred Heebe essentially blew the lid off of Jim Letten’s U.S. Attorney’s office, revealing the scandal that rocked it, sending all three—Letten, Mann and Perricone—out of the door.
The overturning of verdicts in the Danzinger and Glover case have been hard pills to swallow. Watching as Fred Hebee essentially turned the tables on the very office that seemed to want nothing more than to indict and prosecute him was fascinating and, even if only anecdotally, spoke to the ways that power and money can impact our system of justice.
That is why this trial should not be rushed and justice must never be haphazard. That is why prosecution is only the process; the truth has to be the tool; and justice must be the goal.
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