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Disbarment for ex-federal prosecutor in New Orleans

December 5, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former federal prosecutor whose anonymous online posts led to turmoil at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans and upended a high-profile police abuse case was disbarred Wednesday by Louisiana’s Supreme Court.

Sal Perricone was an assistant U.S. Attorney when his posts to the Times-Picayune newspaper’s website, nola.com, were exposed by defense lawyers for a businessman whose landfill business was under investigation. He used pseudonyms including “Henry L. Mencken 1951” and “legacyusa” as he posted comments on that case and other issues.

The landfill probe was dropped and Perricone resigned in 2012, as did Jan Mann, another prosecutor found to have made improper posts. Their boss, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten — popular for high-profile prosecutions including the conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards — stepped down as well. He was not implicated in the postings.

Perricone, 67, voluntarily resigned from federal court practice but had hoped to avoid state disbarment. At an October hearing his lawyer said post-traumatic stress disorder, arising from his years in law enforcement in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, contributed to his poor decisions.

Attorney Kirk Granier said Perricone suffered 47 traumatic incidents over his career. They included his being physically attacked and shot at by criminal suspects, and his presence at multiple murder scenes.

“Respondent’s own testimony reveals he was aware that he should not post these comments, yet he decided to do so anyway. Clearly, any mental disability from which respondent suffered did not prevent him from knowing his actions were wrong,” the high court said in an order that called disbarment the “only appropriate sanction” for Perricone.

Over the years, various defense attorneys pointed to the prosecutor’s anonymous, improper online comments in attempts to aid their clients who were charged when Perricone and Mann were in office. Most met with little or no success.

However, Perricone’s comments were cited by a New Orleans federal judge who overturned the convictions of five former police officers connected to deadly shootings of unarmed people at New Orleans’ Danziger Bridge following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The judge ordered a new trial for four officers connected to the shooting and one tied to a subsequent cover-up. The five eventually reached plea deals.

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