James Gill: Freudian slip trips up Nagin lawyer

Freudian slips don’t get more telling than this.

The one person Robert Jenkins did not want to bring to mind, as he penned a motion seeking a break for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, had to be Mark St. Pierre.

Jenkins wanted attention focused on former Gov. Edwin Edwards, who, he claimed, was badder than Nagin. Edwards got 10 years for racketeering, and it would be a grave injustice, according to Jenkins, for Nagin to get the significantly longer stretch that a pre-sentencing report evidently calls for.

Jenkins must have feared wisenheimers might figure a better yardstick would be the 171/2-year sentence imposed on St. Pierre, one of several city contractors who paid off Nagin and the only one to plead not guilty.

The possibility of such an odious comparison apparently played on Jenkins’ mind, for, halfway through the motion, “Mr. St. Pierre” appears without warning and is never heard of again. Perhaps it would help Nagin’s quest for a shorter sentence than the guidelines call for if St. Pierre’s were seen as excessive, but Jenkins is silent on that issue.

After aborted plea negotiations, the usual blizzard of motions and a long and intense trial, he just got his client’s name wrong. No matter. If Nagin is as on the ball as he was in City Hall, he probably didn’t notice.

He probably did notice, however, that St. Pierre had reason to regret fighting the charges against him when he was convicted on all 53 counts in 2011. Nagin nevertheless passed up a deal that would have given him a couple of years and wound up convicted on all but one of the 21 counts he faced. As an elected official at the center of a corrupt network, Nagin is a logical candidate for more time than any accomplice.

That is the conclusion of the pre-sentencing report; according to Jenkins’ motion, 10 years is “approximately one half of the low end of the Total Offense Level and guideline calculation” in Nagin’s case. Thus, Jenkins notes, the pre-sentence report recommends a “virtual life sentence” for Nagin, who just turned 58.

That also seemed to be the case with Edwards, who was 75 when he went to prison, although it didn’t turn out that way. Edwards, at 87, is running for Congress.

One of the reasons that Jenkins seeks a reduced sentence for Nagin, is that his 15-year-old daughter needs his attention. Edwards could not make a similar argument when he was sentenced, but sure could if he ever got into trouble again now that he has an infant son.

But paternal obligations are seldom enough for federal judges to go easy, which is yet another reason Jenkins can have had no intention of mentioning St. Pierre. His children were 12 and 15 when he was convicted.

Harping on Edwards, however, could backfire too, for the analogy hardly strengthens Nagin’s case. Edwards was, as Jenkins observes, a “higher ranking” public official, but he was out of office when most of his crimes were committed, whereas Nagin was mayor the entire time.

Edwards likes to point out that he was never found guilty of pocketing public money, and now Jenkins asserts that “the funding for the alleged bribery” in Nagin’s case “came from sources outside of city government and tax dollars.”

The argument did hold a certain amount of water for Edwards, who took a truckload of cash from scuzzy characters seeking a leg-up in the competition for state riverboat gambling licenses. They were just asking to be shaken down.

St. Pierre and the other businessmen who bribed Nagin were equally willing, but they were playing with the taxpayer’s money. It’s no sweat to pay off the mayor when he can hand out wildly inflated contracts at whim.

Jenkins begins his motion by explaining to Judge Ginger Berrigan at some length that she has the discretion to impose a lighter sentence than federal guidelines specify. No doubt she is grateful for that intelligence, but nobody would want to be in St. Pierre’s shoes right now.

Whoops! It’s true that nobody would envy St. Pierre right now, so it’s easy to get mixed up. But make that Nagin’s shoes.

James Gill’s email address is jgill@theadvocate.com.