Stephanie Grace: Reed’s defense sounds a lot like Nagin’s

Something about Walter Reed’s three-page plea for privacy and understanding sounded so familiar.

Following months of damning media reports on all matter of questionable professional, political and personal behavior, the St. Tammany and Washington parishes DA finally responded last week — right at the height of the hubbub over former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s sentencing for effectively trading his position for personal gain.

That’s when it hit me. For someone who wants people to believe he’s no Ray Nagin, Reed’s defense sounded an awful lot like, well, Ray Nagin.

Even after being convicted by a jury, Nagin continued to insist he was the good guy in the mix, the put-upon leader who was entirely focused on fighting for the citizens of New Orleans in its darkest days, even as everyone was sniping at him.

Reed seems to suffer from good-guy syndrome as well, insisting that, noise aside, “the most important measurement for the citizens of St. Tammany and Washington parishes is whether our office is ensuring the safety of our citizens and their community. I, along with my staff, will continue to ... meet those high expectations despite time consuming and often unnecessary distractions by those with their own personal and professional agendas.”

Never mind that some of the stories on Reed have focused specifically on whether he was actually fulfilling his duties. Like the time Reed recused the office from prosecuting a negligent homicide case because he was representing the victims’ family in a lawsuit as a private lawyer. He’d later boast of winning a $2.4 million settlement, a figure that must have earned him quite a cut.

Like Nagin, Reed insists on the right to private business dealings, even when they raise clear questions over propriety, or worse. Nagin sought work for and investment in the family granite business from contractors and others with business before the city. Reed had a supposedly outside deal to provide legal counsel for St. Tammany Parish Hospital but would sometimes send an assistant DA to meetings in his place. It’s unclear whether the assistant was paid by Reed or the taxpayers.

Nagin also refused to acknowledge that others saw helping his relatives — in this case, the grown sons with whom he’d set up the granite business — as a way to curry favor with him. Meanwhile, Reed acts as if his brother’s job at the same public hospital is nobody’s business, although emails from hospital administrators suggest they felt pressure to keep him on payroll even if they didn’t have enough work for him to do.

Nagin used to whine about the press’ expectation that he’d comply with public records law and fulfill requests and even talked of cold-cocking a reporter he thought was too much in his business (That reporter, Lee Zurik, now of WVUE, happens to be one of many on the Reed story as well.) Reed complained in his statement of being “inundated” by requests but said his office has worked to fulfill them, even though they’ve “created a drain on my office’s resources and a distraction from the primary function of administering justice in the Courts.” He went on to list the many ways in which he thinks the requests are irrelevant, improper or off point and to dismiss coverage as “personal attacks” and “sensationalism.”

As with Nagin, the feds don’t seem to think so. They’ve convened a grand jury, conducted interviews and visited his office. They’ve also subpoenaed the lawyer who attended those hospital meetings, as well as documents concerning Reed’s campaign committee’s payments to his son, allegedly for catering a fundraiser for which it’s not at all clear he provided commensurate goods and services.

The key difference between the two pols, of course, is that Nagin is headed to prison for 10 years, while Reed has not been charged with a crime. Perhaps he never will be.

Even so, if Reed chooses to run for re-election this fall, he’ll have to come up with something better than playing the poor, picked-on victim. The voters have heard it all too many times before.

Stephanie Grace can be contacted at sgrace@theadvocate.com. Read her blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/gracenotes. Follow her on Twitter @stephgracenola.