Danziger judge was one of prosecutor’s online targets, and other New Orleans area political news

Jan Mann
Jan Mann

Most of the discussion about the online-commenting scandal at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans has revolved around what prosecutors said about criminal defendants or targets, and how it might have prejudiced the cases against them.

But Jan Mann and Sal Perricone, the most active participants in the scandal, sometimes liked to share their pseudonymous opinions about federal judges, too — including, on one memorable occasion, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

That’s the judge who last week threw out the convictions of five former New Orleans police officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge shootings and subsequent cover-up, largely on the basis of the prosecutors’ inappropriate commenting.

It was Jan. 28, 2012, and Engelhardt had just declared a mistrial in the government’s case against former NOPD Sgt. Gerard Dugue, accused of aiding in the Danziger cover-up.

Dugue’s lawyer, Claude Kelly, asked for the mistrial after lead prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein uttered the word “Robair” in open court — a reference to a separate police-misconduct case that Engelhardt had told her to avoid.

Mann, posting under the online name “eweman,” suggested the ruling reflected the close friendship between Engelhardt and Kelly, a notion that doubtless rankled Engelhardt, whose strict adherence to courtroom protocol is well known.

Here’s what Mann wrote: “This Judge declared a mistrial because his best buddy the defense attorney asked for it as a result of the butt whippin’ his client was taking on the stand. Dugue was committing perjury right and left and was on the ropes going down. I would venture to guess that never in the history of the republic has a judge declared a mistrial because a prosecutor said a name ‘Robair’ to her colleague. If the Judge was concerned that the jury heard the name and didn’t want it to come out all he had to do was question each juror individually and see if any of them had heard the name and if it meant anything to any of them. Simple procedure used often in trials. I guarantee most of the jurors would have said they hadn’t heard it and if any of them did hear they didn’t know what she was referring to. The defense attorney knew he was about to lose and hit the Eject button plain and simple and his friend the Judge gave him a way out.”

Claude Kelly, Dugue’s attorney, declined to comment on the posting, citing the fact that his client’s case is still open. Kelly filed a motion to dismiss Dugue’s indictment, which Engelhardt has not yet ruled on.

Strange bedfellows in the Vieux Carre

Talk about lions lying down with lambs. The recently announced list of patrons for the upcoming gala of the Vieux Carre Commission Foundation contains so many startling names that it reads like a page from a satirical magazine.

The foundation, formerly known as the Friends of the Vieux Carre Commission, “was created to support and further the charge of the Vieux Carre Commission in order to protect and preserve not only the French Quarter’s invaluable and historic architectural heritage, but also the ‘tout ensemble’ of the Quarter’s distinctive environment,” according to its website.

So how in the world did “Mike Motwani and Family” become the “presenting sponsor” for the fundraising event to be held Oct. 7 at Galatoire’s?

In the eyes of many French Quarter preservationists, Motwani, also known as the king of French Quarter T-shirt shops, is pretty close to Public Enemy No. 1. They have long accused him and other members of his family of flouting VCC regulations and city laws, ignoring preservation values and displaying little or no concern for the district’s architectural heritage and distinctive environment.

According to a report presented just last week to the City Council by a residential organization, there are more than 60 T-shirt shops in the French Quarter and almost two-thirds of them are operating illegally.

The group, Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents & Associates Inc., called on the city to shut down noncompliant shops and issue citations to those with illegal displays.

The alleged violators — many of them in Motwani-owned buildings — operate mainly along Bourbon, Royal, Canal and Decatur streets.

Nor is Motwani’s the only name on the list that is perplexing some Vieux Carre activists. One said Friday that “I saw this (invitation) for the first time this morning and my head almost exploded.”

Listed among the “silver patrons” is the Bourbon Heat, a nightclub whose owner, Angelo Farrell, battled the commission and the city for months over allegedly illegal work he did while renovating his bar at 711 Bourbon.

Also listed among the patrons, along with many familiar names of preservation leaders and prominent business owners, are other Bourbon Street club operators and Sean Meenan, the Habana Outpost developer who would seem to have little reason to think kindly of the VCC after his project was held up for a year as the commission pressed for changes in its design.

But apparently the gala will be a night for forgetting all past differences.

Although it will be held at Galatoire’s, one of the city’s most fabled eateries, at least eight other top French Quarter restaurants will also be supplying food or beverages.

GOP headliners invited to conference in N.O.

The national Republican Leadership Conference will be coming to New Orleans in late May.

There’s no attendee list yet, but invitations have gone out to radio talker Rush Limbaugh and possible presidential candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Rep. Paul Ryan and senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, among others.

The event is scheduled to run May 29-31 at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside hotel at the foot of Poydras Street.