Polite unlikely to take reins before September, and other New Orleans political news

Orleans Parish criminal district court.
Orleans Parish criminal district court.

Polite confirmation unlikely before recess

It is considered just a matter of time before Kenneth Polite Jr. is confirmed as the new U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.

But there are still some procedural steps that must occur, and it’s starting to look increasingly unlikely that Polite will receive Senate confirmation before Congress takes its August recess.

The Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed that Polite recently returned his formal questionnaire answers, but the Republicans still need to review his background materials before a committee meeting is held and his name is sent to the Senate floor.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is “hopeful” the Judiciary Committee will meet and send Polite through before the August break, according to her staffers. But final Senate confirmation is unlikely until September at the earliest.

Unlike judicial nominees who are questioned during committee hearings, Polite would not have to attend the Judiciary Committee’s meeting.

Polite was just the second U.S. attorney nominated this year by President Barack Obama, who made the nomination June 27. Just over a month prior, Obama made another nomination for Illinois that is still awaiting Senate confirmation as well.

Dana Boente, of the Eastern District of Virginia, has been serving as the interim U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana since Jim Letten — then the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the nation — stepped down in December.

Tammany coroner breaks silence

To say St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan has been tight-lipped with the media for months would be an understatement. The embattled coroner hasn’t returned calls for comment on everything from a recall petition drive to demands by parish officials that he resign and questions about spending at his public office.

But Galvan broke his silence this week, issuing an email response to The Advocate’s request for comment on the $258,922 his office has spent on lawyers over the past six months.

That story ran July 13, and while Galvan did not respond to calls made before the story ran, he weighed in nearly a week later.

“I am frustrated and equally disappointed that this office has had to incur substantial legal costs to defend itself and its mission against attacks from the Legislature and the Parish Government,” he wrote.

“The litigation pending in Baton Rouge and in the Twenty-Second Judicial District Court is both time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, we are obligated to respond to a burdensome number of public records requests that have been made over the past one and a half years. We are complying fully with every obligation imposed on us dealing with the public’s trust and will continue to do so.

“I remain confident that in time the Citizens of St. Tammany will understand the reason for defending this office’s purpose and productivity,” he said.

Galvan has sued to challenge a new state law that seeks to strip away his financial authority over his office’s finances. He’s also fought the state legislative auditor in court to resist providing email communications from within his office.

The email sent to The Advocate Thursday came through Charles Branton, a lawyer who is one of the six whose pay was detailed in the July 13 story.

Trial for NOAH figure pushed back

The trial of Stacey Jackson, the central figure in the NOAH scandal that rocked former Mayor Ray Nagin’s administration five years ago, has been pushed back by a couple of months.

Jackson faces charges that she took kickbacks from contractors who worked for the City Hall-funded house-gutting program — some of whom didn’t do the work the city paid them for.

Jackson’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, requested the delay in part so that he could file “at least two substantive motions” — one questioning whether the government indicted Jackson before the five-year statute of limitations expires; and one alleging “prejudicial misconduct” on the part of the government.

Castaing’s motion, which was not opposed by prosecutors, notes that the charges were filed five years to the day after some of the criminal acts the government alleges Jackson committed. It also indicates Castaing intends to explore whether two former top prosecutors’ habit of anonymous sniping beneath news stories is grounds for quashing the indictment.

The online-commenting scandal led to the resignations of Jan Mann and Sal Perricone, two of Letten’s top lieutenants, and to Letten’s departure as well.

Perricone apparently commented at least once on the NOAH scandal in 2008, mocking Nagin in crude dialect in comments left under the “campstblue” alias.

Another defendant in the NOAH scandal, contractor Richard Hall, sought to use those comments to have the charges against him tossed. A judge refused to go along, and Hall eventually pleaded guilty in the scheme.

Castaing’s motion — which also said he needed more time to prepare to defend such a complex case — was granted by U.S. District Court Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon. The trial had been set for Aug. 26; she set a new trial date of Oct. 28.

That’s just three weeks after Nagin’s own trial on corruption charges is set to begin. Nagin, who is set to be tried Oct. 7, faces a total of 21 charges, including numerous counts of bribery, wire fraud, money laundering and income tax evasion.

Compiled by staff writers
Jordan Blum, Sara Pagones and Gordon Russell