Telly Hankton latest to try to make hay from posting scandal, and other New Orleans area political news

Notorious Uptown crime don Telly Hankton is pressing federal prosecutors to think twice before pursuing the death penalty against him, pointing to the “carnival atmosphere” of illicit online postings that a federal judge cited recently in tossing out the convictions of five New Orleans police officers in the Danziger Bridge case.

Hankton is the latest federal target to wheel out an argument that rests on the acid online comments of former prosecutors Sal Perricone and Jan Mann.

Disclosure of their actions helped bring about the resignation of longtime U.S. Attorney Jim Letten last year.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Alma Chasez rejected the majority of Hankton’s requests last month that prosecutors provide him various items, including the names of purported witnesses to the 2009 murder of rival Jessie “TuTu” Reed on Terpsichore Street.

Hankton, who is serving a life prison term for a separate murder in 2008, is accused along with others of gunning down Reed while Reed sat eating chicken on a porch. At the time, Hankton was free on $1 million bond while awaiting trial in the earlier murder.

Hankton’s attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann III, filed a motion Thursday asking Chasez to reconsider her rejection.

Rather than argue for the documents, though, Lemann took the opportunity to lambaste Letten’s office, claiming the online posting scandal blights the government’s bid to put Hankton to death.

Hankton, along with three co-defendants who also could face death, recently filed confidential documents with the U.S. Department of Justice, arguing the death penalty should be off the table in their case. Washington has yet to respond.

In a colorful, 20-page legal filing, Lemann claims “the death quest here came from a trigger-happy posse” under Letten’s watch.

Both Mann’s and Letten’s signatures appear on the 43-page indictment handed up a year ago, alleging a vast racketeering conspiracy involving Hankton and numerous relatives and alleged associates, including his mother, Shirley Hankton.

All told, the indictment names 13 people in an alleged drug and violent crime ring linked to at least four killings and other violent acts, dating to 1986.

In Hankton’s latest legal filing, Lemann refers extensively to U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt’s 129-page ruling last month in the Danziger case, in which the judge excoriated Letten’s office.

Lemann paints a picture of a sordid legal culture, governed by pursuit of victory at all costs, that seeped into the government’s push for indictments in the Hankton case.

That culture, he argued, was exemplified in a statement made later by Mann.

“We won, we won, we won, we won,” Mann said, referring to her belief that the office had weathered the legal and political storm from the online scandal.

“In short, the (Hankton) indictment was returned at the very peak of the ‘We won, we won, we won, we won’ culture,” Lemann argued.

It is unclear when the government will decide whether to pursue the death penalty for the five defendants.

Legal meter keeps running for council

Time is money when it comes to legal fees, and St. Tammany Parish Councilman Marty Dean was mindful that the meter was running Thursday when he asked the Parish Council to wrap up a lengthy discussion about senior citizen centers so the council could decide on a salary for the chief financial officer at the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office.

He pointed out that Charles Branton, an attorney representing the coroner, was in the audience and asked the Parish Council to move the matter up on the agenda.

“We’re probably paying a couple hundred dollars an hour to the Coroner’s Office,” Dean said, alluding to the high legal bills that the agency has incurred as Coroner Peter Galvan has fought legislative efforts to give the parish financial control of his office.

In July, The New Orleans Advocate reported that, over the previous six months, the Coroner’s Office had racked up legal bills of nearly $260,000. The Times-Picayune reported Saturday the figure for 2013 now exceeds $700,000.

Council President Jerry Binder told Dean that he would understand why the presentation from the Council on Aging St. Tammany had taken so long if he knew how long some council members have been dealing with complaints about the agency’s facilities.

“I have heard more than I need to know,” Dean retorted.

District attorney backs Cantrell for magistrate

Recently retired Orleans Parish Magistrate Commissioner Harry Cantrell has won the endorsement of District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro in his bid for magistrate judge at Criminal District Court.

Cantrell, 66, recently stepped down as an appointed commissioner so he could run for the post held for 39 years by Judge Gerard Hansen, who announced in July he is retiring. The post pays about $130,000 annually.

A Detroit native, Cantrell faces off in the Oct. 19 primary against criminal defense lawyer Morris Reed, 64, and former public defender Mark Vicknair, 44.

Cantrell has run failed campaigns for state representative and assessor. He sat as an appointed magistrate commissioner for 14 years, setting bonds, signing warrants and ruling on whether police had enough probable cause to justify an arrest.

Before a state Supreme Court ruling three years ago, magistrate commissioners also conducted trials in misdemeanor cases.

According to a news release put out by Cantrell’s campaign, Cannizzaro said: “There is no one in this race that is more knowledgeable of that process or possesses the needed experience that Harry has.”

Cantrell acknowledged he was disciplined as an attorney, receiving a year’s probation for misfiled petitions. According to a 2003 disciplinary filing, Cantrell dropped the ball in a pair of cases — failing to file an appeal on time in one case and filing another claim in the wrong court.

Council plans to bite the budgetary bullet

Under the City Charter, the New Orleans City Council has until Dec. 1 each year to pass a budget for the following year, and it usually runs right up against the deadline. This year, however, the council plans to complete its work by Nov. 21.

One reason is that Mayor Mitch Landrieu plans to present his 2014 budget proposals to the council on Oct. 15, two weeks earlier than mayors did in the past.

Another reason is that Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28 this year, later than usual, and the council wants to avoid having to work that week. Dec. 1 itself is on a Sunday.

So the council plans to hold its hearings on the budget in morning and afternoon (and sometimes all-day) sessions between Oct. 23 and Nov. 12.

Individual department and agency heads will testify before the council at those sessions, after which the council will have a little over a week to decide what — if any — changes to make in the mayor’s spending plan.

Budget reviews are almost always tough, and this year’s is expected to be tougher than usual, as the council decides whose budgets will be cut to free up money for unavoidable expenses like health care, pensions and federal consent decrees governing the Police Department and Orleans Parish Prison.

The council’s full budget hearing schedule can be found on its website, www.nolacitycouncil.com.

Compiled by John Simerman and Sara Pagones