U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has resigned following a string of misconduct by senior staffers in his office. Both former senior litigation counsel Sal Perricone and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann were outed for posting online commentary on http://www.nola.com about criminal defendants, attorneys and others involved in litigation with the U.S. Attorneys office, including the New Orleans Police Department officers on trial for the Danziger Bridge shootings.
In an interview with New Orleans magazine published in August, Perricone insisted the commenting brouhaha started and ended with him, saying no one else in the office had been aware of his activities. But last month, the scandal reignited with a vengeance, when Heebe filed a second defamation suit, this one claiming Mann had been commenting about federal targets and judges as “eweman” on NOLA.com. Many of the comments by “eweman” were adjacent to comments made by Perricone under one of his online aliases, suggesting a coordinated campaign. Mann soon admitted she had commented online at NOLA.com, but did not cop to a specific alias. Letten, meanwhile, announced that she was being demoted from her ranking posts of First Assistant U.S. Attorney and chief of the office’s criminal division. Mann did not step down, however, and the problems for Letten’s office continued to mount. Engelhardt — who had asked for a full investigation into leaks in the Danziger Bridge case earlier this year — issued a stinging order in late November in which he essentially accused Mann and Perricone of untruthfulness. In particular, the judge was upset by a letter Mann sent him in October in which she wrote: “Prior to the Perricone incident, I was not a follower of NOLA.com postings and had no real sense of what was happening there.” In his order, Engelhardt strongly urged the Justice Department to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the problems, saying Mann’s earlier inquiry had been insufficient. The judge also questioned the ability of the Office of Professional Responsibility — a subset of the Justice Department — to get to the bottom of the matter.
“U.S. Attorney Jim Letten Resigns Amid Online Commenting Scandal in His Office,” The Times Picayune, Gordon Russell, December 6, 2012.
For a thorough review of the story, see Ernst and Young LLP’s blog post.