First Asst. AUSA in LA Demoted for Online Commentary

Jim Letten, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana (which includes New Orleans) today announced the demotion of his First Assistant and Chief of the Criminal Division, Jan Mann.

The news came six days after landfill magnate Fred Heebe alleged in a civil suit that Mann had repeatedly used an online alias to slam him and other federal probe targets in comments posted on NOLA.com. Mann's demotion marks the second high-profile takedown of a federal prosecutor engineered by Heebe, who in March unmasked Sal Perricone, the office's senior litigation counsel, as a prolific and intemperate online ranter.

The Complaint in Heebe's lawsuit against Mann, filed in state court, is here. Among Heebe's lawyers filing the suit: Brendan Sullivan of Williams and Connelly.

How Heebee's attorneys linked the online comments posted under a pseudonym to Mann: They used a forensic linguist, who found numerous identical typographical errors in the online comments, pleadings Mann filed in court and e-mails. For example, there were multiple instances in which the online comments and Mann's pleadings contained an extra space after a quotation mark and before the final punctuation mark. Other similarities included the lack of spaces before and after the dots used to designate an ellipsis. (See the complaint if this sounds confusing, I may not have this exactly correct.) [More...]

The matter has been referred to the Office of Professional Responsibility. There are media reports that Mann has admitted using the pseudonym to post the comments, but Letten's statement only says Mann posted online comments on NOLA's website, it doesn't say which name she used or that she admitted using the name Heebe says she used (Eweman.)

According to the lawsuit, U.S. Attorney Letten "recognize[s] the absolute duty of all U.S. Attorney's office personnel to refrain from publicly commenting on any pending matters pending before the Department except in strict accordance with established DOJ and U.S. Attorney's office policies, procedures, and guidelines ."

Another AUSA in Letten's office, Sal Perricone, who also served as Senior Litigation Counsel, resigned in March, after being exposed in a lawsuit by Heebe as a poster of prejudicial online comments, including comments about persons under investigation.

Perricone last week admitted to using the online alias "Henry L. Mencken1951" to post roughly 600 comments at NOLA.com over the past six months. Many postings trashed federal judges, as well as local and national politicians, including some under investigation by the U.S. attorney's office.

Letten was appointed by G.W. Bush and not replaced by Obama.

Letten, a Republican, is the longest-tenured U.S. Attorney in the nation, being one of only a handful of Republicans named by President George W. Bush that President Barack Obama decided to keep on.

Mann is married to another federal prosecutor in the office, Jim Mann. One of the defense attorneys "eweman" wrote derogatory comments about wants to know if he knew what his wife was doing, as that might impute knowledge to the office.

Letten's future now may be in doubt as Sen. Landrieu and others raise questions.

Is it surprising that the chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's office wouldn't know her comments would eventually be traced back to her? With all the emphasis DOJ puts on its cybercrimes task force, and its use of subpoenas and court orders to get social media and email account information about those under investigation, why would federal prosecutors feel secure enough to post under a pseudonym? Surely they know posting online has no more privacy than screaming something out the window. Could it be they think they are above the law?

Since I don't practice civil law, here are some questions I don't have an answer for: What happens to Mann pending the OPR investigation? Does she stay on as a prosecutor in the office that is still investigating Heebee and his company River Burch? If her comments violated DOJ policy, were not approved by Letten, and Letten wasn't aware of them, is any claim she might have to immunity in Heebee's lawsuit gone? Will DOJ pay for Mann's lawyer to defend against Heebee's lawsuit? (Heebee did not sue DOJ, just Mann individually.)

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    I noticed you didn't put any space before (5.00 / 4) (#1)
    by Peter G on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 09:39:42 PM EST
    the ellipsis after "More" ... and you had an extra space before the final quotation mark in the sentence ending, "except in strict accordance with established DOJ and U.S. Attorney's office policies, procedures, and guidelines ." Just sayin'.  (Can you account for your whereabouts at the time those comments were posted on NOLA?  Can you?)

    That's pretty funny (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 01:54:38 AM EST
    Actually, I cut and pasted that quote directly from the complaint and there's no space in the complaint version. Here's a screengrab. When I OCR'd it in Adobe pdf and cut and pasted it here, the ocr'd version had a space. So I guess anyone using Adobe and converting an image to text would end up with the space.  Maybe the online commenter composed the comment in a word processor program and cut and pasted it into the NOLA page and the NOLA software added the space to the word processed version?

    As I said, I'm not sure I explained it right. Here's how the complaint explains it. Here's what the online comments looked like.

    You are right, I don't put a space before the dots in [More...] in my online posts. I think [More ....] looks odd.  But I  don't do that when quoting cases in pleadings. Here's how Ms. Mann did it in pleadings which the lawsuit says is the same as the online comments. (BTW, I just learned what an "ellipse" is a few months ago. I always called it "dot dot dot", so I doubt I knew there was a rule as to how the dots were to be spaced. Is there a rule?)


    Yes, there is a rule (none / 0) (#7)
    by Towanda on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 01:06:41 PM EST
    per the eminent arbiter Turabian (aka the Chicago Manual of Style):

    -- use dots between ellipses . . . like this


    -- use three ellipses to indicate missing words within a sentence . . . like this

    -- use four ellipses, and without a space before the first one, to indicate missing words at the end of a sentence, like this. . . .

    -- but (and this is relatively recent) only use the four ellipses at the end of a sentence if more quoted words follow (i.e., no longer do we use ellipses at the end of a quotation.

    All of the above -- and more, much more about ellipses -- are violated all of the time, of course, to drive us former copy editors crazy.


    Um, I ought to have copy edited that (none / 0) (#8)
    by Towanda on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 01:08:18 PM EST
    before posting.  Cx:

    -- use spaces between (and before and after) ellipses . . . like this.

    Breaking in a new computer here, also crazy-making, as I'm hitting send and such before I mean to do so!


    why would federal prosecutors feel secure (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 12:08:35 PM EST
    why would federal prosecutors feel secure enough to post under a pseudonym? Surely they know posting online has no more privacy than screaming something out the window. Could it be they think they are above the law?
    I think you just can't cure stupid.

    I'm sure there is a rule... (none / 0) (#3)
    by unitron on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 10:44:49 AM EST
    ...about the use and formatting of ellipses, because I grew up reading back when writers were educated people, so I got used to seeing it done the right way, just as I got used to a lot of proper grammar for which I probably couldn't cite the actual name or rule but only know when it's wrong.

    An ellipsis is when you leave out words, or the visual indication that you have done so.

    It's what that NBC affiliate didn't do when they "quoted" Zimmerman.

    The way you do it is without a space before or after.

    What I did, breaking a sentence and putting the first part on the subject line and the rest in the body of the comment probably has a different name, but the style (no spaces) remains the same.

    And all of that is actually on-topic, because my having learned by the example of people who knew what they were doing bears directly on my current observation that, despite getting degrees from supposedly reputable institutions of higher learning, grown-ups in positions of authority are a lot more stupid and less well educated than when I was not yet grown up.

    Although the internet probably makes it seem even worse than it is by making it more difficult to avoid learning about the more ridiculous examples.

    The AP Stylebook ... (none / 0) (#6)
    by Robot Porter on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 12:15:29 PM EST
    says you put a space. Chicago says you don't.

    Most of the publications I wrote for used AP.  So that's still my preference on most of these things.

    AP is also closest to manuscript form.  Another reason I favor it.


    My Chicago Manual of Style (none / 0) (#9)
    by Towanda on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 01:09:34 PM EST
    says you do so.


    I will have to pursue this, anal-retentive that I am.  Off to the beloved CMS website and blog, I go!


    The briefs were probably supposed to (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 01:41:11 PM EST
    conform to the Harvard Blue Book.  But not the blog comments!

    Has the Harvard Blue Book (none / 0) (#4)
    by oculus on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 11:03:36 AM EST
    become obsolete?  Of course there's a rule!

    This thread is great! (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Peter G on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 04:22:35 PM EST
    I immediately assumed, when J asked whether there was "a rule," that of course there was, and everyone who knew the rule would disagree with everyone else about what that rule is.  I was right.  The important thing, of course, is that however you use the ellipsis -- which I believe is the name for the series of three periods; it does not refer to each period or dot within the group -- when the purpose for which you are using it is to indicate an omission from a direct quotation, the reader be left with a clear understanding that something has been omitted, and where.  (Thus, the "rule" in question need not apply when the ellipsis is used, as J does with her "more..." or as Unitron did at comment #3 (but I didn't, at #1) to indicate that something continues after a break.  Also, J, note that we are talking here about an "ellipsis," which is a kind of punctuation mark, and not about an "ellipse," which is a kind of elongated geometrical closed curve -- the shape of a typical race track.)

    So anyway, here's my version of the rule, the one I use, which I believe is based on the Blue Book (which has a white cover in the edition I use -- and for the non-laywer TL'ers is one of the two principal style books for scholarly legal writing):  An ellipsis is formed from three contiguous periods (no spaces between them).  It stands in for the word or words that have been omitted; for this reason, the spacing around the ellipsis is the same as the spacing that would have been used around the omitted words.  Thus, if a word or words are omitted from the middle of a sentence, there is a space before and a space after the ellipsis.  However, if the omitted words immediately preceded a punctuation mark, such as a comma or semicolon, then there is a space before and no space after the ellipsis; the ellipsis instead will be immediately followed by that punctuation mark.  For this reason, if the omitted words were at the end of a sentence, then the reader will see a series of four dots. But this is not really "four dots"; it is an ellipsis followed by a sentence-ending period.  If the omission is of an entire sentence, then the ellipsis will follow the space after the period at the end of the preceding sentence, and will be followed by a space, just as the omitted sentence would have been, and then will come the next sentence.  Etc.  And as a matter of practice, if I omit more than a single sentence, I use three spaced asterisks (* * *) to indicate the more substantial omission. If this rule (or set of rules) exists in any style book, I no longer know that.  It's just our rules for use in my office.


    Thank you addressing the omission (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 05:36:18 PM EST
    of a portion of a quotation ending in a comma. Details matter!

    Very logical. (none / 0) (#13)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Nov 09, 2012 at 05:53:31 PM EST
    Peter, how long did it take you (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 01:31:15 AM EST
    to write that comment? It would have taken me hours. It seems very complicated. I like the description of the dots standing in for the omitted words. And thanks for correcting my "ellipse" to "ellipsis." I'm just going to stick with three dots to show I've left out words, and four dots if the omitted words are at the end of a sentence.

    We have so many rules. Some judges dictate what style and size font we must use, and our local federal rules require the first page to have a top margin of 1.5 inches while subsequent pages must have only 1 inch at the top. I'm not sure my brain has room for more rules at this point.

    One way you can't go wrong (in the trial court): Tailor your pleading to an order with case law by the judge presiding over your case, and use the same style and formatting he or she does. If the judge's order has a space before or after the dots, do the same. With the court of appeals, that obviously won't work, since there isn't just one judge, but you can look at recent opinions.

    I think it's  easier to memorize something when you see a picture of it rather than reading a rule about it, but that's just me. Blue books remind me of the now obsolete instructions for hooking up VCR's -- I never understood them, but as soon as someone showed me how to hook it up, I got it (at least until the next time.)


    Probably took me 20 minutes to write (none / 0) (#19)
    by Peter G on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 01:09:19 PM EST
    and only because I proofread it more carefully than I normally do my comments -- for fear of the irony factor. I try to follow the same principle that you outlined, by the way, in writing for individual judges - I try to copy at least some of their own particular style quirks, as a way of enhancing my chances of gaining their subconscious approval of my arguments, for my client's sake.  And I have the same problem hooking up devices to one another; isn't that a generational thing?

    The omission itself... (none / 0) (#15)
    by unitron on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 05:17:06 AM EST
    ...is the ellipsis, but the indication of it is called that as well.

    Please don't capitalize me.

    It tickles.


    Three distracting dots (none / 0) (#16)
    by unitron on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 05:18:51 AM EST
    The real issue here is why are there so many more idiots in positions of authority these days?

    Wondering why nobody is bothered (none / 0) (#17)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 07:48:01 AM EST
    by the Fed's monitoring of what we used to call free speech?

    What in the world would make you think (none / 0) (#18)
    by Peter G on Sat Nov 10, 2012 at 12:40:11 PM EST
    that "nobody is bothered by" it?  You are, for one.  And so are lots of other folks.