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.
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, 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.
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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