Every major publication in America, from The Chicago Tribune and GQ to The Washington Post and Dallas Morning News, had a reporter in the courtroom at one time during the 2001 racketeering trial of Edwards, who is still serving out a 10-year sentence in federal prison. Louisiana hasn't seen that kind of gavel-to-gavel drama since, but that's about to change.
Opening arguments kicked off last week in Attorney General Charles Foti's criminal case against the owners of St. Rita's nursing home, where 35 patients died in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Salvador and Mabel Mangano, the owners of the St. Bernard Parish nursing home, are being tagged with negligent homicide by the prosecution. They are the only people in Louisiana being forced to stand trial for any of the 1,400 deaths brought about by Katrina, which made landfall nearly two years ago.
Foti's team is prepared to argue that the Mangano's patients should have been evacuated and not left behind to deal with the floodwaters and storm surge. The defense, meanwhile, is planning to call Gov. Kathleen Blanco to the stand to sort out whether a massive-scale evacuation was properly planned by the state. Not to be outdone, the prosecution has also subpoenaed a group of New Orleans meteorologists and television news directors. No one, from the Fourth Floor to the Fourth Estate, wants to be on the witness stand.
The state attempted to argue its way out of Blanco's subpoena, but Judge Jerome Winsberg stood firm and now the governor is in a situation that no elected official envies. Joe Raspanti, a criminal lawyer and courtroom analyst from Metairie, says Blanco's oratory proficiency has gotten her in trouble in the past and endless hours on the stand could be a public-relations nightmare. "The governor having to testify could absolutely be an embarrassing experience," he says.
Winsberg is regarded as a fair judge, Raspanti adds, but the defense is pulling out all the stops. If an issue related to Blanco's response is floating around out there, expect the defense to try and drag it in. Stuart P. Green, a criminal law professor at Paul M. Hebert LSU Law Center, says Blanco could ask Winsberg to take her testimony behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny. "She could even argue there are security issues, but I doubt this will come up," he says. "Still, it always could."
One thing is for sure: it could turn into a media circus outside and inside the courtroom. In addition to Blanco, the prosecution has subpoenaed New Orleans broadcasters Carl Arredondo of WWL, Bob Breck of WVUE and Dan Milham of WDSU; prosecutors plans to ask the meteorologists about their pre-Katrina coverage. More than 72 hours of news coverage from the stations has been reviewed and edited by Foti's office, likely showing repeated warnings to get out of town.
While Blanco is granted certain protections under the law, members of the various news teams are not. No other lawsuits are expected to arise from the testimony expected, but there's always an element of the unknown. "Hell, you can sue the pope for pandering on Poydras Street if you want to," Raspanti says.
The trial was moved to St. Francisville after all of the parties involved agreed that would be difficult to get a fair trial and proper jury poll in the New Orleans area following Katrina. The case is expected to run for four to six weeks in the St. Francisville Courthouse. The squabbling that preceded the jury selection is mostly over, and now it's all about the judicial system and the testimony of a group of high-profile witnesses. "The politics have ended," says Raspanti. "That's moot at this point. The show is starting, the jury has been seated and now the rules of evidence kick in."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.