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."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.