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."
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the last-minute passage of a pension hike for his state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, was improperly handled, according to the governor's office.
As the courts hash out the attempts to preserve and shelve Common Core in Louisiana, a group of six state lawmakers are planning an Aug. 22 trip to Oklahoma to meet with their counterparts and strategize for the 2015 regular session.
While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.
The attorney hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board for a special investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper has submitted his final report, though it may be another week before the findings are made public.
Poachers killing elephants at increasing rates; independent autopsy on Brown; Gaza truce continues and more national and international news for Tuesday, August 19, 2014.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Tea Party of Louisiana is calling Sen. David Vitter a “turncoat” for his newfound embrace of Common Core educational standards.
An annual report evaluating Gov. Bobby Jindal's privatization of Medicaid lacked important financial information and presented rosy performance reviews not corroborated by data, according to a review released Monday.
Lafayette attorney Michelle Meaux-Breaux has announced her plans to seek the Division E seat for judge in the 15th Judicial District.
A card-carrying member of Lafayette’s “tribe,” Milton “Spider” Guidry died over the weekend. IND music writer Nick Pittman remembers the character and the man.
As tensions continue to escalate in Ferguson, Mo., between law enforcement and residents protesting the shooting death of a local teen by police, we’re reminded of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the in-custody death earlier this year of a New Iberia man.
A group of teachers and parents who support Common Core is asking a state judge to invalidate Gov. Bobby Jindal's actions against the multi-state education standards.
Drew Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage early Sunday, taking a snap during the New Orleans Saints' pre-practice walk-through.
A state judge Friday refused a temporary injunction sought against state education officials in an effort to block implementation of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana.
UL was the consensus pick in a coaches' preseason poll to win the league, and experience has a lot to do with that.
The price tag has nearly doubled for Gov. Bobby Jindal's hiring of an outside consulting firm to recommend new ways to balance the state budget.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is under scrutiny for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers.
Many people found not guilty by reason of insanity are being held in Louisiana jails, where they cannot get the treatment they need, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In a just-released audio recording, City Prosecutor Gary Haynes claims Mike Harson had direct dealings with the alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme in the DA’s office.
C-P councilmen sponsor a resolution in support of the notion that one should subscribe to Tea Party ideas about civics before being allowed to seek public office.
Russel Honoré, the retired U.S. Army general known for his role in restoring order to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and most recently for his involvement in the Green Army movement to stop environmental abuses of Louisiana, has now weighed in on the police response to protestors in Ferguson, Mo.
More than three dozen restaurants, bars, convenience stores and supermarkets in Lafayette Parish are facing fines in connection with the state office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control’s 2014 “Summer Crackdown.”
The grim news, delivered to the joint legislative budget committee, barely raised eyebrows at the committee hearing, after more than six years of such disappointing financial forecasts.