“We are reviewing the decision and considering our options,” she said in a statement.
Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December 2012 after two of his top deputies — Sal Perricone and Jan Mann — acknowledged they had posted anonymous comments on nola.com, The Times-Picayune’s companion website, about cases their office had handled, including the Danziger Bridge investigation.
Mann, who was Letten’s top deputy, told Justice Department investigators she told Letten about her posts shortly after Perricone’s activities were exposed in March 2012. Mann said Letten “didn’t have a big reaction” to her confession, according to the judge’s ruling.
During a hearing in June 2012, Engelhardt said it appeared federal prosecutors didn’t conduct a “full-blown investigation” after The Associated Press and The Times-Picayune published articles about former officer Michael Lohman’s guilty plea while his case was under seal. Lohman pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up of the shootings.
The Justice Department appointed John Horn, a veteran federal prosecutor from Georgia, to conduct a new probe of the allegations.
Horn’s investigation revealed Karla Dobinski, a Washington-based attorney in the Justice Department’s civil rights division, posted anonymous comments on nola.com during the last week of the trial. Dobinski wasn’t part of the government’s trial team but testified at an April 2011 pretrial hearing.
Engelhardt said he was shocked by the revelation and cited it as a key factor in his decision to order a new trial.
Horn also had asked that the two news organizations disclose their sources of information about Lohman’s anticipated guilty plea, but both have refused.
In a footnote to his ruling, Engelhardt said the news organizations “perpetuate the viability” of the officers’ bid for a new trial “and support its merit by implication” by refusing to identify their sources.
The AP’s outside counsel in the case said the news organization stands by its position.
“Judge Engelhardt may be frustrated by the Justice Department’s respect for the reporters’ privilege in this case, but that privilege exists to promote the flow of important information to the public. A refusal to recognize the privilege would surely cause significant sources of information to dry up, to the great detriment of all of us,” said David Schulz of the firm Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.
“The AP’s consistent position seeks to ensure the public has the information it needs for our democracy to function,” Schulz said.
Late Tuesday, the U.S. Senate confirmed New Orleans attorney Kenneth Polite as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The office had been run by veteran federal prosecutor Dana Boente since Letten’s resignation.