NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans has denied former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard's appeal to have his guilty plea thrown out.
Broussard, who has been in federal prison since May 2013, made the appeal Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, under Mr. [Jim] Letten's administration, we had a U.S. Attorney's Office that was amuck. It was running wild,” said Broussard's current attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Lemann.
In September 2012, Broussard accepted a plea deal and admitted he cheated taxpayers as part of a payroll fraud scheme and also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to accept bribes. He later received a three-year, 10-month sentence.
"They ran roughshod over the rights of Aaron Broussard,” Lemann said.
Lemann told the appellate court judges that Broussard's initial attorney could not effectively defend him, especially during the plea negotiations, because he was kept in the dark about inappropriate and caustic online comments posted by top-level prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office, namely assistant prosecutors Jan Mann and Sal Perricone.
Both eventually stepped down, as did Letten.
Lemann said had Broussard known Mann had engaged in online comments about ongoing investigations and targets of those probes, he likely would not have pleaded guilty.
“Yes, I mean there is a problem when a prosecutor exhibits this kind of personal animosity toward a defendant,” Lemann said.
Federal prosecutor Kevin Boitmann argued for the government during the hearing. He said Broussard already knew of Perricone's online comments when he entered into the plea, and was aware of Mann's postings by the time he faced sentencing.
“If the prosecutors did something wrong you hold them accountable, but don't invalidate the conviction,” Boitmann told the judges during the hearing.
FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said Broussard faced a challenge in trying to get his plea overturned.
"If you've ever been to a federal plea they ask you about nine ways to Sunday, are you sure you want to plea, are you sure you're guilty of this, do you want us to read the facts to you again, are you sure, are you sure, are you sure? And you say yes, yes, yes and then they take your plea,” Raspanti said.
Boitmann also told the three-judge panel that had Broussard gone to trial, he would have faced 27 counts.
"Whether or not he had a good deal, how many counts he was facing, that's not the issue before the court. The issue before the court is should he have the right to withdraw his plea based upon the actions of those other people,” Raspanti said.