NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday asked for a delay in his upcoming corruption trial, saying his right to a fair hearing was compromised by prosecutors posting inflammatory comments online including one calling him a “racist” and “incompetent.”
Nagin’s request was the latest consequence of a growing scandal over misconduct by prosecutors in the New Orleans office of the U.S. Attorney and by a lawyer at the U.S. Justice Department in Washington that prompted a federal judge to order a new trial in a separate murder case involving five New Orleans policemen.
Nagin, the controversial mayor of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, filed a motion in federal court on Thursday asking for full access to the results of an investigation into the misconduct by prosecutors. His trial on federal corruption charges is scheduled to start on October 28.
On Tuesday, Federal Judge Kurt Engelhardt took the unusual step of ordering a new trial for five former New Orleans police convicted in connection with the shooting deaths of two unarmed people and serious wounding of four others after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city.
The judge based his decision on what he called “vitriolic” messages posted by prosecutors using assumed names on a New Orleans newspaper forum before and during the police officers’ 2011 trial which he said compromised the case. Two prosecutors resigned after the online activity was exposed.
Nagin said he also was the target of online postings that “are of the same ilk and the same pejorative nature,” as those in the case of the policemen.
His court filing cites one message posted in 2009 under the same alias as used by one of the prosecutors who resigned, which disparaged three former mayors of New Orleans, Sidney Barthelemy, Marc Morial and Nagin.
“You three stooges have wrought upon this city one disaster after another. This is just more evidence of your collective racism and incompetence,” the filing quotes the message as saying.
All three of the former mayors are black and the prosecutor is white.
A federal grand jury indicted Nagin in January on 21 counts of public corruption, including receiving thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for city contracts. The charges included bribery, wire fraud, filing false tax returns, conspiracy and money laundering.
Several businessmen linked with the former mayor have reached deals with prosecutors to provide evidence against Nagin, who was mayor of New Orleans from 2002 to 2010.
A hearing on Nagin’s request for a delay in the trial has been scheduled for October 9.
Reporting By Kathy Finn; Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Osterman