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Ex-New Orleans mayor loses bid to dismiss charges

Created: 10/18/2013 2:35 PM KSTP.com

(AP) NEW ORLEANS - A federal judge refused Friday to throw out criminal charges against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who is accused of accepting bribes, free trips and other gratuities from contractors in exchange for helping them secure millions of dollars in city work.

U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan’s brief ruling denied a motion filed earlier in the week by Nagin defense lawyer Robert Jenkins, who alleged that prosecutorial misconduct, including anonymous online posts about Nagin by a former federal prosecutor, warranted dismissal of the charges.

The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 28, but Jenkins has asked Berrigan to postpone it, saying he needs more time to prepare.

Nagin pleaded not guilty in February. His indictment was the product of a City Hall corruption investigation that already has resulted in guilty pleas by two former city officials and two businessmen and a prison sentence for a former city vendor.

Nagin’s motion for dismissal came after a ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in the case of five former New Orleans police officers convicted of civil rights violations linked to deadly shootings following Hurricane Katrina. Engelhardt cited evidence of "grotesque" prosecutorial misconduct and ordered a new trial for them.

Engelhardt said at least three government attorneys posted anonymous comments on The Times-Picayune’s companion website and created a "carnival atmosphere" that perverted justice in the case.

Jenkins had asked the court to order prosecutors to turn over a sealed report on the online posts. A federal magistrate rejected that request, saying none of the government lawyers in question were involved in presenting the case against Nagin to a grand jury. Thoroughly questioning the pool of prospective jurors will ensure that they haven’t been influenced by the inappropriate blogging activities, the magistrate said.

Berrigan recently upheld the magistrate’s ruling.

On Friday, in refusing to dismiss charges, she said, "The jury will be instructed that the indictment is not evidence of guilt and the jury alone will determine the defendant’s innocence or guilt."

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