NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal magistrate has allowed a defense attorney to subpoena records from a New Orleans news organization about comments anonymously posted on its website, the latest response to a scandal that led to the resignation of the region's top federal prosecutor.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson on Tuesday approved the subpoena request by a lawyer for former New Orleans Affordable Homeownership executive director Stacey Jackson, who was indicted last year on federal charges including theft and bribery.
NOLA Media Group, which operates The Times-Picayune newspaper and its companion website, has 10 days to respond to the subpoena. Jackson's lawyer, Edward Castaing, said Wednesday that he plans to serve NOLA Media Group with the subpoena this week.
A Times-Picayune report on Wednesday said the news organization's usual policy is to keep such information private "to the extent possible." NOLA Media Group said in a statement that it "takes user privacy very seriously. Once we receive the subpoena, we will consider how best to respond."
Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December 2012 after two of his top deputies acknowledged posting anonymous comments on nola.com about cases handled by their New Orleans-based office.
Castaing wants to know whether other law-enforcement personnel who haven't been unmasked yet have posted anonymous comments on nola.com related to his client's case.
Castaing asked to subpoena any records that would identify the authors of comments posted on nola.com under the user names "aircheck" and "jammer1954." He said the content of the comments indicate "government inside action" and efforts to pressure suspects to cooperate with prosecutors.
In September, a different judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana cited allegations of "grotesque" prosecutorial misconduct in ordering a new trial for five former New Orleans police officers convicted of charges in the deadly shootings on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt said the comments that federal prosecutors anonymously posted on nola.com created a "carnival atmosphere" that perverted justice in the case against the former officers.
Jackson is scheduled to be tried in May on charges she took kickbacks from contractors for the agency that she oversaw. Jackson served as NOAH's executive director during former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's administration, which hired the nonprofit agency to run a home repair program after Katrina.