NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Public defenders for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin have told a federal appeals court that Nagin's convictions on 20 counts involving corruption during his two terms as mayor should be thrown out.
The argument was made in court briefs filed late Tuesday at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Nagin's attorneys argue the jury that convicted him received erroneous instructions on 10 counts involving wire fraud. They argue that those convictions should be tossed, and that the other 10 convictions should be thrown out as well because the jury may have been prejudiced by the erroneous instructions.
Nagin, a Democrat who served from 2001 to 2010, is serving a 10-year-sentence after his conviction last year on wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors said graft in his administration began before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and flourished afterward. Bribes included money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business.
Public defenders were appointed to handle his appeal after Nagin's previous attorney said the former mayor was unable to pay him.
Tuesday's brief filed by federal public defenders Claude Kelly and Jordan Siverd repeats Nagin's trial defense that actions he took that were deemed crimes by prosecutors were actually required by the city charter or public bid law. It also focuses on payments that were wired to Nagin after he left office in 2010, which prosecutors said were payoffs for actions he took earlier, when he was still in office.
They argue that the judge at Nagin's trial was wrong to tell the jury it should convict Nagin on the fraud counts even if those counts involved actions that Nagin would have legally taken regardless of whether he got something of value in return.
The nine fraud counts and a related conspiracy count should therefore be vacated, they said. And the remaining counts should be tossed due to the "prejudicial spillover" of the bad instructions. If all counts aren't tossed, they add, Nagin should at least get a new sentence.
The brief also argues that a forfeiture judgment requiring Nagin to pay more $500,000 should be reversed.
Federal prosecutors will reply later in briefs of their own.
Nagin's lawyers have asked for oral arguments in the case but a hearing date has not been set.