NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has rejected former New Orleans City Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt's bid for a new trial.
The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/1s6seGT) U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled Wednesday that that jurors who convicted her in a 2011 racketeering trial were not "tainted in any way" by a former federal prosecutor who posted inflammatory comments about the proceedings under online news articles.
The ruling paves the way for Gill Pratt, who has remained free throughout her appeals, to begin serving a federal prison sentence she has managed to put off for several years.
After summoning two jurors to answer written questions, U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle concluded there was "no cause for granting a new trial" after reviewing their responses. Both jurors had earlier acknowledged reading news on nola.com, the website where former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone authored anonymous, often racially insensitive rants about Gill Pratt.
"The jurors' responses reveal that they heeded the court's instructions to avoid extraneous materials in reaching their verdict," Lemelle wrote in a four-page order Wednesday. "There is no evidence to suggest that the jurors knew of or were exposed to Perricone's comments either before or during trial."
Gill Pratt's attorney, Mike Fawer, said Lemelle's ruling was "disappointing but not unexpected given the limited nature of his inquiry" into the online commenting. He said he plans to appeal the ruling and ask that Gill Pratt be afforded another reprieve from prison while the appeal is pending — a request he acknowledged was unlikely to be granted.
Indeed, the ruling seemed likely to mean the end of Gill Pratt's unexpectedly prolonged freedom, as Lemelle ordered she surrender Sept. 2 to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to begin serving 50 months behind bars. She has also been ordered to pay restitution of more than $571,000 to the state and $117,000 to the city.
Gill Pratt's appellate efforts were not entirely for naught, however. She initially had been sentenced to 87 months in prison for her role in a scheme by members of disgraced former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson's family to siphon more than $1 million from nonprofit organizations, but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later found Lemelle had applied the wrong sentencing guidelines in meting out her punishment. She was resentenced to 50 months in May.
Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, http://www.neworleansadvocate.com