Media and Communications Law

Did law enforcement comment online about grand jury matter? Judge orders newspaper to reveal ID info

Did federal law enforcement officials make online comments related to a fraud case against the former chief of a New Orleans city-funded program?

Stacey Jackson and the lawyer representing her in an effort to show grand jury proceedings were tainted say they suspect that did happen. And this week a federal judge agreed to help them find out, rejecting First Amendment arguments and ordering the New Orleans Times-Picayune to provide to a magistrate judge, for in-chambers review, identifying information about two anonymous commenters, “aircheck” and “jammer1954,” according to the New Orleans Advocate and Times-Picayune.

U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon gave the newspaper until April 1 to comply, and on Thursday the Times-Picayune asked Lemmon to stay the turnover order pending an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reports another New Orleans Advocate article.

A lawyer for the newspaper argued that being forced to turn over the ID information would do irreparable injury to the Times-Picayune’s rights under the First Amendment and produce a chilling effect on other anonymous online commenters, while staying the order would make little difference to Jackson. The comments at issue were made five years before her indictment, the newspaper lawyer noted.

Jackson’s attorney, Eddie Castaing, has been pursuing a prosecutorial misconduct argument, pointing to admitted online comments made under a pseudonym by now-former assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone.

Jackson is accused of taking kickbacks from contractors after Hurricane Katrina, while she was in charge of the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership program.

Related coverage: “Federal Prosecutor Resigns After He Is Kicked Off Some Cases for Anonymous Online Comments”

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