In a month, the five former New Orleans police officers found guilty in the killing and subsequent cover-up of two people after Hurricane Katrina will learn when they go back on trial—unless the Justice Department gets involved. A judge yesterday threw out the men's 2011 convictions in the Danziger Bridge case, citing "grotesque prosecutorial misconduct" in a 129-page decision the New York Times calls "heated." Judge Kurt Engelhardt gave both sides a month to figure out their scheduling issues in advance of setting that new date—though the family of Ronald Madison, one of the men killed, has urged the DOJ to appeal the judge's decision, noting that it "re-opens this terrible wound not only for our family but our entire community." The Times-Picayune notes that the DOJ did release a statement yesterday indicating it was not happy with the ruling; it's reviewing both the decision and its options, per a rep.
The misconduct: Federal prosecutors in New Orleans and Washington made anonymous online comments about the case, both before and during the trial, on the Times-Picayune website, creating what the judge called a "prejudicial, poisonous atmosphere." (Sample: One lawyer commented that the police department was "corrupt," "ineffectual," and "a joke.") The online comments were first revealed last year; the US attorney whose Louisiana office was involved stepped down, as did two local prosecutors who made comments. But yesterday, the judge revealed a previously unnamed commenter: a DOJ lawyer in Washington who helped ready the case for trial. In an article calling the judge's reversal a "bitter pill" for Katrina survivors, the Times-Picayune notes that none of the prosecutors involved ever addressed the jury. (Read more Hurricane Katrina stories.)