Former Federal Prosecutor Disbarred for Anonymous Online Posts

On December 5, 2018, the Louisiana Supreme Court disbarred former federal prosecutor Salvador R. Perricone for inappropriate online posts relating to cases handled by his office. See In re Perricone, No. 2018-B-1233 (La. 2018).

From 2007 through 2012, the respondent posted a large number of anonymous comments on the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, nola.com, relating to high-profile prosecutions by the Office of the United States Attorney, Eastern District of Louisiana. Id. at 2. Among others, Perricone commented on investigations into Jefferson Parish political corruption, prosecutions of relatives of former Congressman William Jefferson, and prosecutions of former NOPD officers involved in post-Katrina shootings on the Danziger Bridge. For example, Perricone noted that the NOPD officers in the Danziger shooting case were “GUILTY AS CHARGED” and that it would be “safer if the NOPD would leave next hurricane and let the National Guard assume all law enforcement duties.” Id. at 6.

The court found that Perricone’s extrajudicial statements violated Rule 3.6 and Rule 3.8(f) because they had a “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding” and “heightened the public condemnation” of accused individuals. Further, the court found that his statements violated Rule 8.4(d) because they were “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” These comments caused “serious, actual harm” to two of these cases and “most profoundly, to the reputation of the USAO.” Id. at 15.

On the issue of sanction, Perricone argued in mitigation that his postings were caused in part by a mental disability, namely, PTSD caused by traumatic events suffered as a law enforcement officer. The court was not persuaded:

Respondent’s own testimony reveals he was aware that he should not post these comments, yet he decided to do so anyway. Clearly, any mental disability from which respondent suffered did not prevent him from knowing his actions were wrong. Under these circumstances, we find absolutely no support for the conclusion that respondent has proven his mental condition caused the misconduct. Accordingly, we decline to consider his mental disability in mitigation.

Id. at 17. Noting “the well-settled proposition that public officials (and prosecutors in particular) are held to a higher standard than ordinary attorneys,” the court held that the “only appropriate sanction . . . is disbarrment.” Finally, the court took the opportunity to address the larger issues created by lawyer social media use and abuse: “Our decision today must send a strong message to respondent and to all the members of the bar that a lawyer’s ethical obligations are not diminished by the mask of anonymity provided by the Internet.” Id. at 18.

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