Kenneth Landrieu asked a New Orleans judge to vacate his July conviction for aggravated assault and grant him a new trial Friday (Sept. 22), in part because he says his jury pool was “tainted beyond cure” because of ill will toward his relatives’ political dynasty.
Landrieu, 54, argued in a motion filed by defense attorney Justin Zitler that the “extremist” political views voiced by one prospective panelist during jury selection prevented him from receiving a fair trial.
Landrieu, the first cousin of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and former Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, was found guilty of aggravated assault with a firearm by a unanimous jury that deliberated less than two hours. Landrieu was accused of illegally pointing a gun at another motorist during what New Orleans police described as a road-rage incident in the Lower Garden District on Sept. 10, 2015.
Landrieu faces up to 10 years in prison for his felony conviction. Criminal District Judge Byron C. Williams had planned to sentence Landrieu on Friday, but the hearing was rescheduled to Dec. 1 after City Councilman Jason Williams and law associate Bobby Hjortsberg signed on to join Zitler and Thomas Calogero on Landrieu’s legal team.
Landrieu’s motion says Judge Byron C. Williams erred in his handling of the jury, and in his pre-trial and mid-trial rulings that prevented questions about a civil lawsuit filed against Landrieu and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman by Joseph Harris, the victim in the criminal case. It also says Williams did not correctly instruct jurors regarding a potential justification defense for Landrieu.
The defendant asserted at trial that he was acting under color of a peace officer at the time of the incident. But sheriff’s office attorney Blake Arcuri testified that a six-pointed badge and commission ID that Gusman issued to Landrieu in 2007 was “merely honorary.”
The court filing pointedly says that the Metairie man was unable to get a fair trial from his Orleans Parish jury because of his family’s politically charged name.
The motion read as follows:
“The court failed to excuse the jury pool when a prospective juror went out of his way during voir dire to show political and societal animus to the defendant’s family. The juror falsely accused (Calogero) of making statements in support of removing the Confederate monuments. And the juror showed such a high level of animus toward relatives of the defendant – namely Mitch, Mary and Moon Landrieu – that he was admonished by the court.
“Essentially normalizing extremist views, he gave license to the entire jury pool to release their frustration at the Landrieu politicians by punishing defendant with an ill-conceived but nonetheless cathartic prejudice.
“The normalization of the vindictive role that juries sometimes take on was exploited successfully by the state in its closing, associating defendant’s actions with the perceived insulation of politicians as being ‘above the law.’ This is precisely the kind of political taint, normalized by the rant of one prospective juror, which caused the defense to press for a bench trial. The jury pool itself was tainted beyond cure.”
Landrieu contended he was serving the public good and acting under proper legal authority when he pursued and stopped Harris’ car about 5:40 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2015. Landrieu gave a recorded statement to NOPD Detective Walter Edmond in which he accused Harris of nearly striking him and his car when Harris passed him on Magazine Street, and admitted pulling a small pistol out of his pocket once he cut off Harris’ car on Sophie B. Wright Place.
Harris, a set dresser in the local film industry, testified that Landrieu leapt from his baby blue Cadillac with his gun already drawn. He said he feared for his life as Landrieu cocked and pointed the weapon at him while “beet-red, angry” and screaming profanities.
“He said, ‘Pull your car over here. I’m going to call my boys to search your car. We’re going to take you to jail,'” Harris testified.
Harris said that when Landrieu raised his .25-caliber handgun in his direction again, he decided to go “into full submission.”
“I said, ‘I won’t say another word,'” Harris testified. “He puffed out his chest and said, ‘Good,’ and then he got back in his car and drove away.”
Both men agreed that Landrieu had affixed a six-pointed star badge to the collar of his orange shirt before confronting Harris. Landrieu’s attorneys argued that the wallet commission card that came with the badge empowered “Deputy Landrieu,” as they repeatedly called him throughout the trial, with authority to act under color of law. But Arcuri testified that honorary badges and commissions carry no authority for the bearer to act as a law-enforcement officer.
The motion for new trial says Landrieu had received “no notice whatsoever … nor any opportunity to be heard” that his reserve deputy commission was “merely honorary,” thus depriving him of due process rights.
Williams said he will rule on Landrieu’s motion on Oct. 20.