Federal Prosecutor Loses Job, May Face Lawsuit Over Obnoxious Online Comments

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 6 2012 10:00 AM

Federal Prosecutor Loses Job, Faces Lawsuits Over Obnoxious Online Comments

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A sample of online comments by "Henry L. Mencken1951."

Screenshot / NOLA.com

Not content to go after suspected wrongdoers in court, a Louisiana federal prosecutor apparently spent years attacking them in the comments section of the local newspaper's website as well. His online barbs, posted under pseudonyms such as "Henry L. Mencken1951," "legacyusa," and "dramatis personae," were meant to be anonymous. Instead, they have cost him his job and made him the target of at least one defamation lawsuit.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the owner of a landfill that is the target of a federal probe got so fed up with Mencken1951's comments on NOLA.com articles about him that he hired the famous forensic linguist James Fitzgerald to unmask the troll. Fitzgerald compared the comments to a legal brief by then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, and found striking similarities, including the use of obscure words such as "dubiety" and "redoubt." Perricone eventually fessed up and stepped down from his position, and he now faces a defamation lawsuit from the landfill owner, Fred Heebe.

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A sample comment about Heebe from Mencken1951: "If Heebe had one firing synapse, he would go speak to Letten’s posse and purge himself of this sordid episode and let them go after the council and public officials. Why prolong this pain… ." Letten refers to Perricone's boss, U.S. Attorney James Letten.

Now the saga has apparently inspired another embattled local figure to lash out against his online tormentors. Yesterday the Times-Picayune reported that an indicted parish president has filed a defamation lawsuit against a NOLA.com commenter who goes by the name "campstblue." The suspected culprit? None other than Perricone, who, if the allegations are correct, also took potshots at a deputy U.S. attorney general who might end up having a say in deciding whether Perricone gets censured for his conduct. 

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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