FORT WORTH, Texas — Edwin Edwards, serving a 10-year sentence for racketeering, extortion and fraud in a federal penitentiary here, still makes news back in Louisiana.
And if attorneys for the man often called “Fast Eddie” prevail in an unusual appeal now pending, he could be back in the Bayou State long before that time is served.
The 76-year-old who charmed his way into the Louisiana governor’s mansion four times before being convicted for racketeering, money laundering and conspiracy spends his time quietly in federal prison here. But back in Louisiana, many are poised, eagerly awaiting a federal judge’s ruling.
That ruling likely will be either to uphold Edwards’ 2000 conviction or overturn it and grant a new trial. A third possibility is that the court could order an evidentiary hearing to rule on several Edwards’ appeal points.
Edwards’ defense says that new evidence, available to them only after the trial, proves that the prosecution was tainted and that the government was less than candid in its use of a one-time Edwards crony as its star witness.
Some lawyers say such claims are almost perfunctory in such cases. And few are successful, it seems.
“The burden is pretty high for them to establish entitlement to a hearing in a post-conviction motion,” former New Orleans U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg told The Washington Times last week. “I’ve never seen [a case] with this many twists and turns.”
Defense attorney Mike Small, of Alexandria, La., said last week the appeal included prosecutors’ failure to inform the defense completely about a plea agreement with one of the government’s strongest witnesses against their client, as well as questions about the trial judge’s possible “impaired judgment” because of drugs.
U.S. District Judge Frank Polozola of Baton Rouge, the chief federal judge in the city, served as the trial judge. Edwards’ defense team discovered that in 1999, when Judge Polozola was making important pre-trial decisions in the Edwards case, he was using a narcotic painkiller, OxyContin — prescribed as a result of a traffic-accident injury in 1997.
When the defense found that the judge had filed a civil suit in state court against the other driver — and that the judge had claimed “impairment of function” — they quickly moved to obtain whatever evidence had been introduced about the accident.
In response, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans announced that to allow Edwards’ attorneys to see the state court’s records would pose a threat to the “national interest.”
That same day, Judge Polozola ordered state District Judge Janice Clark to take no further action in the civil case and deliver all recordings, transcripts and depositions to him within days, sealed.
Judge Polozola’s order included his own deposition, as well as those of his psychiatrist and psychologist. The suit had been settled in 2001. Despite formal pleas from Edwards’ team that Judge Polozola recuse himself, he flatly refused.
Jim Letten, the New Orleans U.S. attorney, refused comment on the situation.