Most internet commenters are regular people who, under the Invisibility Cloak of cyberspace, feel free to say whatever disgusting/ridiculous/illogical thing that pops into their heads.
Lest anyone think the phenomenon is unique to our website, please think again. For better or worse, trolling is an inevitable part of online media. Most of the time, it’s best to just ignore it. Once a while, however, anonymous online commenting may signify something larger and more pernicious.
Case in point: our inbox was flooded over the weekend with the emerging scandal of a prosecommenter (yeah, you read that right) in New Orleans. This is what happens when a federal prosecutor takes his case to the interwebs instead of the court. Bad times…
The story started blowing up late last week. This is where things stand, as reported by the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:
Sal Perricone, a veteran prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in New Orleans, was using the handle “Henry L. Mencken1951″ — yes, we love Mencken, but not as cover for someone else — to post nasty comments about one Fred Heebe, the co-owner of a landfill under federal investigation.
Now, this wasn’t a few isolated instances of Perricone trolling. “That guy is lame. He is ugly and fat.”
This guy made 598 comments on NOLA.com over the course of just six months. Holy cow. As we mentioned in Friday’s Non-Sequiturs, Perricone was almost as prolific as BonoboBro. “Unprofessional” is a gentle way to describe the things he said about the case he was working on. For starters:
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… quote
Heebe comes from a long line of corruptors.
The prosecutor made so many comments with information specific to Heebe’s case that the landfill owner became suspicious enough to hire a forensic investigator to figure out what the hell was going on. From Ars Technica:
Heebe hired a former FBI forensic linguist, James R. Fitzgerald, to analyze 598 comments made over the course of 6 months by a commenter using the handle “Henry L. Mencken1951″. Fitzgerald, who also worked on the arrest and prosecution of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, compared the comments made by “Mencken1951″ to the language in a 9-page proceeding filed by three Assistant U.S. Attorneys, including Parricone, against the CEO of Heebe’s company, River Birch Landfill. The language was strikingly similar. Given that Parricone was born in 1951, Heebe singled him out in the court petition. On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten confirmed Perricone had used the “Henry L. Mencken1951″ handle.
“The pleading and the Mencken posts share many similarities, including the use of particular archaic words — e.g. ‘dubiety’ and ‘redoubt’ — as well as distinctive punctuation and frequent use of the rhetorical technique of alliteration,” Heebe’s petition read.
So far, Heebe has sued Perricone for defamation, Perricone has been placed on annual leave, and Perricone is facing a Justice Department investigation. It’s not the first time he’s gotten in trouble. And honestly, it makes me happy to see sh*t hitting the fan for him. Pretty much every level of the New Orleans criminal justice system already has a crummy ethical reputation (anyone remember that whole Katrina thing?), and I’m sure this is exactly what the local suits with big offices want in the news right now.
Besides, it is not new that government lawyers (and judges) are starting to have to be more careful in the ways they handle themselves online, outside of their immediate courtroom duties. Some judges have even come under fire for who they are friends with on Facebook. And Andrew Shirvell, the former Michigan assistant attorney general, torpedoed his career by criticizing the openly gay ex-president of the University of Michigan student body online.
Moreover, ethical questions aside, you never know how anonymous you really are. That might mean someone can actually trace your IP address, or as in this case, simply that someone compare your writing to something published with your name on it.
Either way, Perricone was patently unwise. He deserves whatever he gets.
When a Prosecutor Makes Comments Online About a Case [WSJ Law Blog]
Embattled businessman outs news site commenter as a federal prosecutor [Ars Technica]