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Nursing home 'misjudgment'

Lawyer for couple charged with mercy killings says allegations premature
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Hurricane Katrina and it's aftermath brought tragedy to many of the ill and elderly. While many believe that there were several cases of mercy killing in the New Orleans area in the storm's aftermath, the only people charged in connection with the death of hospital and nursing home patients are the owners of St.  Rita‘s nursing home, where 34 people perished.

Despite repeated attempts, the attorney general for Louisiana, Charles Foti, has declined an invitation from 'Scarborough Country' to appear and explain the charges. The attorney for St. Rita‘s and a member of the Tulane University faculty, James Cobb, joined guest host Mike Barnicle on Friday to discuss why he is upset at the charges his clients face.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

MIKE BARNICLE:  Mr. Cobb, what are you mad at? 

JAMES COBB, ATTORNEY FOR ST. RITA‘S NURSING HOME:  Well, Mike, what I am mad at is the fact that this investigation continues.  I think there was a rush to misjudgment by the attorney general, in arresting Sal and Ms.  Mable Mangano, without giving them the chance to talk to the attorney general‘s assistants about their side of the story. 

BARNICLE:  Those are your two clients. 

COBB: Yes, sir. 

BARNICLE:  And what would they have said? 

COBB:  Well, they are upset because we had an appointment with the attorney general‘s office on Tuesday morning to go in and give them our side of the story before any action was taken.  We had an appointment. 

Instead, they canceled the appointment, didn‘t bother to hear our side of the story, and issued an arrest warrant.  Now, no prosecutor on the planet would turn down the opportunity to interview somebody before bringing an arrest warrant.  These guys did, and it makes the whole motivation of what they have done highly suspect. 

It‘s, also, they brought these charges precipitously.  Within five days of contacting us, they brought the charges.

BARNICLE:  What is the indictment for? 

COBB:  Well, it‘s not an indictment.  It‘s an arrest warrant.  They didn‘t go before a grand jury, like Mr. Rove and all of these other folks.  This is simply an investigator in the attorney general‘s office who signed an affidavit saying, I believe certain things are true.  They presented that to one judge, who said, OK, that sounds like probable cause to me, and issued an arrest warrant.  It‘s not an indictment at all. 

And what‘s troubling is, the statute of limitations for these charges is five years.  They could have taken the careful time required, looked at this case, listened to the other side. 

BARNICLE:  Well, are your two clients being lumped in with the larger investigation that is ongoing now in New Orleans as a result of several deaths in other hospitals, as well as the nursing home we are speaking about? 

COBB:  No, Mike, I don‘t think so.  I think that‘s what happened is, I think the attorney general‘s office went off half-cocked and too quickly with my clients, and now everything has slowed down.  No one else...

BARNICLE:  What is your clients‘ side of the story?  You referred to that a couple of seconds ago.  What is their side of the story?

COBB:  Their side of the story is very simple, that the news reports -  and I think this is what General Foti acted upon, not upon any investigation, but what he read in the newspaper.  You know how dangerous that is.


COBB:  And what he acted upon was the notion that these people abandoned the nursing home residents, fled the scene, and they were left to die.  Completely, totally false. 

BARNICLE:  How many health care workers are employed at that St. Rita‘s, your clients‘ nursing home? 

COBB:  Twenty or 30 are in the building at that the time of this tragedy.  As a matter of fact, Sal and Ms. Mable Mangano, their children, their grandchildren, their nieces and their nephews, were in the facility at the time of the tragedy. 

So, this isn‘t a case of negligent homicide, where someone put someone in harm—in harm‘s way.  These folks evacuated to that spot as the best place for themselves, their children, and their children‘s children. 

BARNICLE:  Well, why do you think no one else has been charged? 

COBB:  Well, because I think that the attorney general‘s office is given pause by the magnitude of the tragedy that happened every place, and the problem that they have is, how do you start charging people with criminal responsibility, with making choices, in the face of an unprecedented emergency? 

The statute in Louisiana says, you have got to be grossly negligent.  You have got to willfully and wantonly inflict bodily harm upon another person. 

BARNICLE:  What is the legal timetable now for your clients, Mr. Cobb? 

What happens next? 

COBB:  Well, what happens next is that the charge has to be referred to the district attorney in St. Bernard Parish. 

It‘s attorney that General Foti, who brought the arrest warrant, can‘t prosecute in St. Bernard Parish.  Only the district attorney can do it, unless he asks the attorney to take over the prosecution, which to my knowledge hasn‘t taken place.  St. Bernard, as you know, is totally wiped out.  There‘s nothing happening in St. Bernard Parish. So I believe it was an ill-timed rush to misjudgment.