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Katrina Nursing Home Case Costly for La.

By MARY FOSTER
The Associated Press
Friday, February 8, 2008; 4:34 PM

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Louisiana taxpayers paid more than $360,000 for the failed prosecution of the owners of a nursing home where 35 people died during Hurricane Katrina, according to documents obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The money spent by former state Attorney General Charles Foti include nearly $82,000 for lessons in jury selection and advice on running the trial, the documents show.

Sal and Mabel Mangano owned St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, which was flooded by the hurricane that hit Aug. 29, 2005. Prosecutors said they should have evacuated the home, and they charged the couple with 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly or infirm.

A jury took less than four hours to find the couple not guilty after the 2 1/2-week trial.

"This is a colossal waste of taxpayers' money on a case that should never have come to trial," said James Cobb, one of the lawyers who represented the Manganos.

Foti, now in private practice with a New Orleans law firm, did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.

Foti's office drew heavy criticism for prosecuting the Manganos and, in a separate case, prosecuting a doctor and two nurses for the post-hurricane deaths of nine patients at a New Orleans hospital. An accounting of the expenses from that case is not yet available.

Foti has repeatedly denied accusations that he used the trials to grandstand for his re-election bid. He lost last fall's Republican primary, and Democrat Buddy Caldwell became the new attorney general in a runoff election.

The initial expense figures in the Mangano case, provided by Caldwell's office, include $81,533 to Courtroom Sciences Inc., the company that instructed the assistant district attorneys who conducted the trial on jury selection, opening statements and trial tactics.

Other expenses include $58,401 for hurricane expert Brian Jarvinen, $72,018.82 to psychiatry professor Robert Stall and $52,607 to Dr. Stanford Finkel, a gerontologist.

It was not clear from the documents how Jarvinen, Stall and Finkel aided the prosecution.

In the hospital case, Foti led investigations that resulted in the arrests of cancer specialist Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry, who worked at the flooded Memorial Medical Center after the storm.

A grand jury last year refused to indict Pou. Landry and Budo testified before the panel under immunity and were not indicted.

© 2008 The Associated Press