Federal judge scolds suspects in Sen. Landrieu office case, but lets magistrate resolve it

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge had strong words for four conservative activists who initially were accused of trying to tamper with the phones in Sen. Mary Landrieu's New Orleans office, but ruled the misdemeanor charges against them can be resolved before a magistrate instead of a judge.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. said Wednesday he isn't exercising his right to hear the case even though the four defendants are charged with an "extremely serious" crime involving a security breach at a federal building.

"Deception is alleged to have been used by the defendants to achieve their purposes which in and of itself is unconscionable," Duval wrote. "Perceived righteousness of a cause does not justify nefarious and potentially dangerous actions."

James O'Keefe, Stan Dai, Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan are scheduled to appear before Magistrate Daniel Knowles III on May 26 for arraignments on misdemeanor charges of entering a federal building under false pretenses. Duval said he has reviewed their plea agreements.

O'Keefe is a videographer famous for wearing a pimp costume in a video that embarrassed the ACORN community organizing group.

Federal magistrates handle most pretrial matters in civil and criminal cases, but they also are authorized to try criminal cases and hand down sentences with the consent of both defendants and prosecutors.

O'Keefe has said the group was trying to investigate complaints that constituents calling Landrieu's office couldn't get through to criticize the Democrat's support of a health care reform bill.

Their actions "have taken up the precious time and resources of this government which could have been used to prevent other crimes and to protect those who rely on these officials for their safety at work," Duval wrote. "Moreover, the ramifications of these defendants' actions may result in a public building being less accessible to law abiding citizens."