NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court has disbarred former state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who is awaiting to hear whether she will be sentenced to prison for defrauding campaign contributors and the Louisiana Democratic Party, which she used to lead.
Peterson, who resigned her Senate seat in April citing depression and a gambling addiction, pleaded guilty in August to one count of wire fraud. U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance will sentence her on Dec. 7. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years but it is uncertain how harsh her sentence will be after she signed a plea agreement and cooperated with prosecutors.
The disbarment, announced Tuesday, is not permanent, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.
“The court will give her the chance to demonstrate, five years from now, whether she has the requisite fitness to again practice law,” Dane Ciolino, a Loyola University law professor who specializes in legal ethics, told the newspaper. “The court has exhibited some leniency by not disbarring her permanently. It’s kind of a new trend by the court.”
The court order noted only that the disbarment had been agreed to by Peterson and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting her. Six of the seven justices voted in favor of Peterson’s disbarment. Justice Piper Griffin, who represents New Orleans, recused herself.
Court documents outlined a scheme in which Peterson diverted more than $94,000 in campaign funds for personal use, including for casino gambling. Prosecutors said she also arranged for another $53,000 in state Democratic Party funds to be kicked back to her by associates she arranged to be hired by the party. None of those people have been charged.
Her attorney, Brian Capitelli, has said that she has paid back all of the fraudulently obtained money.
Peterson, 52, was elected to the state House in 1999 and to the state Senate in 2010. She served as chair of the state Democratic Party from 2012 to 2020 and twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress, including a failed campaign last year for the U.S. House seat won by another New Orleans Democrat, Troy Carter.
Two Democratic state representatives from New Orleans – Mandie Landry and Royce Duplessis – are campaigning to replace Peterson in the state Senate. The election is Nov. 8.