By Leslie Turk
In February 2012 Mike Harson experienced what had to be an unimaginably demoralizing incident for any sitting district attorney. The feds showed up at his office to execute search warrants, seizing computers and records on several employees, including Harson’s longtime office administrator, Barna Haynes, and an assistant district attorney, Greg Williams, as part of an investigation into a pay-for-plea scheme involving mostly OWI defendants. Two weeks later Harson put Haynes on unpaid administrative leave; she never returned and is likely going to jail.
Five months later the embarrassment was compounded when Harson’s top assistant DA, Keith Stutes, said he was retiring — in part due to the federal probe and what Stutes himself found after initiating his own internal investigation of the DA’s office amid the bribery allegations (findings he turned over to the attorney general’s office for potential prosecution of Harson on state charges of malfeasance but has never disclosed publicly). Stutes confirmed his impending departure less than a month after successfully negotiating the plea deal that sent Brandon Scott Lavergne to prison for the first-degree murders of Mickey Shunick in May 2012 and Lisa Pate in 1999 — perhaps the most effectively orchestrated prosecution ever handled by the local DA’s office. Stutes, as anyone reading this story knows, later decided to challenge Harson for DA.
So what does Harson do back in 2012? He uses Stutes’ retirement as an “opportunity to reevaluate my salary” and concludes that he deserves a $12,200 raise ($14,000 with benefits).
Yes, he did.
By Richard Burgess
LAFAYETTE — A trial that would have delved into a bribery scandal at the District Attorney’s Office just as District Attorney Mike Harson faced re-election on Nov. 4 has been delayed until December.
Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson is accused of soliciting cash fees from drivers charged with OWI and then using some of the money to pay off employees of the District Attorney’s Office to secure favorable plea deals.
Five others have already pleaded guilty in the federal probe, including three former employees of the District Attorney’s Office.
Williamson had been set for trial on Oct. 20 in a case that would have played out in the days leading up to the Nov. 4 election.
Harson is being challenged by retired prosecutor Keith Stutes — the incumbent’s first contested election in 20 years.
Harson has not been charged in the federal investigation, but the bribery scandal is an unavoidable campaign issue.