Lafayette DA Update – 9/19/14

09/19/2014

Amid OWI scandal, Harson sneaks in a raise

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.

Lafayette bribery trial delayed until after election

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.

KTVE-TV10: Terry DWI Vehicle Apparently Registered to Davison Company

09/18/2014

Monroe’s KTVE-TV10 is reporting tonight that the 2008 Mercedes driven by Congressman Vance McAllister’s (LA 05) Chief of Staff Adam Terry when he was arrested last Friday for driving while intoxicated, was registered to a Ruston-based company: Fargo Transport, Inc., 2000 Farmerville Highway.

That address is the same as that of Davison Transportation Services, Inc., according to the TV report.

According to documents from the Louisiana Secretary of State, Fargo Transport is domiciled in Choudrant, LA, and has a Ruston mailing address.

The president of the company is listed as James Davison. Davison has been a financial supporter of McAllister’s, and has been present at McAllister public events.

See here the Louisiana Secretary of State registration for Fargo Transport, Inc.

See here the Affidavit of Probable Cause for Terry’s arrest.

Port Allen, LA Update – 9/18/14

09/18/2014

Clashes between former Port Allen mayor, CFO detailed in filings

Ex-mayor, CFO had ongoing tensions
By Terry L. Jones

PORT ALLEN — New court filings in the lawsuit Port Allen Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain lodged against former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter reveal some of the behind-the-scenes drama that played out at City Hall before the controversial mayor was ousted from office.

n a motion filed in 8th Judicial District Court, McCain’s attorneys say Slaughter stripped McCain of powers inherent to her position as CFO, such as her authority to manage bank accounts. And as tensions between them rose, they wrote, Slaughter ordered McCain to keep her office door in City Hall open at all times and would send her home for not following orders McCain considered improper, the filings state.

District Judge Alvin Batiste was set to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday but had to delay the court proceedings because of health issues confronting one of Slaughter’s lawyers.

McCain sued Slaughter in February 2013 after Slaughter fired her over accounting deficiencies cited in an annual audit report for the city — a decision later overturned by Batiste. The judge ruled that the mayor lacked authority to dismiss the chief financial officer without City Council approval.

However, allegations that Slaughter’s dismissal of McCain violated the state’s whistleblower law and that the former mayor had defamed McCain and interfered with her day-to-day job duties as CFO caused the legal battle to stretch on for more than a year.

In the motions filed Monday, attorneys for McCain argue that Slaughter took punitive actions against the CFO because McCain would not obey Slaughter’s orders to make certain payments McCain considered improper.

Among other things, they wrote, McCain refused to pay the former mayor $20,000 more than her budgeted salary. McCain also would not reimburse Slaughter for expense reports that the CFO says were erroneously submitted for Slaughter’s trip to Washington, D.C., during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Jan. 2013. In addition, McCain’s lawyers wrote, McCain disobeyed directives from Slaughter to ignore public records requests from the media.

In filings responding to the claims in McCain’s suit, attorney J. Arthur Smith, who represents the city of Port Allen, wrote that she isn’t entitled to protection under the state’s whistleblower law because the actions McCain took fall within the scope of her job duties as a financial watchdog for the city.

LP Fire Board Meeting Uneventful

09/17/2014

Last night’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District No. 1 was relatively short and uneventful. It lasted a total of 40 minutes, including the 25 minutes in executive session.

The board unanimously approved designation of Acting Chief Donnie Watson as the representative on the <Lincoln Parish Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Commission. That agency operates a system of communication and data sharing between the member agencies: the fire district, tax assessor, sheriff, City of Ruston, 911 commission, clerk of court, school board, and the police jury.

During reports, Finance Committee Chairman Bart Dugdale said that he would call a meeting next month of his committee to begin work on the 2015 budget. By that time, he said, there would be three full quarters of financial data from 2014 with which to work.

After the executive session, Board Chair Richard Aillet said they discussed the ongoing litigation with former Chief Dennis Ford, and took no action in the meeting.

Said Aillet, “The Board of Commissioners was simply made aware of the lawsuit filed by Dennis Ford. No action was taken while in executive session.”

LP Fire District Meeting Tuesday

09/15/2014

The Lincoln Parish Fire District No. 1 Board of Commissioners will meet Tuesday, September 16, 6:00 PM, Vienna Station, 4786 Highway 167.

Here is the agenda.

Though not specifically noted on the agenda, likely the the board will discuss in executive session the pending lawsuit against the agency by former chief Dennis Ford.

Executive sessions are permitted by Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law if the subject matter is prospective or ongoing litigation. LA RS 42:16; LA RS 42:17

$600 Thousand I-20 Donation to Delta Delayed

09/15/2014

Donation of $600 thousand of Interstate 20 Economic Development District Corporation funds for Delta Community College was tabled at last Thursday’s meeting until an opinion can be rendered by Louisiana’s Attorney General. The I-20 funds would serve as a match to augment other capital outlay monies financed by bond sales, and would pay for capital improvements at the facility.

According to Act 360, the enabling legislation, the matching funds are to be private money. As the funds that the I-20 board dispenses are derived from sales taxes, it is unclear how they would qualify for the match.

In his motion to table the issue, board member Johnny Bryant the board needed to know that the action was legal.

Said Bryant, “One recommendation I would make is that we ask our legal council Mr. Scott to submit that request to the attorney general for an opinion. And if it is legal, we need to also see if whether we have the funds to do that.”

Bryant’s motion passed unanimously.

In other business, the board heard a report from S. E. Huey’s Charles Taylor on their drainage study along the I-20 corridor within the district.

Taylor said the field word had been done, and he showed the board some preliminary aerial photos with the existing drainage structures noted. He said by the next meeting, a report with recommendations would be presented.

Taylor added that as the area developed, and more paving was done in the area, it was likely that additional drainage structures would have to be built.

Also, the board approved some change orders on the design work for the I-20 service road.

More on LPPJ Meeting

09/14/2014

In addition to the impromptu judge candidate forum at last Tuesday night’s Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) meeting, considerable other business got conducted. So much so that the meeting lasted until about 8:45 PM, long by historical standards.

During the Finance Committee meeting, members heard from agencies that traditionally rely on some of their funding from the jury. The 2014 awards to these agencies totaled about $550 thousand. For 2015, the total requests are for almost $600 thousand.

Here are the agencies that are requesting an increase from 2014 to 2015:

Sparta Groundwater Commission
Elisha Ministries (new agency funding request)
Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs
Coordinating & Development Corporation
Third Judicial District Court
Registrar of Voters
Cooperative Extension Service/LSU Ag Center
Lincoln Parish Coroner
Lincoln Parish Health Unit

No action was taken on any of the requests, but the jury will have to act before the end of the year to approve the 2015 budget.

In other business, the full jury, acting as the parish property tax Board of Review, heard a protest from Campus Evolution Villages, a trailer park on West Alabama. The Lincoln Parish Tax Assessor had valued the property at about $9.3 million, but the owners said it was worth about $8.2 million.

Sarah Chaney, the representative from CEV, said that the vacancies increased from 13% to 22% and that caused income to go down.

The jury voted to uphold the assessor’s valuation on CEV, along with several other tax protests that had been filed. The taxpayers can appeal to the Louisiana Tax Commission.

The jury also heard from Ruston Lincoln Parish Convention & Visitor’s Bureau president Travis Napper, who asked approval of the agency’s 2015 budget.

See here the document.

Ouachita Parish Police Jury Monday

09/14/2014

The Ouachita Parish Police Jury (OPPJ) will meet Monday, September 15, 5:30 PM, Ouachita Parish Court House, second floor.

Here is the agenda.

Ford Lawsuit Amended, $70 Thousand More Demanded

09/12/2014

The lawsuit filed earlier this week by former Chief Dennis Ford of Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District No. 1 was amended to include a demand for payment of about $69 thousand for 1290 hours of sick leave that he claims not to have taken.

See here the amended petition.

Former Chief Ford Sues Fire District, Demands $400 Thousand

09/11/2014

Former Chief Dennis Ford of Lincoln Parish Fire Protection District No. 1 has sued the agency for “comp time,” insurance costs, and penalties, Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) has learned.

Ford is demanding a total of about $409 thousand, plus attorney fees.

See here the petition.

Representing Ford is Monroe attorney Daniel Street.

Last May, Ford retired on disability claiming a heart/lung condition. He had been on extended leave for a year prior to that.

LP Fire Chief on “Extended Leave” – 6/5/13

While Chief, Ford was drawing a salary of over $100 thousand/year.

Lincoln Parish Fire District Chief Paid Over $100 Thousand/Year – 6/25/12

The district is required to file an answer or other pleading within fifteen days.


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