Lafayette DA Update – 1/30/14

DWI bribery suit may affect other Lafayette DWI cases

Allegations include bribery scheme

By Richard Burgess
rburgess@theadvocate.com

LAFAYETTE — A lawsuit filed this week will likely dig into the details of a scheme at the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office where bribes were paid for favorable treatment in DWI cases.

Three former employees of the District Attorney’s Office have already pleaded guilty in a federal probe of the scheme.

The lawsuit now questions the legitimacy of DWI guilty pleas that Lafayette attorney Barry Sallinger contends are tainted because they were arranged by a man who is not an attorney and who instead doled out cash to secure plea deals for his clients.

Sallinger is representing 24-year-old Ryan Dean Stelly, who claims in the lawsuit to have paid Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson $5,000 in 2010 in exchange for arranging a plea deal for a first-offense DWI.

Stelly has since been arrested on another DWI charge and now faces a more severe penalty if convicted of a second offense.

But Sallinger argues in the lawsuit that the first-offense plea should be thrown out because it was not negotiated by an attorney, effectively denying Stelly his constitutional right to legal counsel and raising questions about whether he lost an opportunity to challenge the evidence against him.

Stelly was an “unwitting participant” in the bribery scheme, believing that Williamson “was acting with the full cooperation and approval of DA Mike Harson” and that the $5,000 was simply a legitimate fee, according to the lawsuit.

Harson said Wednesday that he believes the plea deal, even if it were secured by bribing his employees, will be upheld and that similar plea deals had been offered to other defendants who were not aided by Williamson.

The lack of an attorney being present during the negotiations should not make a difference if someone knowingly waived his or her right to counsel, Harson said.

Harson has not been implicated in the case, but federal prosecutors wrote in court filings that the scheme was carried out without his knowledge because of a “lack of oversight and safeguards.”

One Response to “Lafayette DA Update – 1/30/14”

  1. Dan Burson Says:

    why dont you address the corruption that goes on in Lincoln parish before you say garbage about anyone else—-you need to empty your own garbage first you hypocrite cowards.

    Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2014 19:13:43 +0000 To: dannymb52@hotmail.com

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