[Editor's Note: This story has been altered to update the employment status of Barna Haynes, the longtime office manager of District Attorney Mike Harson.]
Barna Haynes and Robert Williamson, the two people named by Independent sources as the targets of a federal investigation into 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson’s office, share a key connection in the FBI’s probe of how Harson’s office is handling OWI prosecutions.
As The Independent reported March 7, Williamson is a licensed private investigator who works as a consultant for OWI offenders and Barna Haynes, as Harson’s office administrator, schedules meetings between Harson and those who wish to be admitted into the OWI pretrial diversion program or have their charges expunged from their records.
Also reported by The Ind in this week’s “The Not So Secret Cajun Man” is Williamson’s long and bizarre history with federal courts in Louisiana: In 1989, Williamson’s wife, Sonya, claimed she was electrocuted while turning off a light in the family’s hotel room at the Haynes Best Western in Alexandria, where the family had been living for more than a month (the name of the hotel appears to be coincidental, unrelated to Barna Haynes). The Williamsons claimed in a subsequent lawsuit against the hotel that the electrocution stemmed from a water leak in the room’s ceiling and caused Sonya to become quadriplegic ... In the end, the jury sided with the insurance company and ruled that the electrocution was staged, largely based on the couple’s history of fraudulent insurance activity. But the Williamsons’ appeals and the countersuits filed by the insurance company kept the case tied up in federal court for more than a decade.
The Ind has since learned that City Prosecutor Gary Haynes, husband of Barna Haynes, represented the Williamsons in a 2004 appeal related to the electrocution case. The Williamson and Gary Haynes connection also resurfaces in 2005, when Gary Haynes signed on as the attorney for a child custody case involving local businessman Bradley Griffith.
According to court documents, District Judge David Blanchet identifies Williamson as a private investigator who accompanied Griffith to his child’s day care center at the height of the custody dispute. The judge wrote in the ruling:
“Brad ... sabotaged the situation by involving a private investigator, Robert Williamson, who appeared at the day care with him on several occasions and who made inquiries concerning the owners of the day care [to a neighboring business owner] ... This resulted in the child being dismissed from the day care center by the center’s owners.”
Gary Haynes is the listed attorney for the 2005 case, Bradley Griffith vs. Resa Latiolais, according to court documents. “I was not the lead attorney and assisted for a brief time in that case," Gary Haynes said in a brief phone interview with The Independent Monday. “And that’s all I can say. Other than that I can’t really comment on Robert Williamson."
But Gary Haynes' statement about his role in the Griffith case is not entirely accurate, according to Latiolais' attorney, Julie Vaughn Felder. "He was not the lead lawyer, but he showed up at the majority of depositions and hearings," she says. "He filed a motion to withdraw on the eve of the last day of trial." The suit was filed in October 2005, and the first day of trial was in August 2006. Haynes' motion to withdraw was filed Jan. 27, 2008, and the trial ended the next day.
"It was a 12-day trial that took 17 months," Felder says.
The Independent submitted a public records request to Harson's office Friday morning to verify the employment status of Barna Haynes. Harson told The Daily Advertiser Friday afternoon that Barna has been on upaid leave since Monday. He responded three days later to The Ind's public records request via a March 20 fax that says it is "undetermined" when Barna Haynes will return to work. Her annual salary, according to Harson, is $62,545.