Through a public records request, The Advocate found that District Attorney Mike Harson’s office, which is under investigation by the feds, took over dozens of OWI cases typically handled by the city prosecutor.
The newspaper's investigation, which looked at misdemeanor OWI cases over the past three years, found that Harson's office made specific requests to take over the cases, often times before they ever made their way to the city prosecutor:
In 2009-11, the District Attorney’s Office requested 86 DWI cases, 55 of which were requested directly from the Lafayette Police Department, which documented each request in a log that included the offender’s name and whom the file was sent to within the DA’s office.
The logs show that 28 of the files, 26 in 2011 alone, were sent to the initials B.H., or Barna Haynes, Harson’s longtime office administrator. Haynes is on unpaid administrative leave.
The Independent confirmed, through sources familiar with the FBI’s probe into Harson’s handling of OWI cases, that Haynes’ office was searched by the feds on Feb. 27. That same day, the FBI served a search warrant on the residence of local private eye Robert Williamson, a regular among the courthouse crowd known to offer some type of “consulting services” to those charged with OWI. Alleged OWI offenders who seek to enter the pretrial diversion program or have their records expunged, two programs sources say the feds are looking into, sometimes do not hire an attorney. Some would hire Williamson instead.
Read more about Williamson's checkered past in this Independent story.
Harson told The Advocate that Haynes has a variety of duties, some of which included helping to pull and prepare pretrial diversion cases and cases involving Article 894 pleas, a state law that allows a misdemeanor conviction to be set aside as if it were an acquittal after a defendant completes his or her probation.
Haynes is married to City Prosecutor Gary Haynes. The DA does have discretion on which cases his office handles, and which cases remain with the city prosecutor.
The Advocate’s Friday story is a follow-up to its Wednesday report that a 2011 OWI case involving a former Lafayette Parish sheriff’s deputy is likely among the case files the FBI confiscated Feb. 27.:
On Aug. 12, 2011, State Police arrested former Deputy Robert A. Lawrence on counts of first-offense DWI, careless operation and hit-and-run driving stemming from a crash that left the other driver injured, said Trooper Stephen Hammons, spokesman for State Police.
Lawrence’s blood-alcohol content registered 0.153, nearly twice the legal limit, according to his citation.
A review of Lawrence’s case at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse revealed a number of potential issues, including the fact that his community service paperwork from Acadiana Outreach Center’s Recovery Center was signed by an employee who had been fired from the agency prior to Lawrence’s community service being completed.
One month after his arrest, Lawrence — who had been fired by the Sheriff’s Office Nov. 5, 2010, for violating departmental policies stemming from an Oct. 23, 2010, party at his home — appeared in court on the Aug. 12 DWI case without an attorney before 15th Judicial District Judge Edward D. Rubin.
Lawrence entered a plea of no contest to a misdemeanor first-offense DWI under Article 894, a state law that allows a conviction to be set aside and the prosecution dismissed after the defendant’s probation ends.
Court records indicate Lawrence’s probation was terminated before it ever began because his plea was taken under what Harson calls an “immediate 894.”
It’s not clear whether Williamson was involved in that case. Read The Advocate’s Wednesday story here.