Barna Haynes, who worked for Mike Harson for three decades, even before he was elected district attorney, has been cooperating with federal officials for months as she negotiated an agreement to plead guilty to accepting brides.

“We had several sessions over the last few months,” says Frank Dawkins, Haynes’ criminal defense attorney. Dawkins would not comment further.

Clearly, based on information included in the plea deal announced Monday, Haynes gave up nothing on her old boss — presumably because there was nothing to give up. Apparently, for four years Haynes was bribed by private investigator Robert Williamson right under Harson’s nose and the DA was never even suspicious about why Williamson was in the office so often with so much access to his secretary. You'd think a DA would run off anyone with this kind of background.

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Photo courtesy KADN
While U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley says Haynes and Williamson (whom Finley identifies only a co-conspirator #1) were able to pull of the scheme to help defendants get favorable outcomes on their cases because there was a lack of oversight and safeguards built into the district attorney’s office, Finley also maintains Harson had no knowledge of what was going on. Williamson would play lawyer for the defendants, and Haynes would prepare the paperwork on drug and OWI cases for a fee. Most of the cases involved what's called an "immediate 894," an expedited court process in which the conviction is ultimately expunged from the defendant's record.

Haynes faces up to five years in prison as a result of her guilty plea to a single count bill of information, though most observers believe it’s unlikely she’ll get the maximum. The discrepancy between what Haynes says she was paid over the four years she took bribes, $55,000, and what the feds say she got, more than $70,000, could be a difference of three to six months, a former federal prosecutor tells The IND.

For his part in allowing all of this to happen on his watch, Harson is not accepting any blame, telling TV3: “The problem is the only way to prevent it 100 percent would be for me to personally observe every case that comes through my office and follow it every step of the way, all the way through the case. Including traffic and everything else, we take in 18,000 cases a year.”

When The IND asked Finley if any of the cases Haynes and Williamson handled would now be reviewed, she said that was up to the DA’s office. Yep, Harson will make the call on whether to review any of the cases defendants had wiped off their records by paying off Williamson, Haynes and who knows how many others. As expected, Harson has no intention of revisiting the prosecutions, telling The Daily Advertiser:
“However, in response to your other question relative to the prior cases of ‘immediate 894s’ I do not intend to take any action for two reasons.

“First, it was a perfectly legal plea and I would have no compelling reason to try and undo it.

“Secondly, I got exactly what I would have gotten had the plea been taken under any other format, i.e., a plea of guilty to the DWI and the performance of all statutorily required conditions.”

Wake up Mike Harson; it was not a perfectly legal plea. At least some of these defendants — I'll go out on a limb and argue most — did not do what was required of them. There is evidence in court documents that some of the community service these defendants were supposed to perform was done before they were even arrested or completed within days of the arrest. Those cases, in particular that of former Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Deputy Robert A. Lawrence, would be a good place to start. 

In August 2011 Lawrence was arrested for OWI with a blood-alcohol content of 0.153 (the legal limit is under .08), according to the arrest affidavit. He was also cited for careless operation and hit and run. Only a month after his arrest, Lawrence appeared in court without an attorney — in all likelihood with Williamson — before 15th Judicial District Judge Ed Rubin and pleaded no contest. The problem with his case is that some of his community service at Acadiana Outreach was performed before he was arrested and signed by an employee who was fired from the agency before Lawrence allegedly completed the community service.

Harson might also start with what former ADA Keith Stutes uncovered when he conducted his own investigation of how the DA's office was handling these cases after the feds launched their probe.

A successful prosecutor immensely respected by fellow prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, Stutes called it quits in August, citing the federal investigation as one of the reasons he decided to retire. We can only hope Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, who now has possession of Stutes’ report, sees things differently than Harson and gets to the bottom of how so many of these defendants were able to get favorable treatment from the time of their arrest through disposition of the case.

If speculation about what’s to come is accurate, Harson will see another of his ADAs and a former ADA face disbarment for their roles in this scheme. IND Monthly readers might recall that Floyd Johnson was disbarred last year — an embarrassment Harson could have avoided had he taken appropriate action in 2004 when Johnson was arrested for domestic violence.

Johnson, who was convicted of tax evasion six years later and sentenced to 18 months, was released from federal prison late last year. He served out his sentence at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, Okla., and is now on probation for three years. He stayed on Harson's payroll throughout the federal probe, which was much broader than a tax evasion investigation and Harson knew it.

If another current and former ADA do face disbarment because of felony convictions, that’s three strikes for Harson.

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