|Photo courtesy KADN|
“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.