DA sues LCG for not funding office

Keith Stutes (Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser)

LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – District Attorney Keith Stutes filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Lafayette Consolidated Government for not funding his office.

In April, Stutes told The Daily Advertiser he wasn’t ruling out litigation because of an ongoing dispute with LCG over funding.

The lawsuit asks a judge to force LCG to turn over funding required by state law and to prohibit LCG from demanding reimbursement from the DA’s office for certain expenses.

It also aimed to stop the City-Parish Council from introducing an ordinance at its meeting Tuesday that would cut $105,743 from the parish general fund and $575,144 from the criminal court fund that are budgeted for the district attorney’s office.

The judges contacted about the lawsuit recused themselves from the case so the order was not signed in time to stop the council from making the cuts Tuesday night.

The council protected $162,000 for judges’ secretaries pay for the remaining four months of the 2015-16 fiscal year after administrators and councilmen met with the judges about the funding issue Tuesday.

Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said more than $1 million in reductions will be needed to the courts in the 2016-17 budget.

David Blanchet, chief judge of the 15th judicial district court, said cutting the budget is not going to solve the problem. For three years former City-Parish President Joey Durel warned of a severe revenue problem in the parish budget, equating it to a train wreck about to happen.

“The train wreck is here,” Blanchet said. “It’s time to make some tough decisions” like additional taxes or reforming the formula by which expenses are split between parish and city budgets.

Stutes said he wasn’t invited to meet with the council or administration Tuesday and he will proceed with his lawsuit.

Several employees in the DA’s office “will be adversely impacted by the loss of health benefits, retirement benefits, insurance benefits and wages,” Stutes wrote in the lawsuit.

Former District Attorney Mike Harson had expenses like pay raises and health insurance costs placed in the parish budget with the understanding that he would reimburse the parish for those costs, Lorrie Toups, LCG chief financial officer, said in April.

Stutes, who took office in January 2015 has refused to reimburse the parish for $740,000 in salaries for his employees without a cooperative endeavor agreement. The Acadia and Vermilion parish governments, also in the 15th judicial district with Lafayette Parish, signed agreements.

In his lawsuit, Stutes argues that LCG is required by law to pay certain expenses of his office, whether its from city funds or parish funds, and may be violating the spirit of the state constitution by expecting his office to pay back part of those funds.

LCG officials said the Home Rule Charter states that any fees, charges or taxes levied in the parish or city before consolidation in 1996 remain unchanged until or unless the council changes it or the public votes to change it.

Based on that interpretation, Toups said  in April that the DA’s expenses must come from the parish funds, not the city’s. The parish general fund is broke.

But Stutes cites the state constitution that reads, “No home rule charter or plan of government shall contain any provision affecting … the offices of district attorney … which is inconsistent with this constitution or law.”

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