Parish must support DA’s office

Published 7:46 am Wednesday, July 4, 2012

St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed’s office said Washington Parish is required by law to financially support the DA’s office in Franklinton and that the money the district attorney has paid through the years to the parish was done only to assist with balancing the budget.

A statement issued through Rick Wood said the district attorney’s office chipped in with expenses many years ago after Washington Parish officials indicated they could not afford Reed’s request to expand the Franklinton branch. The request came after the historic Reed vs. Washington Parish decision of 1988, in which Reed sued the parish to provide adequate funding for his office.

The Louisiana Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling which went against Reed and mandated that all Louisiana parishes must provide funds that are “reasonable and necessary” to support the DA’s office.

Several opinions by the Louisiana Attorney General have confirmed that decision although “reasonable and necessary” has not been defined, adding to the confusion.

Washington Parish officials said they were led to believe that a gentlemen’s agreement was in place where Reed would reimburse the parish for expenses above and beyond what the DA’s office asks for at the beginning of each fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1. Sources said the agreement might date back to shortly after the Supreme Court ruling.

For more than 20 years, records indicate the district attorney’s office paid the parish $25,000 a month ostensibly to help with expenses. However, from August of 2007 through March of 2009 Reed’s office withheld all payments, and then in April of 2009 began making monthly payments of $16,000.

The problem, Washington Parish officials maintain, is Reed’s decision to trim back on the reimbursement is costing the parish about $13,000 a month, and that deficit has led to a dire projection that the general fund, which is basically the parish checkbook, will see a $200,000 shortfall at the end of 2012.

Recently, the parish was forced to write off $800,000 of the nearly $1 million that officials were counting on in reimbursements. Sources have said that money was listed under receivables and once it was written off, the $800,000 had to be put back into the expenses, thus creating the gaping hole in the budget.

“Many years ago because the parish indicated that it could not pay for some of the mandated expenses it asked for help with funding after the Reed decision,” the statement said. “It was decided to advance some self-generated funds to the parish.

“The varying amounts provided to the parish are discretionary and not an obligation or ‘debt’ to the parish. They were simply to assist the parish as long as the DA was financially capable of sending the advances.

“The advances were to help the parish with its mandatory obligation. The parish is by law mandated to support the operations (of Reed’s office) financially.”

Several questions posed by The Daily News to Reed’s office were left unanswered in the statement, including if the district attorney’s office will continue to pay the $16,000 to the parish. Also left unanswered is why the district attorney’s office sent in a budget request of $18,000 for the current fiscal year but is asking the parish for another $29,000 per month, of which Reed is picking up $16,000 of those costs.

The Daily News also asked Reed’s office to detail the expenditures of the additional $29,000 per month but the statement did not address that question.

Additionally, the statement did not address questions regarding the existence of a verbal agreement, why the district attorney’s office stopped making payments in 2007 only to resume in 2009, and what type of an agreement can be reached to satisfy all parties.

Several sources, who asked not to be identified, have said one option the parish may consider is not paying the additional $13,000 per month it is currently paying out to cover expenses. Reed’s office did not say if cutbacks would be required if that were to occur.

Such a decision must come by an act of the Parish Council.