Feb. 28, 2012 06:51 PM

Phil Haney, district attorney for Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes, took the witness stand in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse Tuesday in response to ethics charges filed against him by the state office that handles complaints of attorney misconduct.

Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney, the first sitting district attorney to ever face charges of ethical misconduct by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, testified on his own behalf Tuesday morning at a preliminary "fact-finding" hearing held at the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.

Haney, the 12-year district attorney for Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes, has been charged by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of violating conflict of interest codes related to a civil case he represented through his private practice in 2007. The charges stem from a complaint filed by former state Sen. Troy Hebert, Haney's longtime public rival who now heads the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control.

If found guilty, Haney faces potential probation, suspension or even permanent disbarment from practicing law in Louisiana.

According to testimony, Haney was retained in a civil case by Stephanie Provost, who was injured in a boating accident in which her boyfriend was the owner and driver of the boat. According to Haney, he was unaware when he took the case that her boyfriend was issued two citations by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in relation to the boating accident.

Haney maintains that when his office learned of the criminal charges against Provost's boyfriend, he immediately recused his office from handling the criminal case against her boyfriend and forwarded the case to the state Attorney General's Office.

Haney, who worked as an assistant DA in the 16th for more than 20 years before becoming district attorney, testified that he did not see a conflict of interest because Provost did not pursue criminal charges against her boyfriend (the defendant), nor did Provost face criminal charges related to the case.

But ODC lawyer Fred Ours argued Tuesday that Provost was a witness in her boyfriend's criminal case, which also ended in her boyfriend having to write a letter of apology to Provost.

Haney received a $20,000 contigency fee through his representation of Provost.

The ODC attorney also pointed to a February 2007 ethics advisory opinion issued by the Louisiana State Bar Association, which states that "in the event the conflict of interest arises after the civil representation is undertaken, the prosecutor should withdraw from the matter in all respects."

"If law enforcement files charges in a homicide case, could the district attorney represent the victim's family in a wrongful death case?" Ours argued Tuesday.

The hearing Tuesday is the first of three phases related to Haney's ethics charges. Information from the hearing will be forwarded to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, which will issue a public report that then goes to the Louisiana Supreme Court for a final decision.