Harson dispels 'rumors,' saying he's all in

by Leslie Turk

Let there be no doubt he's running, DA Mike Harson says in a recent letter about an upcoming fundraiser: "I understand that there have been rumors to the contrary and I wanted to personally set the record straight." Of course, there is no mention of the bribery scandal that has rocked his office, leading many voters to doubt his competency.

On the campaign trail: Harson at the UL basketball game Thursday night

[UPDATE: Robert Williamson's trial was again delayed and is now set for Oct. 20].

In a recent letter (the one forwarded to The IND was not dated) that begins "Dear Supporter," 15th Judicial District Attorney Mike Harson aims to dispel any "rumors" that he will not seek re-election. The DA, however, does not once mention what's driving the speculation that he won't run for a fifth term this year: His former longtime administrator, Barna Haynes, was a central figure in a bribery scheme that went on for years within earshot of his office.

Haynes has already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, while the alleged mastermind, Robert Williamson, is set for trial March 10. He is charged with six counts of bribery "for operating a pay-for-plea scheme that garnered favorable treatment for defendants charged with state violations of operating while intoxicated," one count of conspiracy, one count of Social Security fraud and one count of making false statements to federal agents. He pleaded not guilty.

Before Williamson was indicted Feb. 28, four others involved in the scheme pleaded guilty. Like Haynes, they are awaiting sentencing.

Harson's only announced opposition so far is his former lead prosecutor, Keith Stutes, whose biggest case was the effectively orchestrated prosecution of Brandon Scott Lavergne for the murders of Mickey Shunick in May 2012 and Lisa Pate in 1999. In August 2012, Lavergne was sentence to life at Angola.

Keith Stutes

Former ADA Stutes, who acknowledged that the bribery scandal played a role in his decision to retire after 28 years with the office (he confirmed his departure less than a month after securing the plea deal in the Shunick case), leads Harson by a large margin, according to a mid-August Southern Media & Opinion Research of 400 likely voters in the 15th Judicial District. The two were neck-and-neck in the poll until voters were asked about the bribery scheme. The margin then swings to 48-22 in favor of Stutes.

Below is Harson's letter (minus the instructions and address on where to send the check):

I am very happy to be writing you at this time to state unequivocally that I will be a candidate for re-election as your District Attorney on November 4, 2014.

I understand that there have been rumors to the contrary and I wanted to personally set the record straight. Additionally, I would like to humbly solicit your continued support at this time. In that regard, I am sponsoring my first fund raising event which will also act as my official "Kickoff" of the campaign. lt will consist of several local restaurants providing fine food and there will also be light entertainment. The tickets are $200 per couple. The date is Wednesday, March 12, 2014 from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. It will be at the River Oaks Catering and Event Center on Kaliste Saloom Road.  ...

As always, I appreciate your past support and sincerely request your continued support in my re-election campaign. With your help we can be victorious and allow me to continue providing the "open door" services that I've provided to everyone over the last 19 years.

Thanks for your support and your response. See you there.