Change at DA’s office as Stutes era begins

by Leslie Turk and Patrick Flanagan

Longtime ADA Danny Landry named first assistant, which Keith Stutes believes is a first for the office.

It's official: Stutes sworn in as DA
Photo by Robin May
Keith Stutes was sworn in as DA on Jan. 8
Photo by Robin May

In a courtroom packed with his assistants, family and well-wishers, Keith Stutes was sworn in as the 28th district attorney for the 15th Judicial District, which encompasses Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes. In November, Stutes defeated his former boss, Mike Harson, a once-popular DA turned vulnerable after two decades largely because of a years-long bribery scheme involving employees in his office. At the swearing in, Stutes indicated that prosecutor Danny Landry, who has been with the office for 31 years, will serve as his first assistant district attorney, a position that did not exist under Harson. “Danny Landry will be appointed first assistant. I believe he is qualified from all the number of years I worked alongside him as an ADA,” Stutes said. “In my 28 years [Stutes retired in mid-2012 after 28 years with the office], Danny will officially be the first assistant to be sworn in that I’m aware of, even though it’s required by law.”

Thirty-one ADAs also took the oath. The office will be staffed by 32 ADAs within the next two months; Stutes did not identify the new hire.

Longtime ADA Danny Landry, who will serve as first assistant DA, shares a light moment with his new boss, presenting him with a plaque memorializing inspirational words from the two prosecutors' former boss, Nathan Stansbury.
Photo by Robin May

“I decided to swear in en masse so we start off as one team, not three separate groups of district attorneys,” Stutes said shortly after taking the oath.

Though he specifically stated that no one had been fired — “We hired employees. Yes, we did have to make some choices, but we didn’t fire anyone,” he told The IND — at least two faces familiar to the DA’s office were not in attendance at the swearing in. Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who was director of youth services and programs for the office, was not retained by Stutes, nor was prosecutor Pat Magee.

Boudreaux, who spent 20 years with the DA’s office and has just been elected council chair for the second time in his tenure, confirmed to The IND two weeks ago that he had not been retained by the Stutes administration and did not have any definitive plans for his professional future. Boudreaux did make it clear, however, that he is seriously considering running for city-parish president, where he would face at least two opponents, Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley and state Rep. Joel Robideaux. Read more about his potential candidacy here.

Boudreaux posted the following on his Facebook page Wednesday afternoon:

Hello family and friends, I truly hope your New Year has gotten off to a great start.
Although some of you are aware, for those who are not, I am taking this time to inform you that after 20 years of service, my work through the 15th Judicial District, District Attorney Office for the children and families of Acadia, Lafayette and Vermilion Parishes has come to an end. Friday January 9, 2015 will officially be my final day of work.
You cannot imagine the honor and privilege I have had working on your behalf.
The relationships that have been created and the friendships that will be maintained makes this transition an easy one. This job afforded me the opportunity to impact thousands of lives and it has also positively impacted me. For That I say THANK YOU!
To all the coworkers that I have been able to work along side of, it has truly been a pleasure. I wish each and everyone of you the very best life has to offer.
To the crew at 1010, what can I say? It has been a blast. Thank You for what you did for me today.
Finally to District Attorney Mike Harson,
You served this District Well, You have a BIG Heart, you believe in people and you brought me on back in 19995. You said you wanted to help children and students. You wanted to give those who deserved and earned, a second chance. You said you wanted to save young lives. Mike we did it. Be proud of your work, I will forever be grateful for the opportunity you gave me, to help those in need.
If anyone is in need of any program or service of The District Attorney’s Office you will now need to call (337)232-5170 God Bless each and everyone of you!!!!!

Both Boudreaux and Magee supported Harson, though that does not appear to be the driving reason for their dismissal, as most other ADAs who publicly supported Harson (some even appeared in his TV commercials) have been retained — and at least one was elevated. Celeste White was promoted from prosecuting misdemeanor DWIs and other traffic cases to the felony drug track.

“Initially, I was extremely disappointed,” Magee tells The IND, “but I understand that in politics, to the victor go the spoils.” Magee, an ADA for nine years, has already landed on his feet, having joined Voorhies & Labbe law firm as a criminal defense attorney. “V and L has a heavy litigation practice, and this is what I do, and they were very receptive to my desire to develop a selective criminal defense practice,” he says.

In another change still being crafted, according to legal sources who asked not to be identified, City Prosecutor Gary Haynes, who is appointed by City-Parish President Joey Durel, will no longer serve as a special ADA, nor will he be prosecuting DWIs in city court.

Haynes’ wife, Barna, was Harson’s longtime administrator; she and two others in the DA’s office pleaded guilty to federal charges of accepting bribes from private investigator Robert Williamson in a scheme to get favorable treatment for DWI offenders and are awaiting sentencing. Williamson, who has pleaded not guilty in the conspiracy, is scheduled for trial June 8.

At Thursday's swearing in, Stutes dodged most questions about the past problems of the office, saying he preferred to talk about his plans for reorganizing the office and restoring integrity to it.