DA seeks hearing Friday to stop Lafayette city-parish council from voting Tuesday on budget cuts _lowres

Keith Stutes

The Lafayette City-Parish Council is scheduled to vote as planned Tuesday on a $650,000 budget cut for the District Attorney’s Office, despite a lawsuit filed to keep the funding in place.

Fifteenth Judicial District Attorney Keith Stutes, who filed the lawsuit against city-parish government in May, initially sought a court order to block the council from voting on the measure.

But Stutes and attorneys for city-parish government agreed at a Friday court hearing to allow the vote and then reconvene court on June 14 to fight over the funding issue and to decide whether to void the budget cut should the council approve it Tuesday.

The litigation comes in an ongoing feud between Stutes and city-parish leaders over what expenses local government is required to pay for the District Attorney’s Office.

Some City-Parish Council members say there is not enough money to continue to pay the bills, but Stutes argues state law requires city-parish government to cover all reasonable expenses.

The “parish” side of city-parish government’s budget, the source of funding for the District Attorney’s Office, has long been weak, but the issue didn’t surface until recently because former District Attorney Mike Harson had been covering more of his office expenses with internal funds. City-parish government would budget the expenses, but Harson would pay annual reimbursements to local government that had climbed to more than $600,000 by the time he left office.

Stutes questioned that practice soon after he took the helm in 2015, demanding city-parish government step up to cover expenses as required by state law.

The budget measure up for a vote at Tuesday’s council meeting would strip all the expenses Harson had been reimbursing, mostly salaries and related benefits.

If the council approves the budget cut, Stutes still will have an opportunity to challenge the loss of funding at the June 14 court hearing.

Regardless of the vote, the June 14 hearing is expected to go forward to address related funding issues.

The case is being heard by retired state Judge Dennis Waldron, an ad hoc judge brought in from outside the area because all local judges recused themselves from hearing a case that also might affect similar city-parish funding issues for judicial expenses.