The Office of Disciplinary Counsel has filed formal misconduct charges against 16th Judicial District Attorney Phil Haney over Haney’s decision to represent a woman in a 2007 civil case.
The formal charges were filed Sept. 7 and relate to Haney’s representation of Stephanie Provost, who was injured in a boating accident in Iberia Parish, said Charles B. Plattsmier, chief disciplinary counsel for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Haney was paid $20,000 in legal fees when Provost’s case was settled in late 2007.
As a result of representing Provost, Haney had to recuse his office from prosecuting the boat driver in the accident because of a conflict of interest.
“It’s not appropriate for a district attorney, in our opinion, to forego or neglect his responsibilities as an elected official in order to pursue a civil case in his private practice,” Plattsmier said Tuesday.
Haney has denied any wrongdoing in the case.
The charges state that Provost was injured May 20, 2007, when she fell out of an inner tube connected to a boat driven by Shane Roberts.
Roberts was issued a citation by the investigating state Wildlife and Fisheries agent for misdemeanor criminal violations of reckless operation of a watercraft and no waterskiing observer, according to the formal charges.
Provost retained Haney as her lawyer on a contingency fee basis sometime between May 20, 2007, and Aug, 10, 2007, to represent her in recovering damages from Roberts, according to the charges.
Haney recused his office from prosecuting the criminal charges against Roberts shortly after Haney was retained to represent Provost, according to the document.
The state Attorney General’s Office assumed the prosecution of Roberts, who was subsequently convicted on some of the criminal charges, according to the charges.
Haney continued to represent Provost in the civil case against Roberts and received a $20,000 legal fee after the case was settled in December 2007, the charges state.
Haney denied the allegations in a Sept. 27 response filed by his New Orleans attorney, Richard Stanley.
Neither Haney nor Stanley returned calls to their respective offices seeking comment Tuesday.
In the response, Stanley wrote that Haney was not aware that a citation had been issued to Roberts when he agreed to represent Provost.
The citation was not filed with the Clerk of Court’s Office until July 13, some seven weeks after the accident, Stanley wrote.
Haney became aware of the citation in mid- to late July 2007 when his secretary checked on whether any conflicts of interest existed in the case, Stanley wrote.
To avoid any potential conflict, Haney took appropriate action to recuse his office from prosecuting Roberts, Stanley wrote.
“This recusal was necessary in that Mr. Haney’s existing representation of Ms. Provost would not have permitted him to handle the charges against Mr. Roberts,” Stanley wrote.
Haney also denied that his continued representation of Provost in the civil matter conflicted with his public duty as district attorney to prosecute Roberts.
A hearing date has not been set, Plattsmier said.
Possible sanctions for a lawyer facing formal charges range from public reprimands and probation to suspension and disbarment, Plattsmier said, speaking generally about such cases.
The state Supreme Court will make the final decision on whether sanctions are appropriate, Plattsmier said.
Plattsmier said this may be the first time that an elected district attorney has become the subject of formal charges filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
The charges stem from a 10-page complaint filed in May 2010 by former State Sen. Troy Hebert, D-Jeanerette, who has feuded with the district attorney over a controversial expansion of a landfill near Acadiana Regional Airport in New Iberia.
The complaint alleges, among other things, that Haney committed perjury on two separate occasions before two legislative committees, and allowed his assistant district attorneys to enter into illegal contracts with Iberia Parish.
Haney also denied those claims in a July 14, 2010, response to the complaint.
The 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office covers Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes.