Auditing firm on EBR Clerk of Court credit card expenses: 'Obviously, we don't look at every document' _lowres

East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court Doug Welborn

A former longtime East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court's Office employee claims he and other office administrators and supervisors were required to annually pony up cash for Clerk of Court Doug Welborn's birthday and Christmas gifts.

Wilton Roy Davis, who worked for the office from 1991 until last January when he says he was forced to retire at age 62, also alleges he and other Clerk's Office employees were required to make campaign donations to Welborn's successful fall 2015 re-election effort.

Davis, who contends in a lawsuit against Welborn that his retirement was effectively a termination, claims he further complained about the Clerk's Office's use of an office credit card to pay for meals for a select group of upper administrators.

In the suit filed Dec. 27 in the 19th Judicial District Court, Davis alleges he was subjected to illegal age-based harassment and discrimination, and that he was fired for opposing, protesting and reporting the office's workplace practices.

Another lawsuit filed Tuesday by former veteran Clerk's Office employee Joyce Swearingen also accuses Welborn of age-based harassment and discrimination. Her suit makes no mention of the other allegations made in Davis' suit.

Swearingen, who worked in the recording department for 34 years, was 71 when she says she was forced to retire last January.

"Older workers have a lot to contribute and should be allowed to contribute," said Jill Craft, who represents Davis and Swearingen.

Welborn, through spokesman Fred Sliman, said in a statement Wednesday he is aware of the suits and that they have been referred to the office's attorneys. He said he could not comment further on the pending litigation.

"Following proper procedure, we look forward to filing responses to the allegations into the matters soon," Welborn's statement added.

In his suit, Davis -- who worked in the archives department -- said he had been ordered to go to lunch with a select group of upper administrators on previous occasions. On one such occasion at Stroube's, Davis says he asked how a Clerk's Office credit card was being used to pay for the meals. Greg Brown, chief deputy clerk of court, allegedly told Davis that a state Attorney General's Office opinion purportedly approved the practice as long as it was for a meeting.

"Brown then turned to (Davis) and asked, 'how are things' in your department. (Davis) responded, 'fine.' Brown then pronounced, see we had a meeting, now let's eat. Shortly thereafter, (Davis) was not requested to go to lunch with the group," the suit states.

An article published in The Advocate in October 2015 detailed the Clerk's Office's $93,000 in credit card expenses over the previous five years. During that span, nearly $29,000 was spent on food, either at restaurants such as Stroube's Seafood and Steaks, Monjunis Italian Restaurant, Acme Oyster House and Twin Peaks, or grocery stores. Roughly $46,000 was spent on lodging, often casino hotel rooms.

Welborn had said back in the fall of 2015 that his office welcomed the opportunity "as always to provide any agency with the information they need from us." Sliman also said then that the Clerk's Office expenditures "have passed our audits as legitimate and permissible business expenses and documentation is available in all cases to correspond with them."

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Wednesday his office has partially looked into the Clerk's Office spending habits but is awaiting a full report from the state Legislative Auditor's Office. Moore said he expects to receive the report soon.

Davis further claims that every August, Clerk's Office administrators and supervisors were required to pay $100 and $50 in cash, respectively, to Brown for Welborn's birthday. Brown recorded the payments in a log, the suit alleges.

"If an employee did not pay to the annual Welborn birthday fund, the employee's job was at risk," the suit states.

"It shouldn't work that way in a public employment scenario," added Craft, who declined to discuss the specifics of the physical evidence in the case.

Welborn was presented with a birthday cake and an envelope of cash, according to Davis' suit.

A similar collection of cash was taken up for Welborn's Christmas gift, the suit says.

Davis also alleges he and other Clerk's Office employees were required to donate $250 apiece to Welborn's 2015 re-election campaign.

"On one occasion, (Davis) hand-delivered to Welborn a campaign donation (from another worker) in the amount of $250 by check during working hours and as required," the suit says. "Upon tendering the campaign donation, Welborn remarked to (Davis), 'where's yours', to which (Davis) then felt obligated to respond, I will pay tomorrow and (he) did so."

Also during the 2015 campaign, the suit says, Brown hand-delivered to Davis a bundle of invitations to a Welborn campaign fundraiser to be held two days later. Davis was unable to sell the tickets, and Brown chastised him, the suit states.

Davis claims Welborn told him at a 2015 Christmas party that he needed to retire Jan. 1, 2016, or he would be fired. Welborn threatened to take steps to interfere with Davis' ability to draw full retirement if he didn't retire, the suit alleges.

Swearingen claims in her suit that Welborn made the same threats to her.

Both suits have been assigned to state District Judge Wilson Fields.

A third ex-Clerk's Office employee, Dimitrious B. Gartrell, sued Welborn on Dec. 19, claiming he was forced to retire last January at age 67. Gartrell, a former deputy clerk of court with 19 years of experience, said he was told that if he chose to be laid off he would lose all accrued benefits in the retirement system.

That age-discrimination suit has been assigned to state District Judge William Morvant.

Follow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.