The school system in St. Tammany Parish is a big operation and inevitably will ring up legal bills for many reasons. There may even be reasons for a system to hire outside counsel, usually for a particularly complex legal problem, but for day-to-day representation, most school boards rely on assistant district attorneys, ADAs. A district attorney’s office either provides the service free of charge or may be reimbursed for the ADA’s services by the school board.
Why are we not surprised that in St. Tammany Parish, the usual arrangements turn out to be lucrative for an appointee of embattled District Attorney Walter Reed?
Harry Pastuszek in 2012 earned $68,422, with a portion of it covered by the state, from Reed’s office, while serving as lawyer for the School Board.
In Pastuszek’s case, the money goes not to the District Attorney’s Office but to his private law firm — more than $500,000 last year alone. Pastuszek doesn’t appear to have any other duties in Reed’s office other than representing the School Board.
These are very substantial billings: $440,666 in 2011, $475,194 in 2012 and a whopping $545,399 in 2013. So far this year, Pastuszek’s firm has been paid $320,700 by the School Board. The firm also is representing school employees being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office itself, a potential conflict of interest pointed out by The New Orleans Advocate and WWL-TV.
At the same time that his firm benefits, Pastuszek’s salary and nominal position as assistant district attorney also receives enhanced public retirement benefits. He is one of a select group singled out for that benefit, including Reed himself.
Again, is anyone surprised?
During Reed’s long tenure as district attorney, there seem to be few operations of parish government where his combination of political influence and knowledge of the operation has not resulted in significant benefits for his employees, friends or members of his family.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said he doesn’t understand why Pastuszek continued to be paid by the DA’s office — and receive generous retirement benefits — while his firm collected all of the money for the School Board work.
Pastuszek served with Reed in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and went along with him as chief assistant when Reed was elected district attorney, 30 years ago. The School Board’s arrangements for Pastuszek vary from the ways that other Reed employees bill the public bodies they represent.
While the money went directly to Pastuszek’s firm, the school system also sent monthly checks to the DA’s office to cover a share of Pastuszek’s state retirement, until the end of 2011, when the School Board was told that his retirement was paid in full.
Nice work if you can get it.
Reed is not seeking a sixth term in the fall election. St. Tammany public bodies, as well as candidates to succeed Reed, ought to commit to a thorough review of what they get on the taxpayer’s dime — whether through the district attorney’s budget or not.