St. Tammany Parish Sheriff-elect Randy Smith is hiring a new law firm, the New Orleans-based Milling Benson Woodward LLP, in another sign that the guard is changing at the agency that Sheriff Jack Strain has overseen for 20 years.
Talley Anthony Hughes & Knight handled legal matters for the Sheriff’s Office under Strain, and Charles M. “Chuck” Hughes Jr. was the office’s main attorney for about 19 years, most of Strain’s tenure.
But Smith, who defeated the longtime incumbent last year, said at a forum last fall that he would have fired Hughes for his use of a racial slur in a conversation with a private client who taped the exchange and made it public. So it’s perhaps no surprise that the incoming sheriff decided to seek new counsel.
Speculation about who would get the Sheriff’s Office work has been rampant in north shore legal circles. Smith confirmed this week that he has made a choice after considering a couple of contenders, and that Chadwick Collings, a partner with Milling Benson Woodward based in the firm’s Mandeville office, will be the attorney for the Sheriff’s Office.
Smith cited the firm’s experience in federal court.
The new sheriff, who takes office July 1, has recently begun announcing some of his top appointments.
Hughes’ offensive comments surfaced in 2014 in a lawsuit over an accident a motorist had involving an 18-wheeler.
The motorist filed a complaint with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, arguing his suit would have been more successful if it had been filed in New Orleans instead of St. Tammany Parish. He taped a conversation with Hughes in which the lawyer said he made the decision to file in St. Tammany because of demographics.
“That is a decision I made early on, to file it in St. Tammany instead of New Orleans, because guess what? New Orleans is n*****s,” Hughes said in the April 21, 2014, conversation. “You’re white. You go round there, they say, ‘F*** you.’ That’s why.”
At the time, Strain issued a public statement critical of Hughes and said he had expressed his disappointment to him privately. But Strain also downplayed the matter, noting that the comments were unrelated to Sheriff’s Office business.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.