Since 2011, Walter Reed, the district attorney for St. Tammany and Washington parishes, has recused his office from several dozen criminal prosecutions. In nearly every one of those cases, Reed said his office’s recusal was aimed at ensuring “the orderly and fair administration of justice and to avoid a conflict through the appearance of impropriety.”
In his motions to recuse, Reed cited Article 680 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which enumerates the three grounds on which a district attorney should recuse himself: when the DA has a “personal interest in the cause or grand jury proceeding which is in conflict with fair and impartial administration of justice”; when the DA “is related to the party accused or party injured,” or to the spouse of either; or when the DA has represented or consulted in the case for the defendant before becoming district attorney.
In the cases from which Reed removed himself and his office, the defendants are often people he knows intimately or relatives of people who work for him.
But when Reed’s own business partner and tenant, Yancie Moseley III, got arrested for DWI in January 2012, the district attorney did not recuse his office, a decision that one legal expert called “a serious problem of conflict of interest.”
However, there’s no evidence in the record that Moseley, who eventually pleaded guilty and got his conviction expunged, got any special treatment as a result of his relationship with the district attorney.
According to a report provided in response to a public records request, St. Tammany sheriff’s deputies stopped Moseley in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2012, after his silver Chevrolet Tahoe crossed the center line several times on Lee Road near Covington. A deputy noted that Moseley’s breath smelled of alcohol and that his eyes were bloodshot, and after Moseley failed several field sobriety tests and refused to take a Breathalyzer test, deputies issued him a summons for first-offense DWI and improper lane usage.
More than a year and a half later, in October 2013, Moseley pleaded guilty to DWI under Article 894, a provision in Louisiana law that allows an offender to have a conviction expunged from his record once certain requirements are completed. The improper lane usage count was dropped, court records show. The prosecuting attorney was Michael Montalbano, an assistant district attorney in Reed’s office.
Pleas under Article 894 are typically negotiated between the prosecution and the defense, then approved by a judge, “like any other plea,” Court Administrator Adrienne Stroble said Thursday. They are commonly granted in first-offense DWI cases.
Moseley did not return messages left on his cellphone and at his jewelry shop.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Reed hung up after a reporter identified himself. A spokesman for Reed’s office confirmed by text that a list of questions from The New Orleans Advocate had been received but provided no answers to them.
Moseley formed MR Precious Metals in late 2010, state records show, with Reed becoming the second member of the limited liability company in mid-2011. But from the beginning, according to Reed’s financial disclosure forms filed with the Ethics Board, Reed has held a 50 percent share in the company, which is apparently an acronym for the two partners’ names.
Bennett Gershman, a law professor at Pace University and author of two books on prosecutorial and judicial ethics, said Reed’s office should not have been involved in prosecuting the case against his business partner.
“Somebody might say it’s not a big deal, it’s a small offense and that everybody gets this arrangement,” Gershman said of Moseley’s 894 plea. “But you don’t want to allow that in your justice system. It makes it look dirty.”
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said that even though Moseley might have gotten the same deal if Reed had recused himself, “here it is a business partner of Walter Reed’s who is charged. I still believe he does have a duty to recuse his office to avoid a potential conflict, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.”
It’s not clear why Reed decided otherwise, given that he routinely recuses his office in other cases with similar circumstances.
Since Jan. 1, 2011, he has recused his office more than 45 times, in cases involving all manner of charges.
For instance, in 2011, Reed recused himself and his office from prosecuting Claire Ursin, or Claire Bradley, a woman with whom he had a romantic relationship for several years. Bradley was charged in 2011 with simple criminal damage to property for “keying” a Jaguar belonging to Reed’s ex-wife.
The Attorney General’s Office handled that case, in which Bradley wound up pleading guilty under Article 894 in November 2011. She was ordered to pay restitution and perform eight hours of community service — as well as to seek a “psychiatric evaluation” and stay away from Reed’s ex-wife and their children.
In October 2011, Reed recused himself and his office from the prosecution of Anthony Hernandez, a truck driver who was booked after his rig plowed into a Ford Explorer on I-12, killing a woman and her mother. Reed apparently decided to recuse his office because he was pursuing a lucrative civil judgment on behalf of the victims.
While the terms of the settlement in that case are confidential, Reed bragged to a Pentecostal denomination’s magazine that he had helped get $2.4 million for the family, helping to “secure the financial future of the two children and the husband.” The case was litigated by the McCranie Sistrunk law firm, of Covington, where Reed is “of counsel,” meaning he is not an associate or a partner but has a “close, regular, personal” relationship with the firm, according to the American Bar Association.
Reed has declined to discuss his role in litigating the civil case or to discuss the size of the fee he earned.
Of late, Reed has come under fire for using his campaign funds to pay for lavish dinners and for a $30,000-per-year contract he had with St. Tammany Parish Hospital in which it was unclear whether the contract was with Reed personally or with the District Attorney’s Office.
Some of his office’s tactics, such as offering defendants a plea deal after picking a jury, a tactic known as “pick-and-plea,” have also come under criticism.
Staff writer Gordon Russell contributed to this report. Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter @faimon.