At first glance, Harry Pastuszek doesn’t appear to be one of the highest-paid lawyers on 22nd Judicial District Attorney Walter Reed’s staff. Information provided by the office says that in 2012 he earned $68,422, with a portion of it covered by the state.
But Pastuszek’s association with Reed’s office is far more lucrative than that figure indicates. Like many of the assistant district attorneys on Reed’s staff, Pastuszek provides legal counsel for another governmental body, in his case the St. Tammany Parish School Board.
And 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.
The only indication that he even works for the DA’s Office is a picture of him that hangs on the wall alongside some of Reed’s other assistants, according to an employee of the office. Pastuszek also appears in a group photograph of some of Reed’s staff taken when the St. Tammany Justice Center opened. Pastuszek has never had an office in the building, the employee said.
He bills the School Board $150 an hour for his legal services and $70 an hour for administrative, secretarial and paralegal time.
That’s resulted in huge payoffs: $440,666 in 2011, $475,194 in 2012 and a whopping $545,399 in 2013. So far this year, Pastuszek’s firm — which takes on a variety of other legal matters as well — has been paid $320,700 by the School Board.
But even though Pastuszek’s link to the 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office is tenuous, he was one of a select group Reed singled out for enhanced retirement benefits in an unusual program that was paid for entirely with public money. He was one of 11 employees, including Reed himself, who got the extra perk.
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.
“It appears Mr. Pastuszek was merely representing the School Board system,” Goyeneche said. “I haven’t seen anything that describes him as an assistant district attorney.”
Pastuszek has long-standing ties to Reed, whose administration is being investigated by a federal grand jury and, as of late last month, the state legislative auditor. When Reed first took office as District Attorney in 1984, he tapped Pastuszek to be his chief assistant. Both had served as federal prosecutors under then-U.S. Attorney John Volz.
The fact that an assistant district attorney is representing the School Board isn’t at all unusual in Louisiana. District attorneys customarily provide legal counsel to police juries, school boards and other bodies, a practice that goes back 50 years, according to Pete Adams, of the Louisiana District Attorney Association. Initially, those services were provided free of charge, with the trade-off being that local governments funded the DA’s Office.
But that blanket obligation has eroded, Adams said. The Legislature has since provided exceptions allowing government bodies to make other arrangements, including hiring their own lawyers.
But in St. Tammany, there’s a variety of distinct arrangements within the DA’s Office itself. Pastuszek’s deal with the School Board in some ways resembles and in some ways differs from the way other Reed employees bill the public bodies they represent.
Until recently, for example, Reed provided legal services to the St. Tammany Parish Hospital for an annual retainer of $30,000. At one time, the hospital received that representation from the District Attorney’s Office, and it paid the DA’s Office for the service.
But at some point, the hospital job became a private deal under which Reed personally kept the money — although hospital officials say they were never aware of the change. Their confusion was understandable. When Reed couldn’t attend a hospital board meeting, an assistant district attorney filled in for him, as spelled out in a resolution adopted by the hospital’s board in 2001. Reed has never explained how, or whether, that employee was compensated.
In another parallel situation, Assistant District Attorney Donald Kearns represents Slidell Memorial Hospital, serving as its full-time lawyer. Unlike Reed and Pastuszek, however, he provides that counsel as a member of the DA’s staff, and the hospital pays the DA’s Office for his time — $171,392 in 2014.
The DA’s Office, in turn, paid Kearns $164,800 last year, records provided by the office show.
Kearns, like Reed and Pastuszek, was one of those to benefit from the special retirement program funded with public money, amounting to 20 percent of the employee’s salary.
The monthly contribution made for Pastuszek was the second-highest, behind Reed’s. The arrangement, which ended in 2012, lasted for six years. The office put $63,902 in Pastuszek’s fund over the 21/2 years for which records were made available, suggesting the total figure was in the neighborhood of $150,000.
While records provided by the DA say Pastuszek earned $68,422 from the office in 2012, the amount contributed to the special retirement fund suggests a salary of $139,500. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear.
School Board spokeswoman Meredith Mendez said it’s her understanding that the board hired Pastuszek’s private firm through the DA’s Office.
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.
The law doesn’t define what an assistant district attorney’s duties are and assumes that they are all full-time positions, Adams said. A job description isn’t possible, he said, because there are so many obligations and duties.
But Goyeneche finds the School Board arrangement troubling. He points to the deal with Slidell Memorial Hospital and Kearns as more typical of the way district attorneys normally operate.
“Payment of $440,000 and $540,000 doesn’t add up,” he said.
He questioned how many hours Pastuszek devoted to his work as an assistant district attorney, saying that Reed needs to justify his public salary.
The special pension Reed put in place effectively boosted Pastuszek’s compensation by about $27,000 a year, Goyeneche said, at the same time that he was making “hundreds of thousands” off the School Board.
Adams said it’s not unusual to have an assistant district attorney assigned exclusively to one government entity.
“A DA may just have a person he hires to represent a particular public body,” Adams said, calling it a matter within the DA’s discretion. “How he pays is up to him.”
But Goyeneche said that argument holds up only if the School Board is paying the DA, and it isn’t. He said Reed needs to come forward with an explanation.
“Every day that goes by that Walter Reed doesn’t appear before the public to explain ... he is digging a deeper hole,” Goyeneche said.
The DA has a responsibility to enforce the laws but also to use public funds responsibly, he added.
“Unless or until he breaks the silence, the office is operating under a cloud,” Goyeneche said. “That’s why he is not running for re-election.”
Reed announced in July that he would not seek a sixth term in office.
Neither Pastuszek nor Reed returned calls seeking comment.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.