The judge scheduled to hear former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan’s plea on three state felony theft counts recused himself from the case Monday, meaning Galvan will likely have to wait a little longer before he’s ordered back to court.
Galvan is already serving a two-year sentence in federal prison in Pollock on a single count of conspiring to steal public funds.
Judge Peter Garcia, of the 22nd Judicial District, was scheduled to arraign Galvan on Thursday on the three state counts of the theft of more than $1,500. But Garcia issued an order Monday recusing himself, and the case went back into the parish’s random allotment system. Galvan is being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office.
After Garcia’s recusal, the case was assigned to Judge Richard Swartz, a court official and Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Laura Gerdes confirmed. Swartz will hear the arraignment when he has room on his docket, Gerdes said.
In a short, five-line order, Garcia gave no reason for his recusal, simply citing the relevant provisions of the state’s code of criminal procedure, which allows a judge to recuse himself if he would be biased in hearing a case.
Several possible reasons are listed in the code, including if the judge is a close relative of the accused, is a witness in the case, has consulted as an attorney on the case or, in a catchall clause, “would be unable, for any other reason, to conduct a fair and impartial trial.”
Galvan was indicted in May on the three felony theft counts after more than a year of negative media reports and investigations into his conduct as coroner, a post to which he was first elected in 1999.
Specifically, the charges allege that Galvan made personal purchases with public funds and that he defrauded the state when he took full-time employee benefit payouts and when he used a Coroner’s Office employee to perform duties under a private medical contract Galvan had with the Slidell jail.
Numerous media reports and state audits detailed Galvan’s alleged misdeeds, including the purchase of items for his boat and plane, lavish dinners and other items. Though the federal charges against him mentioned two unnamed co-conspirators, no one else has been indicted.
When the state indictments were handed down in May, Galvan had already started his stint in federal prison.
In addition to the state charges, Galvan could face an attempt by parish officials to recoup some of the money he improperly spent and some of the legal fees he spent defending himself in the federal and state investigations.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.