How much money does Walter Reed get paid to be the district attorney for the 22nd Judicial District, which includes St. Tammany and Washington parishes?
It seems like a simple question, but getting a clear answer to it has been anything but easy.
In response to a public-records request from The New Orleans Advocate, his office last fall provided a spreadsheet listing a salary of $198,614 for Reed.
That figure, however, appeared to conflict with the disclosure form that Reed filed with the Louisiana Ethics Administration earlier in the year, which said the money Reed received from public sources in 2012 totaled $214,000.
That form listed five public sources for Reed’s income: St. Tammany Parish, Washington Parish, the state of Louisiana, the District Attorney’s Office and St. Tammany Parish Hospital.
Left unclear on the form is whether all of those payments are considered part of Reed’s compensation for serving as district attorney.
This week, The New Orleans Advocate asked Reed’s office to explain the apparent discrepancy. Specifically, the newspaper asked whether the salary the office lists for Reed included his work for the parish hospital — work for which he is paid $30,000 annually, according to his disclosure form.
The office didn’t answer that question, instead supplying a new spreadsheet of office salaries, this one listing Reed’s salary at $188,566 — about $10,000 less than the previous spreadsheet indicated — and blaming the confusion on a “bookkeeping error.”
The new amount does not appear to include the hospital stipend, although Reed’s office has not responded to repeated queries seeking clarification on that point. The hospital income is not mentioned in a section of Reed’s disclosure called “employment,” which lists only the other four government entities that pay him.
At issue is whether Reed is wearing his district attorney’s hat or his private lawyer’s hat when representing the hospital. There is evidence he may be having it both ways.
A story published Thursday by nola.com and WVUE-TV showed that when Reed attends the hospital’s monthly meetings, the minutes list him as “Honorable Walter Reed, District Attorney” — suggesting he is there because of his public position.
Hospital CEO Patty Ellish confirmed that, telling The New Orleans Advocate in a May 9 email that “Walter Reed is on retainer for legal services as the District Attorney” and noting that when Reed can’t attend a hospital board meeting, he sends a subordinate in his place. In general, Ellish said in a prepared statement to The New Orleans Advocate, Reed “attends the hospital’s board meetings and provides legal counsel on matters and topics.”
The hospital also has a general counsel, who also attends the meetings. It’s not clear what legal expertise Reed has in the area of hospitals.
The question of whether Reed’s hospital gig comes under the umbrella of the District Attorney’s Office or not is further complicated by the fact that he sometimes sends a subordinate in his stead. Assistant District Attorney Leo Hemelt has attended two of the last 16 hospital board meetings in Reed’s place, according to WVUE and nola.com.
That raises the possibility that Reed is enriching himself personally from work that is essentially billed to taxpayers — much in the way that former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan benefited from a private contract to provide medical services to inmates at the Slidell jail, a contract he satisfied by sending an employee of the Coroner’s Office whose salary was paid by the public. That side deal figured in Galvan’s recent indictment and guilty plea, which resulted in a two-year prison sentence.
Reed has offered a different account of his arrangement with the hospital, saying he was hired not as the DA but as a private lawyer. Reed also claimed that when Hemelt goes in his stead, he is doing so in his capacity as a private lawyer rather than as an employee of the DA’s Office.
Reed declined, however, to provide any evidence showing that he has paid Hemelt out of his own pocket for his private work.
Hemelt did not return a phone message Friday.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the hospital deal and other recent revelations about Reed “are all symptoms of a public official who believes he can use his office for his own personal benefit.”
If Reed told Hemelt to attend the board meeting for him, Hemelt probably did so without questioning it, Goyeneche said.
“The assistant district attorney owes his position to Walter Reed. He serves at Walter Reed’s pleasure,” Goyeneche said. “When the boss advises you to sit in on a meeting or put on a bartender’s vest and serve cocktails at his fundraiser, you do it. It’s not a matter of volunteering. It’s being ‘volun-told.’ ”
Hospital officials declined to answer inquiries about whether checks for Reed’s services are made out to Reed himself, his law firm or the DA’s Office.
State law allows Reed to maintain a private practice while serving as DA, and he is far from the only district attorney in the state who does so. His private work brought in more than $100,000 in 2012, according to his disclosure.
Even disregarding his private practice, Reed is the highest-paid district attorney in Louisiana, regardless of whether the income from the hospital is counted as part of his salary.
With the hospital work, his total salary, based on the new spreadsheet provided by his office, would total $218,566. Even without it, he makes more than Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, who earns $176,014; Caddo Parish District Attorney Charles Scott, who makes $174,000; East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who earns $160,000; and Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, who earns $150,000.
It’s up to district attorneys to set their own salaries, according to Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorney Association, but they generally follow a set of guidelines the LDAA promulgated in 2009. The guidelines call for pay ranging from $120,000 to $198,147 — although a number of DAs pay themselves below the minimum salary the guidelines set out — and they take into consideration various factors, including how many people are under the district attorney’s supervision and how many terms in office he has served.
While the guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, Adams said he believes each of the state’s 42 district attorneys stays within them.
In fact, Reed’s salary appears to be slightly above the guidelines for a district attorney with his tenure supervising between 30 and 59 “professionals,” which call for maximum salary of $184,910.