CONVENT — Defense attorneys for indicted St. James Parish operations director Blaise Gravois want to probe the depth of possible prosecutorial misconduct in a malfeasance investigation against their client after the Louisiana Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling that some misconduct did occur but not enough to throw out the case.
Gravois' attorneys are now pressing for transcripts and other secret grand jury information to see what prosecutors told the jurors about the parish's dealings with Millennium Galvanizing and a parish-built gas line, court papers say.
One of the charges against Gravois and his boss, St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel, is that they oversaw construction of a free gas line for Millennium's plant off La. 3125 north of Convent. They are facing multiple malfeasance counts over that and other allegations that they directed public workers to improve private property primarily in the months leading up to the 2015 election but also later.
In December, the 5th Louisiana Circuit Court of Appeal overturned a lower court judge's decision out of St. James Parish and reinstated Gravois' five-count malfeasance indictment, but the three-judge appellate panel also agreed with the lower court that there was prosecutorial misconduct by Assistant District Attorney Bruce Mohon, the one-time parish attorney.
In the months before and after Roussel's and Gravois' indictments on Sept. 28, 2016, Mohon was an assistant district attorney who then served both as a criminal prosecutor and the parish attorney. The appellate panel saw these dual roles, in light of the malfeasance investigation, as a conflict of interest and misconduct.
Prosecutors appealed to the state Supreme Court in January, but a five-judge Supreme Court panel denied that appeal March 23.
Gravois' attorneys are now seeking a hearing before 23rd Judicial District Judge Jessie LeBlanc next month to discuss gathering more documents from prosecutors, including their emails and normally secret grand jury subpoenas and transcripts.
"We are looking forward to going back before the trial court and continuing to prove Mr. Gravois's innocence, which he has maintained all along," defense attorney Matthew Chester said Friday.
Citing new policies against pretrial publicity, Tyler Cavalier, spokesman for 23rd Judicial District Attorney Ricky Babin, declined to comment about the malfeasance cases or the Supreme Court ruling.
In public statements and their appeal to the Supreme Court, the District Attorney’s Office has pointed out that Mohon was not involved in the investigation.
Dane Ciolino, a New Orleans attorney and specialist in legal ethics who has been representing the District Attorney’s Office on the misconduct allegations, said the office “vehemently denies that there was any conflict, and we’re going again to continue to deal with that issue in the District Court.”
Gravois' attorneys have taken issue with Mohon's advice as parish attorney to the then-Parish Council chairman and later to a Millennium lawyer in the fall and winter of 2016 that payment should not be accepted from Millennium. The defense attorneys have contended this advice avoided creating potentially exculpatory evidence for Gravois over the charge of overseeing free gas line construction.
Judge LeBlanc threw out Gravois indictment last year over Mohon's actions but the appellate court suggested lesser sanctions were more appropriate for Mohon's misconduct rather than throwing out the indictment, as Judge Leblanc had ordered last year.
But the appellate judges also laid out a path for Gravois' defense team to get his charge thrown out: establish Mohon knew of Millennium's intentions to pay for the gas line before the indictments and that prosecutors didn't tell grand jurors about them nor show them the parish invoice.
"(The) defendant (Gravois) failed to introduce sufficient testimony or evidence to prove that knowledge (by Mohon)," now retired 5th Circuit Judge Robert Murphy wrote. "This allegation, if proven, could very well have been a basis for a finding of prosecutorial misconduct sufficient to quash the indictment."
Chester said his client looks forward to uncovering how the grand jury investigation came about and what grand jurors were told, noting that grand jurors are a "body of citizens who rely on the State's candor and truthfulness in connection with every criminal matter."
In court testimony, a Millennium official and lawyer testified the company always intended to pay for the gas line's construction. But Mohon had advised the council chairman to hold off on accepting payment of the parish administration's invoice — then unknown to Parish Council members — until they could verify the cost figures in light of the recent indictments.
The invoice was dated Sept. 1, 2016, almost a month before the indictments were handed up by the grand jury, but Mohon didn't provide his advice until afterward, in late September and again in December 2016, according to court testimony. Prosecutors have charged that the administration's invoice was backdated after parish officials already had known for months that the grand jury was investigating the gas line.
In the months since the 5th Circuit appellate ruling, Roussel's attorneys have adopted some of Gravois’ arguments about prosecutorial misconduct and additionally accused Babin of vindictive prosecution stemming from a previous disagreement with Roussel over funding for the District Attorney's Office and Mohon. Though the Louisiana Attorney General's Office is prosecuting Roussel, the District Attorney's Office is still assisting in that case.
A hearing is set for 10 a.m. April 16 before Judge Jason Verdigets of the 23rd Judicial District Court in that case.