St. Charles Parish President Larry Cochran fully intends to run for re-election in October, a spokeswoman said Monday, despite facing impaired-driving charges after dropping out of a diversion program last week.
It's unclear, however, if the Democrat can garner the political support he needs to win a second term, after withdrawing from a program that kept him from being prosecuted over a 2017 traffic stop in Kenner that ended with him testing positive for prescription drugs.
Cochran said he resigned from the program so he could "finish receiving medical procedures" for injuries he suffered in a separate motorcycle accident in April 2018.
Former St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said the incumbent, who has yet to draw a challenger, could have a difficult road ahead now that he is facing a scandal.
“As elected officials, the last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself, your family and the people that support you,” he said.
St. Pierre, a Republican who served for eight years before Cochran took office in 2016, said he has no plans to return to politics. But he expects Cochran will have challengers, considering the numerous calls on social media for him to resign.
Cochran announced last month he would seek a second term. Campaign finance reports show he had about $53,100 in his coffers as of Feb. 15.
St. Charles Parish President Larry Cochran was slapped with impaired-driving charges Friday after he failed to complete a diversion program th…
Of the nine Parish Council members in St. Charles, only four returned calls and emails seeking comment Monday.
Dick Gibbs and Billy Woodruff declined to speak on the matter, and Mary Clulee said: “I don’t have a problem with him on the issue. I think he’s doing a good job.”
Only Councilman-at-large Paul Hogan has criticized Cochran’s decision to leave the diversion program, calling it a “black eye” for the parish.
However, Hogan, a longtime critic of Cochran, said he has no plans to run for the parish presidency or to draft a council resolution calling for Cochran to step down — at least not right now.
Al Suffrin, a CPA and four-term School Board member, said he is considering getting in the race and will make a decision by the end of the month. “Even on Larry’s best day I feel like I’m a better alternative,” Suffrin said.
Cochran also faces an unclear legal future, according to attorneys familiar with impaired-driving laws. His dropout from the diversion program likely means he’s at the mercy of a judge following a court appearance in April.
“In this case, Mr. Cochran will be prosecuted as if nothing ever happened. He’ll go back to where his case was before (he began) the diversion program,” said Donald “Chick” Foret, a legal analyst.
If Cochran is found guilty on misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and driving while intoxicated, he could face up to six months in jail, a fine of $300 to $1,000, probation and courses in substance abuse and driver improvement, according to lawyers with the Slidell firm Bates and McMillin.
He also could face at least 32 hours of community service, half of which must be picking up garbage on the street, the lawyers said.
Cochran told police officers on Sept. 2, 2017, that he was on his way to drop off paperwork at his secretary’s home when he was stopped for swerving and driving onto the neutral ground on Joe Yenni Boulevard.
A Kenner police report said the officer pulled Cochran's Chevy Tahoe over on Cabernet Drive about 12:30 a.m., noting that the person who first called police was afraid the vehicle would end up in a drainage canal. The Tahoe's driver at one point turned on his own blue flashing lights when the officer flipped on his, the records show.
Cochran performed poorly on a field sobriety test, police said, and had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. He was also reported to have said, “I guess this means I should fill out my resignation papers” and to have bitten off the mouthpiece of a device used for breath alcohol tests.
The breath test didn’t detect any alcohol, but Kenner police booked him anyway. A blood test later came back showing the presence of oxycodone, hydrocodone and oxymorphone, all prescription drugs.
The charges Cochran faces are misdemeanors because they are first-time offenses, according to the Jefferson Parish DA's office, and Cochran in February 2018 was admitted into the diversion program reserved for such offenders.
The program, which normally gives participants six months to complete or face charges, requires that whenever they want to drive, the participants must blow into a device that prevents intoxicated people from starting cars. They also must undergo counseling, take drug and alcohol tests and meet with a Mothers Against Drunk Driving panel.
It appears Cochran received more time to complete the program after a separate motorcycle accident in April 2018.
Cochran said at the time he was thrown off a motorcycle he had been teaching his daughter how to drive. He went to the intensive care unit briefly before a longer hospital stay with broken bones, and ultimately he missed about a month from work. He and his daughter, who had minor injuries, were cited for traffic violations following the accident.
The Jefferson DA's Office has declined to comment on Cochran's case. It wasn’t immediately clear if Cochran was found to be non-compliant with program rules.