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Parish President Larry Cochran listens during the St. Charles Parish council meeting at the St. Charles Parish Courthouse in Hahnville, La., Monday, March 25, 2019.

St. Charles Parish President Larry Cochran pleaded no contest Monday to a 2017 charge of driving while inebriated, wrapping up a court case that has dogged the veteran politician for nearly two years.

Cochran received a sentence of one year of probation immediately following his plea as a first-time offender in the courtroom of 1st Jefferson Parish Court Judge Johnny Lee in Metairie, according to court records.

Cochran was also sentenced to four days of community service, an $803 fine and a suspended four-month prison sentence that he may have to serve if he violates the terms of his probation.

A St. Charles Parish spokeswoman referred questions about the case directly to Cochran, calling it “a personal matter.”

Cochran couldn’t immediately be reached for comment about the plea, in which he accepted the conviction and punishment while stopping short of admitting culpability.

Prosecutors on Monday dropped an accompanying charge of reckless driving.

Cochran's plea didn't seem to change many minds on the St. Charles Parish Council, with members largely shying away from discussing his legal issues publicly and some even offering support.

To date, only at-large Councilman Paul Hogan has called for Cochran to resign — a position he stood by Monday.  

“Apparently he knew he was guilty,” said Hogan, a vocal critic of Cochran. “It must have been easier for him to do this and get out than to complete the diversion” program he began last year but later dropped out of. 

Hogan said that Cochran — a Democrat in a Republican-leaning parish — should consider stepping down for the good of St. Charles, since "he puts a black eye on the parish."

The council’s other at-large member, Wendy Benedetto, was supportive of the parish president. “I’m glad it’s over,” she said.

Cochran has said he intends to run for re-election this fall.

Kenner police arrested Cochran on Sept. 2, 2017, when an officer stopped him near the home of Cochran's secretary after receiving a call saying that a Chevy Tahoe was swerving and had driven onto the neutral ground on Joe Yenni Boulevard.

Cochran performed poorly on a field sobriety test, had slurred speech and had bloodshot eyes, the officer said. He also allegedly told police, “I guess this means I should fill out my resignation papers,” and he bit off the mouthpiece of a device used to test for the presence of alcohol in a person’s breath.

While the breath test given to Cochran failed to detect any alcohol, Kenner police suspected he was on drugs and booked him with inebriated driving. A blood test drawn that same night showed the presence of oxycodone, hydrocodone and oxymorphone, all prescription drugs.

An attorney who represented Cochran at the time said the parish president had been prescribed two of the drugs following surgeries, with oxymorphone being a byproduct of one of the other pharmaceuticals in his system.

Cochran in 2018 entered a pre-trial diversion program that would have prevented him from being prosecuted if he completed it.

But he failed to complete the program, and Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick’s office filed charges against Cochran when he withdrew from the program in March.

Cochran at the time said he decided to quit the program in order to undergo medical procedures for injuries he suffered in a motorcycle crash last year. He said that crash occurred while he was teaching his daughter how to drive the vehicle near his home in St. Rose.

The crash forced Cochran to miss time from work with broken bones. His daughter had minor injuries, and both she and her father were cited for traffic violations.

Cochran, who was previously Parish Council chairman, has said he intends to continue conducting government business as usual while also looking toward his re-election campaign. He won the parish presidency in November 2015, defeating Republican Terry Authement.

Like several other council members on Monday, Councilman Billy Woodruff said he wasn’t in a position to make a comment, but he did say he expects parish government will keep running as usual.

“I think we’ll be OK. Another bump in the road,” he said. 

 


Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.