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State v. Roussel

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fifth Circuit

March 6, 2019

STATE OF LOUISIANA
v.
TIMOTHY P. ROUSSEL

          ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-THIRD JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST. JAMES, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 75, 23, DIVISION "A" HONORABLE JASON VERDIGETS, JUDGE PRESIDING

          COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, STATE OF LOUISIANA Honorable Ricky L. Babin, Lindsey D. Manda, Donald D. Candell, Charles S. Long, Robin C. O'Bannon

          COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, TIMOTHY P. ROUSSEL, Ralph Capitelli, Brian J. Capitelli, Justine Geiger

          Panel composed of Judges Marc E. Johnson, Stephen J. Windhorst, and Hans J. Liljeberg

          HANS J. LILJEBERG JUDGE

         The State of Louisiana appeals the trial court's judgment granting defendant Timothy P. Roussel's motion to recuse St. James Parish District Attorney Ricky Babin. We find the trial court erred by denying the parties an evidentiary hearing. Therefore, we vacate the trial court's judgment granting defendant's motion to recuse District Attorney Babin and remand for an evidentiary hearing.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On September 28, 2016, a St. James Parish grand jury indicted defendant with six counts of malfeasance in office in violation of La. R.S. 14:134. The indictment states that, in his capacity as the St. James Parish President, defendant committed six counts of malfeasance in office when he improperly utilized St. James Parish resources for the benefit of a private business and individuals in violation of La. Const. Art. 7 § 14 and La. R.S. 42:1461. In Count 1, the indictment states defendant "gave/donated/loaned" a gas line, meter and labor costs to a local business without a contract "for the payment of the gas line, meter and labor costs, for the cost of the gas, or the use of or transportation of gas through parish lines." Count 2 alleges that defendant authorized St. James Parish to pay $9, 100.00 to drive 24 piles on private property. In Counts 3, 4 and 5, respectively, the State alleges that defendant authorized Blaise Gravois, St. James Parish Director of Operations and Public Works, [1] to use public employees and equipment on private properties to remove a shed (Count 3), demolish a mobile home (Count 4) and remove a playhouse and debris (Count 5). Finally, in Count 6, the State alleges that defendant authorized the use of public employees and public equipment to enhance and/or improve private property for the sole benefit of the private property owner at a cost to St. James Parish in the amount of $25, 000.00. The indictment alleges that the work provided by the Parish in each of these instances served no legitimate public purpose.

         Defendant was arraigned on November 21, 2016, and pleaded not guilty. On that same date, defendant filed his first motion to recuse District Attorney Babin. Defendant argued recusal was mandated pursuant to La. C.Cr.P. art 680(1) because the District Attorney's conduct demonstrated his "personal interest in the cause or grand jury proceeding which is in conflict with fair and impartial administration of justice." Defendant specifically alleged that District Attorney Babin served defendant with a grand jury subpoena relating to the charges at issue in this matter, just days after defendant refused to seek a supplemental pay request for the attorney assigned by the District Attorney's Office to serve as legal counsel to the St. James Parish Council and President.[2] Defendant further alleged that he was involved in additional budget disputes with District Attorney Babin.

         On the day of the August 21, 2017 hearing, defendant filed a supplemental memorandum in support of his motion to recuse. Defendant first noted the trial court overseeing the proceedings pending against Mr. Gravois dismissed the indictments against him due to a finding of improper conduct by Assistant District Attorney Mohon and the suppression of material evidence.

         Defendant further argued District Attorney Babin had a conflict of interest due to his dual role as prosecutor in these proceedings and as the legal advisor to defendant in his capacity as the Parish President. Defendant noted District Attorney Babin recently recused his entire office from prosecuting the Ascension Parish President to avoid the appearance of conflict because several members of District Attorney Babin's staff contributed funds to that individual's campaign. Defendant argued the same policy should apply in his matter as three assistant district attorneys contributed to his campaign.

         After hearing only oral argument, the trial court took the matter under advisement. On September 15, 2017, the trial judge denied the motion to recuse and explained in written reasons that defendant failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that District Attorney Babin had a personal interest in conflict with the fair and impartial administration of justice.

         On February 2, 2018, defendant filed a Renewed Motion to Recuse the District Attorney's Office. Defendant reincorporated the arguments set forth in his first recusal motion. Defendant also asked the trial court to recuse District Attorney Babin for three additional reasons. Defendant first directed the trial court to this Court's findings regarding prosecutorial misconduct in State v. Gravois, 17-341 (La.App. 5 Cir. 12/13/17), 234 So.3d 1151, writs denied, 18-100 (La. 3/23/18), 239 So.3d 292 and 18-80 (3/23/18), 239 So.3d 298. Defendant also argued that he recently learned another assistant district attorney had a conflict of interest because he participated in parish council meetings as a legal advisor to the parish government, while simultaneously handling the grand jury investigation of defendant.

         Finally, defendant argued the entire District Attorney's Office should be recused because two assistant district attorneys and potentially other employees in the District Attorney's Office, would be material witnesses. Defendant alleged that the attorneys both privately benefitted from the exact same type of parish services the State alleges were illegally provided in the malfeasance charges filed against defendant. Defendant argued the entire District Attorney's Office should be recused because District Attorney Babin failed to follow proper precautions to insulate the office from the recusal issues. Defendant further argued that recusing the ...


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