NEW ORLEANS – A former St. Charles Parish district attorney has pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges related to a three-year FBI investigation into sex-related allegations, but a local legal expert says that it shouldn't affect any of his previous cases.
Harry J. Morel, Jr., served as the St. Charles's Parish DA from 1979 to 2012, during which time he allegedly traded leniency in sentencing and other favors in exchange for sex.
Morel pleaded guilty last week to one count of obstruction of justice related to a grand jury hearing in which he allegedly attempted to dissuade a woman from testifying and instructed her to destroy evidence of their meetings.
Dane Ciolino, professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, doubts that Morel's plea will affect any of the previous cases that he prosecuted as a DA.
"It's not to say that some enterprising criminal defense lawyer might not try to make something of it, but it shouldn’t matter," Ciolino told the Louisiana Record.
Morel, who is 73 years old, could face a maximum of three years in prison. Ciolino said that his age won't be a factor when it comes to sentencing.
"He is still very likely to wind up doing 6 to 12 months in jail, and possibly as much as three years," Ciolino said. "Given the sentencing guidelines in this case, it is very likely some jail time is going to be imposed. Age will not affect that."
The U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement last week that Morel admitted to using his position as DA to garner sexual favors.
"While soliciting sex from these individuals, Morel likewise
used the office of the District Attorney to provide benefits to these
other individuals, including falsifying community service reports," the DOJ said on April 20.
No other members of the district attorney's office, former or present, have been implicated, the DOJ said.
Amid the FBI investigation, Morel did not seek re-election to the district attorney job, but did serve as an assistant prosecutor before retiring. Along with the maximum sentence, he faces a potential $250,000 fine.
Morel is currently out on a $50,000 bond
Sentencing has been set by U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt for Aug. 17.