LAFAYETTE – The district attorney for Louisiana’s fifth district has dismissed his lawsuit over funding for his office.
District Attorney Keith Stutes filed a lawsuit on May 17 against the Lafayette Consolidated Government (LCG) demanding that his office be fully funded. The suit was dismissed after two closed-door meetings with the judge assigned to the case.
The lawsuit was in reaction to LCG’s plans to cut funding for the district attorney’s office and two other parishes that signed cooperative funding agreements with the district attorney's office. This included $575,000 in criminal court funding and $106,000 in general parish funding. The cuts came after Stutes told the LCG he would no longer be reimbursing it for some of the costs of assistant prosecutors’ salaries. Stutes said the lack of funding would result in the need to cut 20 jobs within the district attorney’s 60-person office.
“Not very much changed," Stutes told the Louisiana Record. "I reached a conclusion that it was in the best interest of all the parties, the employees, district attorney office and of our efforts to negotiate a reasonable budget for the upcoming year to except the ordinance as it was amended by the LCG at this time regarding the present year budget. Basically it was a question of whether to proceed with lengthy litigation or to make an attempt or effort at a resolution and preparing ourselves to negotiate for the upcoming budget year.”
Cydra Wingerter, an LCG spokeswoman, told the Louisiana Record that the real issue lies with the city parish’s lack of general funds.
“It’s a symptom of a bigger issue and that issue is that the parish is broke,” she said. “We haven’t finalized an agreement. That will occur during the budgeting process and there is still a case pending. The district attorney dismissed his case against LCG, but there were counter motions that are still being requested judgment on. It hasn’t been agreed upon yet, but we feel confident we’re going to come together and find a resolution”
Stutes said by withdrawing the lawsuit he hopes to pave the way for smoother budget negotiations.
“I think we will now be able to sit and have an honest discussion about our needs and the sources of revenue to satisfy those needs, not only for the district attorney’s office, but also for all the parties that call upon funding from the city parish of the consolidated government," Stutes said.
The parish's lack of funds will top the budget discussions.
“There is no question that’s going to be one of the topics of discussion," Stutes said. "I think the discussion right now is how do we address this issue of a dwindling source of revenue in a lot of areas. The district attorney is not the sole draw of funds from the city parish consolidated government. There’s a lot of agencies involved with the same identical question that we have. The budget discussion involves all of those people.”