Covington judge moves court hearing on coroner emails - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Covington judge moves court hearing on coroner emails

St. Tammany Coroner Peter Galvan St. Tammany Coroner Peter Galvan
Melanie Comeaux, speaking to the House Judiciary Committee on April 18 Melanie Comeaux, speaking to the House Judiciary Committee on April 18
Covington, La. -

People concerned about questionable operations of the St. Tammany Parish Coroner won a partial victory Wednesday. 

The ruling over emails clears the way for a hearing to determine if St. Tammany Coroner Peter Galvan should be held in contempt of court.

Galvan was a no-show at Wednesday's hearing as his attorney struck out in his bid to keep a fight over the emails in St. Tammany Parish.

"We would have liked a different outcome, but I don't want to comment. I understand the ruling and respect the court's decision," said Kyle Schonekas, the attorney for Galvan.

The legislative auditor began looking into Galvan, after a series of Fox 8 Lee Zurik investigations into payroll irregularities in the office and payments that have prompted most of the Parish Council and the parish president to call for the coroner to resign.

"We all want fairness, and want to see what all the question marks are," said Rick Franzo with the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany.

But that won't happen right away. Judge August Hand of the 22nd Judicial District ruled that a motion to quash a subpoena requesting emails should be heard in Baton Rouge and not in Covington, saying that the subpoena for the emails was issued out of Baton Rouge.

"We will go to Baton Rouge and decide if the coroner should be held in contempt for not producing the documents to the legislature," said Jenifer Schaye, an attorney for the Legislative Auditor's Office.  It was the legislative auditors who initiated the court action to obtain the emails, saying those documents are needed so that their investigation can proceed.

"They have turned over bank records and general documents, but they haven't turned over key emails from employees in the Coroner's Office," said Schaye.

The emails could be key in determining whether Galvan and other coroner's employees violated payroll rules when they were reimbursed for vacations. "We can't go forward until we get all the documents," said Schaye.

In Judge Hand's court were members of the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany who have been steadfast in their call for Galvan to step down.

"I'll be in Baton Rouge this time next week, signing the petition for the recall of Galvan," said Kort Hutchinson with the Concerned Citizens group.

That recall effort will move forward, regardless of a state investigation that is being held up due to the coroner's failure to turn over hundreds of emails.

The next court hearing will be held May 20 in Baton Rouge, and could determine whether Galvan should be held in contempt of court for not producing the emails.

Galvan has turned over some documents, but not a single email. Galvan's attorney says they can't just turn over everything, because many of the emails pertain to confidential medical information and litigation.

In another development, one of the highest-ranking employees in the Coroner's Office has resigned. Sources tell FOX 8 News that Executive Director and General Counsel Melanie Comeaux resigned last week.

Just a few weeks ago, Comeaux appeared before the state legislature, arguing against legislative changes regarding the St. Tammany Coroner's Office.

Comeaux made about $125,000 a year in her job.  She didn't respond to an email we sent her on Monday or a text message Tuesday night.

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