Lee Zurik Investigation: St. Tammany Parish files double-barreled suit against coroner

St. Tammany Parish has filed suit against its own coroner, individually and in his capacity as a public official. It's the latest legal move in the fight over control of Dr. Peter Galvan's office.

"It's not surprising that the parish is pushing back," says FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

The pushback from the parish comes a few weeks after Peter Galvan sued the state and the parish, claiming a new law was unconstitutional. That law handed control of the coroner's finances over to the Parish Council. Last month, Galvan asked a Baton Rouge judge to rule that the law is unconstitutional.

Now a new lawsuit, this time brought by St. Tammany Parish officials, asks another judge to force Galvan to comply with the law.

But the parish takes its suit a step further. The plaintiffs claim, 11 pages into their suit, that Galvan misused public money. The suit asks the judge to force Galvan personally to pay back all "misappropriated," "misapplied" and "misused" funds.

"Dr. Galvan is saying, 'The law is unconstitutional, you don't have the right to take away this power from me,'" says Raspanti. The parish, on the other side of the nickel, is saying, 'Hey, not only did you not do this correctly, you took money that is public money and you need to reimburse the parish, and we're suing you for that money.' That's a pretty serious allegation."

Since February, FOX 8 News has raised questions about Galvan's spending in our Body of Evidence investigative series. The issues range from credit card charges at fancy restaurants to a generator Galvan purchased for a boat, to more than $100,000 of cashed-out unused sick and vacation time. While Galvan claimed he took no vacation, his wife's Facebook page clearly showed luxurious trips to Europe and San Francisco's wine country.

The suit doesn't give a specific amount of money the parish wants Galvan to pay back, but just claims he misused public funds.

Raspanti says, "It's a pseudo-criminal evaluation couched in a civil lawsuit. You're saying someone inappropriately kept public funds… as a public official, you're not supposed to do that. There are criminal statutes that address that issue. Here, they're raising it in a civil forum to say, 'At least we want out money back.'"

The FBI is investigating Galvan criminally, and the state's legislative auditor is also probing the coroner. The auditor could release a report later this summer.

It's unclear how long these legal proceedings will take to play out. But now two judges, one in Baton Rouge and another in St. Tammany Parish, are basically being asked to determine who should be in control of the finances of the St. Tammany Parish coroner.

"The judge in each parish is only going to deal with what's in front of him, and I promise you that's all they're going to deal with," notes Raspanti. "The judges could have rulings that conflict, it happens every day. That's why you have appellate courts, that's why you have a supreme court, to settle the differences between the different circuits, in the state or in the federal. But we're not there yet, we're a long way from there."