Legal bills of ex-St. Tammany coroner reach 7 figures - paid by taxpayers

Legal bills of ex-St. Tammany coroner reach 7 figures - paid by taxpayers

ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LA (WVUE) - They are numbers that might boggle the mind of any taxpayer. The St. Tammany Parish coroner has released the price tag for defending the previous coroner from public records requests and the wrongful termination suit that may have led to his downfall .

The saga began six years ago, after the firing of whistleblower Dr. Laura King, who worked with then-coroner Dr. Peter Galvan.

"When I first got here, I noticed irregularities and things got worse and worse," she said.

After King's termination, the she and her husband - along with FOX 8 investigative reporter Lee Zurik and the feds - began digging deeper. Galvan was ultimately convicted of public corruption and sent to prison.

"It's a person in prison, two indicted, multiple other people indicted, and a complete disruption of parish government," said Terry King.

But Galvan's legal bills were not paid by him. They were paid by the people of St. Tammany, and they amounted $1.12 million.

"They were hiring a lot of attorneys and paying them generously," said current coroner Dr. Charles Preston.

The coroner's office said $666,000 was spent by taxpayers to defend against the wrongful termination suit brought by the Kings, who say the expenses were actually greater.

"There were multiple other cases," Terry King said. "Jan Doe, which got public records ruling changed."

And while the current coroner is stunned by the legal expenses incurred by Galvan, when it comes to the litigation against the Kings, the meter is still running.

"I think to invest a few more dollars to get this out of court is the right thing to do," Preston said.

Preston recently filed a request for summary judgment to try and get the case thrown out.

While the King case plays out, the Preston said steps have been taken to try and control legal expenses in the future.

"That's what the insurance policy would cover if it happened again," Preston said.

That policy was not in place when the Kings initially filed suit, meaning it will not cover any settlement in that case once it's approved by the courts.

Preston said his office will no longer spend money on attorneys to fight public records requests as was done in the past. Galvan spent tens of thousands on legal fees for such fights. Preston said his office has signed a memorandum of understanding to provide public records on request.

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