Lee Zurik Investigation: Is Walter Reed a part-time DA?

A file photo of St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed (right) at a recent news conference with Sheriff Jack Strain.
A file photo of St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed (right) at a recent news conference with Sheriff Jack Strain.

You probably know a basic definition for full-time, as in "full-time employment."

"It means as long as it takes," says Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche. "He's on the clock, 24-7."

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as "devoting one's full attention and energies to something."

St. Tammany and Washington Parish District Attorney Walter Reed checks off the "full-time" box on his financial disclosure filings to the state. For a DA serving a two-parish region and its 285,000 residents, that's hardly a surprise.

"By his own choice, he submits a public document that's notarized, saying that he's the full-time DA," says Goyeneche.

Taxpayers pay this full-time DA $184,000 a year.

Tulane law professor Joel Friedman says, "I think most people would say, 'I'll take that as full-time salary, I don't need extra employment.'"

Even though Reed is checking off that "full-time" box, he's not devoting all of his time to his public job.

"I think that, if you are going to fill out a form that's a public document such as this, notarize it and submit it to the public to review, and you say that you're full-time, I think that you have an obligation to not practice law on the side," says Goyeneche.

Those same disclosure records show Reed also operates a private practice on the side, making more than $100,000 a year.

The law doesn't prohibit Reed from doing private work, and he's certainly not the only DA in the state to pick up work on the side.

Still, one of Reed's jobs in particular caught our eye.

Reed reports to the state that, since 2008, he's been making $30,000 a year working for St. Tammany Parish Hospital, a public institution. Reed responded in a letter to FOX 8 that he's been doing work there "for over 15 years." Every month, the hospital writes Reed a $2,500 check.

The hospital told us by email they have "no contract or agreement… in place." And there are "no invoices" or anything else that shows what he did to earn the money - no proof, no record of exactly what Reed has done for the hospital.

"Any law firm in town would tell you, when they submit a bill to a client, they always detail – in excruciating detail – all the work that they did," says Friedman, "12 minutes writing a letter, six minutes on the phone… so that the client has an understanding of what the money is going for. Here, it's even more required, it seems to me, because this is a public entity, paid for by our tax funds."

Reed is simply on a legal retainer that pays him that fee, no matter what he does.

"For the publicly funded hospital to engage in a non-written agreement of a retainer for an attorney without requiring any documentation as to what that attorney is doing, is a tremendous disservice to the public who is supporting that hospital," Friedman insists. "If I were a member of the board, I would be demanding an accounting from the council. But they're not."

But is the hospital hiring Reed as the district attorney or Reed as the private attorney?

We sent hospital president/CEO Patti Ellish an email, writing, "Just confirming the agreement is with Walter Reed attorney... separate from his office."

She replied, "Let me correct your statement. Walter Reed is on retainer for legal services as the district attorney."

"There's a discrepancy and a disparity there," Goyeneche says. "So, [are] his financial reports that he's submitting to the state, and notarizing and certifying as accurate, true? Or is the hospital right about that?"

Again, on his disclosure form, Reed claimed the hospital money is for his private practice. But the hospital itself says the arrangement is through Walter Reed, acting as district attorney.

The hospital says Reed "attends the hospital's board meetings and provides legal counsel on matters." In fact, minutes from hospital meetings list everyone present and indicate their job titles, such as general counsel or hospital president. For Reed, they write his job is district attorney.

When Reed is absent from meetings..."he sends an assistant district attorney to attend."

"If Mr. Reed is doing this consulting work and legal work as a private attorney, how can he staff it in his absence with an assistant district attorney that he is paying a salary for?" Goyeneche wonders. "So you may be dealing with a situation akin to Peter Galvan, where Peter Galvan as the coroner was collecting fees for himself personally, and instead of him providing medical services, he had one of his coroner's office employees, going and doing the work that he was being paid to do."

Reed told us he sends one ADA in particular, Leo Hemelt, in his place. But he says, "Hemelt was acting as an attorney in private practice with no payment of public funds from the district attorney."

But board minutes show that, when Hemelt attended, he was listed as an assistant district attorney.

We asked Reed if his private law firm paid Hemelt to attend those meetings - he never responded.

"If the ADA, the assistant that Walter is 'volun-telling' to go over there, is going to do that work – and he's not doing it as an ADA – then he's doing it on his own time, in his private law practice," says Goyeneche. "And he should be compensated for it."

Goyeneche says Reed doesn't allow many of his ADAs to do private work, so he shouldn't do so either.

The MCC chief also says, if there are no payments from Reed to Hemelt in their capacities as private attorneys, it would imply that Reed was staffing his own absences with a public official. If that's the case, Goyeneche says, "He's doing it for his salary or the ability to continue to work in the district attorney's office, because his boss told him to cover for him."

For Professor Friedman, it all goes back to that box on Reed's financial disclosure report. "This could be so easily fixed if they stopped allowing the district attorney to have outside employment," he says. "I mean, that says there's not a lot of work for you to do, Mr. District Attorney, so you might as well spend your time doing other things, because obviously this job is not full time."

As for Reed's full-time DA's salary, just how much work is Reed doing to earn it?

FOX 8 obtained a log, a history, for the past 45 days of when Reed entered the St. Tammany Parish Judicial Center in Covington, his main office.

In the month of April, Reed entered the parking gate five times out of 22 working days. On four of those days, he used his swipe card after noon; once he swiped at 11:54 in the morning.

Reed only used his card to enter the parking gate 10 times during that 45-day period, which includes 29 weekdays. Keep in mind, Reed has to use his card to enter the parking area, an elevator and some corridors - those records keep track of some movements though the building.

Reed's spokesman told us, "He goes to Franklinton, Bogalusa and we have an office in Slidell. He also does a ton of work out of his house."

At $184,000 a year, Reed now is the highest-paid elected official in St. Tammany Parish. And most years, he also receives a monthly car allowance of $950. But it's his work on the side that raises questions, especially the work he does for the public hospital, and the potential mix of public and private resources.

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