Zurik: Lafourche Parish president vetoes pay raise for coroner accused of padding paychecks

Published: Apr. 4, 2023 at 10:31 PM CDT
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THIBODAUX, La. (WVUE) - Lafourche Parish president Archie Chaisson has vetoed a council-approved measure to give a pay raise to the parish coroner, who is under criminal investigation for allegedly padding his paychecks by performing potentially unnecessary autopsies.

Chaisson says the ongoing criminal investigation into Dr. John King and concerns about ballooning costs, led him to veto the plan, which would increase the coroner’s salary and allow him to collect fees for performing autopsies.

As the council debated the ordinance last week, Chaisson said he had concerns about the changes.

“I still have some concerns about the fee structure and whether or not, as Councilman (William) Adams says, incentivizes someone to maybe do more autopsies than we need to,” Chaisson said.

Chaisson also confirmed during the meeting that he received a letter from Attorney General Jeff Landry which said Dr. King is under criminal investigation by Louisiana State Police. That letter came after the parish reached out to the A.G.’s office for an opinion on whether it was legal for King to pay himself fees for performing autopsies, which he did without council approval.

Fox 8 reported in February that King charged up to $500 per autopsy. In 2022, those charges helped King collect an additional $54,000 on top of his salary. Dr. Patrick Walker, who used to work at the coroner’s office, told FOX 8 King fired him and another doctor who performed autopsies so that he could collect the money himself.

Coroner accused of padding paycheck with potentially unnecessary autopsies

“I think he’s doing it to subsidize his income,” Walker said. “Because as a coroner … you get paid a salary. And you’re not supposed to charge the coroner’s office, or the parish, any other subsequent fees for the autopsies.”

During last week’s council meeting, Councilman Armand Autin said the ordinance was aimed at clearing up paperwork. King had already been collecting a salary plus fees for years, and Autin said the changes would put the parish in line with what King was already doing. However, some other council members expressed concerns, including Councilman William Adams.

“I don’t want to touch this at all. I’m sorry, there’s just too much going around it as far as the investigation, the news, Lee Zurik, I don’t see how we can touch this right now because of the investigations,” Adams said. “So, I don’t want to touch this at all. I think we should just leave it alone and wait for the investigation, and wait till all the reports are done. I understand there’s paperwork to clear up. I don’t know, maybe. But I’m staying as far away from this as I can.”


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When the issue came up for a vote, five council members voted in favor of the raise, sending the measure to Chaisson’s desk. On Monday (April 3), Chaisson vetoed the measure and laid out his reasoning in a letter to Chairman Autin.

Chaisson says allowing the parish coroner to charge fees was unnecessary and could cost taxpayers too much money. He also said the ordinance may have unintended consequences on the ongoing criminal investigation into King.

Chaisson denied FOX 8′s request for an on-camera interview, saying his reasons for vetoing the measure were included in the letter to Autin. King’s attorney hasn’t responded to FOX 8′s latest request for comment.

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