NEW ORLEANS --Twenty nine people penned letters in support of former St Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed in advance of his sentencing, some from family members, attorneys and members of the clergy, in addition to some of those whose loved ones caught a break from the DA.
Reed was sentenced to serve 4 years in federal prison after a jury convicted him of 18 counts, some of them corruption charges.
Aside from using campaign funds for personal use, the jury found Reed pocketed payments from St Tammany Parish Hospital that were meant for the taxpayer-funded office he was elected to run.
St. Tammany's former prosecutor faced up to 11-and-a-half years in prison, leading many to say US District Judge Eldon Fallon went easy on Reed.
The judge had at his disposal letters from 29 people in support of Reed. Some of them from family, with one highlighting Reed's role as a grandfather and another from his daughter, Bess Reed Currence, pleading for leniency.
"I am appealing to consider some of the time you might give my dad in jail as 'time served' as a result of what he's already endured," Currence wrote.
But the letters went beyond those of family members. Some came from former Assistant District Attorneys who worked under Reed, including Harry Pastuszek, whose questionable payment arrangement with the St Tammany Parish School Board was detailed in an Eyewitness Investigation done in partnership with the New Orleans Advocate in 2014.
For many years, Pastuszek was getting paid as an assistant district attorney under Reed and was billing the school board for hours of work done through his private law firm. The school board would then issue a check to the DA's office for contributions to Pastuszek's state-backed retirement plan based on hours billed by Pastuszek's private law firm.
In his letter, Pastuszek calls Reed's conviction for the St Tammany Parish Hospital payments "troubling."
Reed claimed some of the payments from the hospital as income from public entities on personal financial disclosures he filed with the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
Other letters supporting Reed came from attorneys and family members who emphasized Reed's tenure of public service starting during his days as a New Orleans Police Officer.
Republican party activist, Ret. Col. Evans Spiceland Jr. also penned a letter asking Judge Fallon for leniency on Reed's behalf.
"He may have regrets, but regardless of any ill-advised misjudgements his civic contributions to the quality of life in this community far outweigh, in my opinion, what may be questionable errors in judgment," Spiceland wrote.
Spiceland is an appointed member of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board. The board's website says Spiceland serves on the adjudicative committee, which conducts hearings into attorney discipline for criminal and ethical violations.
Reed's law license was suspended indefinitely by the Louisiana Supreme Court after he was convicted in 2016.
"It’s a suspension on an interim, indefinite basis and that’s required of Louisiana Supreme Court rules of a lawyer convicted of a serious felony like this," said Loyola Law Professor and attorney ethics expert Dane Ciolino.
Spiceland would typically serve on the committee that would hold a hearing to determine the long-term future of Reed's law license. But that hearing won't take place until Reed has exhausted all his appeals.
Spiceland says in his letter to Fallon that he and Reed have been friends more than two decades, and aside from his public support of Reed, their friendship could be grounds for a recusal.
"If he is still on the board when Reed’s case comes before it, he’s not going to be able to participate. He would have to recuse himself," Ciolino said.
But given the lengthy appeals process, Spiceland's term on the board may be up by the time Reed's law license comes before it.
Reed's support base also included two members of the clergy, one a Pentecostal pastor from a church in North Louisiana called the Apostolic Tabernacle.
"Having sought Walter's advice numerous times through the years, personal and for the church, he has always gone out of his way to assist and has never charged a cent, only asking that we pray for him," Rev. M.R. Couch writes.
Another Pentecostal minister, Jerry Wayne Cox, testified against Reed during the trial about payments Reed made to his church, Faith Tabernacle, in exchange for referrals of potential plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits to prop up Reed's private law practice.
One of Reed's convictions was for wire fraud alleging Reed made a $25,000 payment to Faith Tabernacle in exchange for Cox's client referrals.
Apostolic Tabernacle was not mentioned in the case against Reed.
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