The Third Circuit Court of Appeal last week denied a request from the 16th Judicial District Court District Attorney’s Office to reconsider its ruling which threw out the racketeering conviction against former Iberia Parish Clerk of Court Michael Thibodeaux.
That denial clears the path for Thibodeaux’s lawyer, John McLindon, to file a writ with the Louisiana Supreme Court in hopes of having the remaining convictions — seven counts of malfeasance, for which Thibodeaux was sentenced to 30 months in jail, plus one count each of theft, perjury and filing false public records to which 16th JDC Judge Lewis Pitman did not attach any additional jail time — reviewed.
In addition to the racketeering count, in its original ruling the Third Circuit panel also threw out one theft count, one count of perjury and one count of malfeasance in office due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in State of Louisiana v. Ramos that said non-unanimous felony verdicts were not constitutional, leaving 10 of the original 14 charges on which Thibodeaux had been convicted.
“We have 30 days to file a writ,” McLindoin said Saturday afternoon. “They will read it, but they have a right to deny it.”
McLindon had filed an opposition to the 16th JDC District Attorney’s request for a rehearing. After the court released its decision on April 28, he said the denial of the rehearing was more of a moral victory than anything.
“We’re happy with the outcome,” McLindon said. “We’ll file a writ and ask the Supreme Court to decide on the other 10 charges.”
Thibodeaux was convicted in May, 2019, on one count of racketeering, two counts of theft over $25,000, one count of theft between $5,000 and $25,000, two counts of filing or maintaining false public records, seven counts of malfeasance in office and one count of perjury.
Thibodeaux was indicted in June, 2018, after a state investigative audit of the clerk’s office that found, between 2013 and 2016, more than $300,000 in advance court costs were kept in an account rather than being refunded, and that more than $200,000 of that amount was moved into an account for salaries and other expenses in the office.
The funds in question were from court costs paid in advance for ongoing cases. State law requires the clerk must hold those fees for five years before refunding them, but in many cases there was no judgment or other resolution to indicate that the litigation was complete.
The 14 charges were grouped roughly into three categories. One set of charges related to the process of “sweeping” funds paid in advance for court fees and costs from the office’s fiduciary account to its operations account after those lawsuits had been dormant for several years. State law requires that those dormant funds be sent to the state’s unclaimed property office, although very few clerks of court in the state had followed the practice until after a state legislative audit of Thibodeaux’s office.
Another group of charges involved a series of 344 uncashed refund checks the Clerk of Court’s Office sent out to attorneys and litigants for reimbursements. After those checks had been uncashed for years, Thibodeaux created new checks with the same account numbers but with the Clerk of Court’s Office as the payee, so the money could be moved from the fiduciary account to the office’s operating fund, instead of to the state unclaimed property account as required.
A third set of charges involved the keeping of a “box of cash” which was made up of cash register overages from the clerk’s office. Under state law, those monies should have been transferred to the office’s operating account.
If the Supreme Court decides to accept the writ and hear Thibodeaux’s case, it could go before the court this summer.