After two days of jury selection, the trial of Iberia Parish Clerk of Court Michael Thibodeaux is set to begin, with opening arguments set for today.
Although the 12 primary jurors have been selected, there are still four alternate seats that remain to be filled. Opening arguments will follow those selections, either mid-morning or after lunch.
The need for four alternates instead of the typical two is that 16th Judicial District Judge Louis Pitman is planning to hold the trial despite the looming Memorial Day holiday. As of Tuesday afternoon, court was expected to be in session every day except Sunday until the trial is concluded.
The trial is expected to end Monday.
Thibodeaux was indicted in June on multiple counts of malfeasance, theft and filing or maintaining false public records, as well as one count each of racketeering and perjury.
The charges stem from 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 are 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.
Thibodeaux has said that his use of the funds was not illegal, and was in fact a common practice in clerk of court offices across the state.
Thibodeaux took office in December, 1997. His predecessor, Patrick Saunier, pleaded no contest to a felony charge of theft over $500 in July 1998 and was sentenced to five years of supervised probation. As part of the plea agreement, Saunier repaid $89,196 to the clerk’s office a month later.
The indictment against Thibodeaux cites 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, and seven counts of malfeasance in office in addition to the single racketeering and perjury counts.