Paragraphs 24 & 25 read: "Further confronted by auditors, Roe 'just didn't have a lot to say and hung his head,' Carter testified. He asked whether she and another auditor had ever taken antidepressants, she said."
" 'He went on to say he had been on several medications and has a lot going on,' Carter testified."
Former Plaquemines judge guilty of using public funds
by Paul Purpura, The Times-Picayune Former Judge William Roe, an 18-year veteran of the 25th Judicial District Court in Plaquemines Parish, was convicted Tuesday of pocketing more than $6,000 he got from the state Supreme Court as reimbursement for judicial expenses, instead of depositing that money in a parish bank account.Susan Poag / The Times-PicayuneFormer 25th Judicial District Judge William Roe walks to his car before entering the Plaquemines Parish Government Building for court Tuesday,
Tuesday September 15, 2009, 9:28 PM
Roe, who did not seek re-election last year amid an investigation by state Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot that ultimately led to a six-count indictment last year, faces up to five years in prison on each of the three felony counts of unauthorized use of movable property valued at over $1,000. Roe is expected to get probation.
He was tried in Belle Chasse on Tuesday on three counts of felony theft, in a case prosecuted by the attorney general's office. But after hearing testimony from three prosecution witnesses, ad hoc Judge Jerome Winsberg found Roe guilty of the lesser charges.
The theft charge required prosecutors to prove that Roe planned to keep the money he got from the Supreme Court. Roe repaid the court -- after learning he was a target in the audits -- in two checks in late 2007 and early 2008, totaling $9,666 -- more than the parish was due, according to testimony.
Roe, who slipped out of the courthouse and avoided reporters after he was convicted, remains free on bond until his Oct. 1 sentencing.
"I don't anticipate he'll get jail time as a first offender," said Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell, who prosecuted Roe with Butch Wilson.
Roe's attorney Mike Fawer noted his client was acquitted of theft.
"I think he was pleased, " Fawer said. "He would like to have been totally acquitted."
Roe waived his right to a trial by jury, leaving it to Winsberg to decide the case. Roe did not testify, and Fawer called no witnesses.
"This is a very difficult case, " Winsberg said before announcing the verdict. "It's always hard for a judge to in effect judge another judge's actions. Judge Roe was a judge for 18 years."
Winsberg said he did not find that the prosecutors proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Roe committed a theft, specifically that the former jurist intended to keep the money.
Fawer described Roe's handling of the money "sloppiness, " not criminal. An appeal is planned that in part could focus on whether unauthorized use of movable property is an appropriate charge in the case, he said. Wilson also argued the charge did not fit Roe's actions, because it typically is applied to those accused of using someone else's car for joy-riding.
Tipped off auditors
Roe, ironically, brought auditors to Plaquemines Parish through an anonymous tip he gave to an unnamed state lawmaker about mismanagement of public funds in the judiciary, compliance auditor Jodi Carter testified.
That audit found that former probation officer Rodney Penton pocketed about $10,000 in monthly fees paid by people on probation instead of depositing it in a parish bank account. He has pleaded guilty to malfeasance in office, received probation, and Winsberg ordered him to pay $10,000 in restitution.
The audit also found former Judge Anthony Ragusa improperly used public funds. He was not charged with a crime, but the audit was used against him in his bid for re-election last year. Ragusa narrowly lost the election to Judge Kevin Conner in November.
The auditors also looked at a court bond account, leading them to review Roe's reimbursement for expenses incurred in 2005, 2006 and 2007, when attending Louisiana Judicial College seminars in Sandestin, Fla.
His expenses were paid through the bond account, according to testimony. Roe then got reimbursement for those expenses from the state Supreme Court, in the amounts of $1,923 in 2005, $1,903 in 2006 and $2,241 in 2007.
Wilson said Roe did nothing improper in getting that money. However, Roe did not reimburse the parish bond account.
"The evidence shows he was going to stick that money in his pocket, and that would be the end of it, " Wilson said.
'Living very large'
During those same years, Roe's debt dramatically increased, Wilson argued, citing his credit card balance in July 2005 at $5,489 that rose to $26,215 in July 2007. Roe spent money on golf, expensive clothing and gourmet food, Wilson said. The debt gave the judge a motive to steal, Wilson said.
"Judge Roe was living very large, " Wilson said. "He needed that money."
He argued conflicts in the explanations Roe gave to auditors and his testimony to the grand jury that indicted him in July 2008 showed he had no intention of returning the money.
Roe, who was the sole signatory for the bond account, told auditors he was unaware of the money. He later described himself as "a horrible administrator" of public money, Carter testified.
Further confronted by auditors, Roe "just didn't have a lot to say and hung his head, " Carter testified. He asked whether she and another auditor had ever taken antidepressants, she said.
"He went on to say he had been on several medications and has a lot going on, " Carter testified.
Roe testified before the grand jury that he gave cash to Penton, the probation officer, to deposit in the bond account, Wilson said.
Penton testified Tuesday that never happened.
"Has Judge Roe ever given you cash?" Caldwell asked.
"Never, " Penton replied.
Malfeasance charge tossed
In seeking an acquittal after prosecutors rested, Fawer said Roe's grand jury testimony was not true, leading prosecutors to accuse the former judge of perjury. Winsberg said that while Fawer made the claim, he did not hear Roe say it.
Fawer argued that at most, Roe was guilty of malfeasance in office -- charges the grand jury handed down. But prosecutors later dismissed the charges.
The theft charge didn't apply to what Roe did, he said, because Roe later repaid the 25th Judicial District.
"It is an essential element of this (theft) crime to deprive permanently, " Fawer argued.
Through questioning witnesses, Fawer attempted to mitigate his client's actions. That Roe's tipping off auditors of improprieties in the parish court belies reason if he was stealing from the public trough, he said.
Fawer said that during the audit, Roe asked auditors for an amount of money that should have been deposited in the parish bond account, suggesting his client meant well.
But Greg Clapinski, who oversaw the Plaquemines Parish judicial audit, testified providing such information is not part of an audit.
"To me, that's not their job, for them to tell him what he owes, " Clapinski said of the auditors.
The state Supreme Court suspended Roe in August 2008, a month after he was indicted. Former Plaquemines Parish District Attorney Darryl Bubrig recused his office from prosecuting Roe, so the attorney general's office inherited the case.
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Paul Purpura can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3791