Court permanently disbars ex-prosecutor

Former senior city prosecutor Flitcher Bell, who is serving three years in federal prison for accepting bribes to fix criminal and traffic matters in Baton Rouge City Court, was permanently disbarred Friday.

The Louisiana Supreme Court’s order means Bell is forever prohibited from being readmitted to the practice of law in the state.

Permanent disbarment is the harshest penalty the high court can impose on a lawyer.

Disbarment, as opposed to permanent disbarment, means a lawyer can apply for readmission to the Louisiana bar in five years, but the high court has the option of rejecting a lawyer’s application.

Bell and nine other people pleaded guilty to charges in a federal investigation dubbed Operation Illegal Motion, which probed corruption in city and state courts in Baton Rouge.

The Supreme Court said Bell’s acceptance of bribes to dismiss, reduce or otherwise fix pending criminal and traffic matters in City Court “was not a one-time occurrence.’’

“Rather, (he) and his co-conspirators participated in the illicit bribery scheme over a period of at least three years,’’ the high court wrote.

“This sort of pervasive public corruption interferes with the administration of justice and undermines the principle that all are equal before the law,’’ the court added.

U.S. District Judge James Brady, who sentenced Bell in August 2010, said then that Bell received more than $30,000 in bribes for dismissing cases.

Federal prosecutors said FBI agents discovered more than 100 traffic and criminal cases dismissed in return for bribes shared by several employees in the state and city court systems.

The Supreme Court had suspended Bell on an interim basis in November 2009, a month after he resigned and pleaded guilty to conspiracy and bribery charges.