Chief deputy clerk Nunez faces ethics violation charges

Former St. Bernard Parish Chief Deputy Clerk of Court Lena Nunez stands accused of violating state ethics law by allegedly allowing her brother, a lawyer, to postpone paying more than $200,000 in court filing fees.

Nunez also “participated in the shredding and destruction of the billing records regarding her brother Sidney Torres’ non-payment of advanced filing costs,” according to the charging document filed by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

The Ethics Board accused Nunez of violating the law banning public servants from participating in transactions that involve their governmental entity in which any member of their immediate family has a substantial economic interest.

The board said Nunez participated in allowing Chalmette attorney Sidney Torres III to file 581 lawsuits without requiring him to pay $174,300 in advanced court costs at the time of filing. During the same time period, the Ethics Board said, Nunez participated in not charging the legally required fees on 23 of the 581 lawsuits filed by her brother. The unpaid fees totaled $39,897.

The ethics charges relate to findings in a December 2012 legislative auditor’s investigative report. Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera conducted an audit after receiving an allegation of potential wrongdoing from the Metropolitan Crime Commission.

Efforts on Friday to reach Nunez’s attorney, Freeman R. Mathews, were unsuccessful. But attorneys for Nunez and Torres previously denied the allegations.

Mathews claimed the audit was “riddled with misunderstandings, misapprehensions, faulty presumptions, improperly skewed statistics and conclusions” not supported by facts.

Torres’ attorney, Leonard Levenson, said at the time that his client received no special treatment and was not relieved of any financial obligations.

The legislative audit claimed Torres owed $174,300. It said the clerk did not pay all the advance court costs associated with lawsuit filings between June 2009 and May 2011.

Torres paid $99,566 of the questioned filing fees in October 2011.

Nunez’s mother, Lena Torres, lost a bid for re-election as clerk of court that fall. The allegations of preferential treatment surfaced during the election campaign.

Lena Nunez was employed with the St. Bernard clerk’s office for more than 40 years. She left the office in 2012 when her mother was not re-elected. She was chief deputy clerk from 1998 until 2012. In that capacity, she supervised employees of the clerk’s office’s Civil Department.

The Ethics Board sent the charges to the Ethics Adjudicatory Board with a request for it to conduct a hearing.

The Ethics Board voted to issue the charges in a closed-door session March 20. The allegations just became public when they were posted on the board’s website.