Federal prosecutor retires after illustrious career, eyes defense work

Baton Rouge federal prosecutor retires after extensive career, eyes defense work

“If you have justice, justice is pure on both sides. That’s the only way our system of justice is going to work.” J.S. “Stan” Lemelle, retired assistant U.S. attorney

J.S. “Stan” Lemelle boxed 35 years of law enforcement memories last week at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge, retiring as chief of the criminal division.

“Replace him? He’s kind of the cornerstone of this office,” said acting U.S. Attorney Walt Green on Friday.

The 62-year-old’s absence will be felt throughout the office, Green said, which serves the U.S. Middle District of nine parishes, including East Baton Rouge Parish.

“No one person is going to replace Stan and all that he did here,” Green said, who himself has been recommended by Sen. Mary Landrieu for nomination at U.S. attorney for the Middle District by President Barack Obama.

As a prosecutor in the first half of his federal career, Lemelle focused on public corruption and white-collar crimes. His convictions included at least 18 against people in law enforcement, state office holders, legislators, state and city employees, and lawyers. Among those were:

  • Roland F. Coppola Sr., former State Police commander of Troop I in Lafayette and a reputed associate of since-deceased Mafia boss Carlos Marcello, for theft of 177,663 gallons of diesel fuel from Placid Oil Co. in Port Allen.
  • Former state Rep. Melvin Irvin Jr., of Gonzales, for corruption.
  • Former state Elections Commissioner Jerry Fowler, for tax fraud.
  • Former East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council member Gordon Curry Jr., for conspiracy and aiding and abetting corruption.
  • Former Greensburg Police Chief James “Ricky” Webb, for participation in a vote-buying conspiracy.
  • Former Livingston Parish Prison Warden Arthur B. Ross, for mail fraud.

Lemelle, who served as the criminal division chief for 18 years, guided prosecutors’ handling of criminal cases and recommended to the U.S. attorney criminal prosecutions, plea agreements and motions to reduce sentences.

Chief U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson described Lemelle as “highly principled and a man of immense integrity.” Jackson, who served as acting U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge in 2001, had chosen Lemelle as his first assistant U.S. attorney.

Lemelle served as U.S. attorney for the Middle District on a temporary basis on several occasions, the latest being three months in 2010. The longest of those stints was 16 months, from May 1987 until August 1988.

“Will he stay retired?” Green mused. “I hope so. I hope he never comes back on the defense side, because he’s a tough competitor.”

Defense attorney T.C. “Tommy” Damico, who described Lemelle as “very fair, very competent and very aggressive when he had to be,” predicted Lemelle “won’t be on the sidelines long. He’s going to be hard to keep down. He was one of those you think will never retire.”

Lemelle said family obligations will keep him retired for months, if not years.

Lemelle added that he will remain active with the Jesuit-run Manresa Retreat House near Convent.

Of Manresa’s three-day silent retreats, Lemelle said, “It’s an excellent place to recharge your batteries and get close to God. You can find yourself. It’s an incredible place to refocus.”

For now, Lemelle said, he and his wife, Katherine, are caring for an infant granddaughter with serious medical challenges.

“We’re just going to take care of her until she gets where she needs to be,” Lemelle said.

After that, Lemelle said, he plans to enter criminal defense work.

Before he became a federal prosecutor, Lemelle worked as a staff attorney for Southwest Louisiana Legal Aid Society in Lake Charles and Capital Area Legal Services in Baton Rouge.

He said any future switch to defense work also would serve the goal of courtroom justice.

“If you have justice, justice is pure on both sides,” Lemelle said. “That’s the only way our system of justice is going to work.”