Former ADA Stutes to run against Harson

Retired prosecutor Keith Stutes, who left the 15th Judicial District Attorney’s Office last year after 28 years, is gearing up for a run against his old boss, Mike Harson, in next year’s election for district attorney.

In letters sent in the past week seeking support, Stutes wrote: “There is a clear consensus that new leadership is needed.”

Stutes said Monday that he did not want to discuss the race until he makes a formal public announcement, which he said he plans to do soon.

He already has launched a campaign website — www.keithstutes.com — and has scheduled a Nov. 6 fundraiser.

Stutes was the lead prosecutor on a long list of high-profile cases over the years.

He retired in September 2012 in the wake of a federal investigation of bribes paid to employees in the District Attorney’s office for favorable treatment in DWI cases.

That investigation is not directly cited in Stutes’ campaign letter, but he wrote he retired earlier than expected because he realized the District Attorney’s Office “had ceased to function properly and that I could not fix it in my role as an ADA (assistant district attorney).”

“I will work hard and I will restore the Office of District Attorney to its proper role in the fair and impartial administration of justice,” Stutes wrote.

Since Stutes’ retirement last year, the ongoing federal bribery investigation has brought guilty pleas from five people.

Three of those people worked in the District Attorney’s Office, including Harson’s longtime secretary, Barna D. Haynes. She admitted accepting a total of $55,000 in bribes over four years to help set up special plea deals for criminal defendants.

Harson has not been implicated in the case, but federal prosecutors wrote in court filings the bribery scheme was carried out without his knowledge because of a “lack of oversight and safeguards.”

Harson declined to comment Monday on a challenge from Stutes, but the district attorney confirmed his plans to seek re-election next year.

If Stutes remains in the race, it will be the first time Harson has been challenged in 18 years. He ran unopposed in 1996, 2002 and 2008.

Former U.S. Attorney Mike Skinner was the most recent person to express a serious public interest in the seat.

Skinner began raising funds in 2007 to challenge Harson in 2008, but ultimately decided against the campaign.

Skinner said Monday he has no plans to make another attempt and he has heard of no other potential candidates other than Stutes.

Stutes wrote in his campaign letter that he believes $500,000 or more in campaign money is needed for the race.

“I am committed to running full-time for the next 15 months,” he wrote.

It is unclear how actively Harson has been fundraising this year, but the incumbent ended 2012 with $63,151 in campaign funds, according to state campaign finance records.

The election for 15th Judicial District Attorney is scheduled for Nov. 4, 2014. The position oversees the district attorney’s offices in Lafayette, Vermilion and Acadia parishes.