By Walter Pierce and Leslie Turk
Nov. 15, 2013
The push to unseat District Attorney Mike Harson next year is moving full steam ahead, with the Keith Stutes campaign announcing at a Nov. 6 fundraising fête night that it has raised more than $160,000. That’s quite a pace considering the former longtime assistant district attorney didn’t officially announce his candidacy until early September — a mere two months ago.
The campaign has a fundraising goal of $500,000 by the end of next summer.
At the Petroleum Club event, the Stutes campaign’s finance chairman, Sam Landers, also revealed the results of a poll commissioned by Stutes about two weeks before he announced his candidacy. According to the Stutes campaign, Southern Media & Opinion Research conducted the poll of 400 likely voters in the 15th Judicial District Aug. 19-21.
“The poll placed Keith dead even with Mike Harson if the election were held then, with 33 percent undecided,” Landers says of the poll. “That’s amazing. After voters were asked if they recalled the indictments for bribery, extortion and racketeering surrounding dismissing DUI charges for cash under Mike Harson’s leadership, the support for Mike Harson collapses with almost a 30-point swing in Keith’s favor and placed Keith at a 48-22 margin over Mike Harson. Now that’s truly astounding. The poll basically shows that the incumbent can’t survive.”
The central figure in the DUI bribery scandal that had employees of Harson’s office pleading guilty to federal charges earlier this year was scheduled for trial in mid-December. Lafayette private investigator Robert Williamson, 64, pleaded not guilty in federal court in late October, and his attorney, Thomas Damico, later asked the court to delay the trial, saying his client is in need of immediate medical care and will not be available to help prepare for his defense.
U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote granted the request for a delay in the federal case, moving the trial to March 10.
It’s not the first time Williamson has invoked his mental health as a reason for his inability to handle his legal affairs, telling the district court in December 2012 that he is bipolar and schizophrenic and has suffered from a series of strokes.
At the time, he and his family filed a petition for interdiction, hoping he would be declared incompetent to handle his affairs (a hint that he might make a similar claim should he be indicted).
In January, however, Williamson changed his mind and asked that the matter be dismissed entirely.
|DA candidate Keith Stutes, right, greets supporter Jerry Grooms|
Despite telling many people his current term would be his last, Harson has said he will seek a fifth term. He has not had opposition since coming into office in 1994 in a special election to replace Nathan Stansbury.
Stutes and Harson will face off November 2014.