T.J. Bell attorneys request contempt hearing over special prosecutor
A hearing has been set by Judge David Ritchie for June 1 regarding a motion by two defense attorneys that a local special prosecutor be held in contempt over proceedings in the case of T.J. Bell, a former deputy chief at the Lake Charles Police Department.
Todd S. Clemons and Adam Johnson, defense attorneys for Bell, took issue with whether Special Prosecutor Hugo Holland would be providing the defense with audio, videotapes, or notes from an interview with Jeanine Blaney, a key witness in Bell’s case.
The matter was previously discussed during a March hearing in state district court on two defense motions, one regarding exculpatory evidence and the other on whether the defense was receiving all discovery material in the case.
At that time, Clemons asked Prosecutor Ross Murray whether Holland was going to turn over any of those materials and whether his office had promised anything to Blaney in exchange for her cooperation.
Murray told Clemons that day that none of those materials existed from the interview and that, to his knowledge, nothing had been promised to Blaney in exchange for her cooperation.
“No audio or video was taken and there are no notes either,” Murray said. “It was simply a sit-down meeting and we have no transcripts from the meeting.”
According to prosecutors, Blaney said in that meeting that she had no recollection of authoring documents that prosecutors showed her.
“I find it very hard to believe that an experienced prosecutor sits down with a witness in a high-profile case and takes no notes,” Clemons said. “I find it highly suspect.”
Clemons said the defense wants the “entire interview” that was done with Blaney, saying they are entitled to have that information.
At the March hearing, Ritchie said, “If she (Blaney) originally said she was coerced and now she says she wasn’t, it’s clearly exculpatory.”
Richie also ordered prosecutors to provide to the defense the dates that Blaney “allegedly was coerced or compelled to complete work.”
The motion by the defense requesting that Holland be held in contempt said, in part: “Contrary to the representations made by the State during a hearing on March 26, 2018, offers have been made to Ms. Blaney and her legal counsel. Furthermore, such offers were made and have been the subject of discussion since September of 2017, prior to T.J. Bell even being indicted for the second time. Point being, it would certainly appear the State knew about this information and lied/misrepresented the facts regarding same to Your Honor and the undersigned counsel (Clemons and Johnson).”
Additionally, the motion said the defense had no reason to believe that Murray intentionally misled the court and that they believed he was simply relaying information he had been given by Holland.
Bell was fired in 2015 after allegations that he allowed a worker, Blaney, to be paid for work she did not do.
State district court Judge Sharon Wilson overturned the decision and reinstated Bell.
But the Third Circuit Court of Appeal reversed that decision and upheld his firing; the state Supreme Court in 2017 affirmed the Third Circuit’s ruling.
Bell remains under indictment on two other charges: public payroll fraud and malfeasance in office.
His trial is set for June 18.