Duhe guest speaker at Chamber lunch
First Assistant District Attorney Bo Duhe was the featured guest at a luncheon sponsored by the St. Mary Parish Chamber of Commerce and First National Bank of Jeanerette Wednesday.
Duhe told chamber members and guests at the Forest Restaurant in Franklin that the 16th Judicial District Attorney’s Office does more than prosecute crimes.
Covering St. Mary, Iberia and St. Martin parishes, the office includes offices in each parish, including two in St. Mary, in Franklin and Morgan City. There are 170 employees in the district, Duhe said, including 25 assistant DAs.
Duhe outlined the district attorney’s criminal duties and stressed many of the other programs it runs.
“We’re very involved,” he said. “We’re available with a phone call to the police departments in the parish for any issues they may have and any assistance we may provide to help them through their process.”
That includes education and other services, 24/7, Duhe said.
By state law, the office provides legal counsel to government bodies and boards in the district as well.
Victims’ rights are a major component of the office, Duhe said. “We want to know the victim’s position, we want them to be involved, we want them to have a voice,” he said. “Our victims coordinators are very important to us.”
The worthless checks division has been a major initiative, Duhe said. “We send a letter…to give them an opportunity to come and make it good,” he said. “We know people inadvertently make errors and they don’t intend it. This gives them an opportunity to correct the problem. Unfortunately, people sometimes intentionally write bad checks. We handle those cases and try to collect restitution for the merchants in the three parishes.”
From 2008-2011 the office issued 2,600 letters, resulting in 1,700 warrants for arrests and $2.1 million in restitution was collected, Duhe said.
Probation supervision was handed down from the state to the local DAs many years ago, Duhe said. Starting with a staff of three, the department in 2011 handled 1,560 cases open. Some $619,000 in restitution was collected for victims of crimes from 2008-2011.
Among the district’s most successful programs is drug court. Duhe said, “If you cure the addict, you cure the criminal. We find that the recidivism rate is much lower for someone who completes drug court versus someone that just goes into a probationary period or goes into jail and doesn’t get any attention to what the problem is.”
These are non-violent first offenders that have to volunteer to enter drug court, Duhe said. “We try to identify a person who is really looking for help but doesn’t know how to get it,” he said. “It’s patterned after a 12-step AA program.”
He said relapse is common. “It’s very rare that someone doesn’t reuse at some point. It’s an attempt to break someone out of this addictive cycle.”
Duhe said drug court gives every possible support mechanism and opportunity for a participant to succeed.
There is a program for pre-court diversion measures. “You see a lot of the young, stupid offenders,” he said. “We were all young once, and we were all stupid, we all make poor choices. Commonly you’ll see juniors and seniors in high school and some knucklehead decides it would be a good idea to take a paintball gun and go shoot at his friends, and hits the house and car, which depending on the damage could be a felony crime. We don’t want that to happen to some knucklehead. We make them do community service, letters of apology. My favorite thing is to send them to the Humane Society on a hot day to clean cages.”
The program collected $90,000 in restitution from 2008-2011.
Charges are dismissed if the participants complete the program.
Child support enforcement duties, from 2008-2011, collected $57 million in payments. “You’re getting that money into the hands of the parent that needs it and into the economy and turning it over,” he said.
There are many programs dealing with juveniles and family services, such as early intervention at at-risk schools. “We find that you have to grab these kids going down a bad path at a young age,” Duhe said. “This has to do with teachers in the school system that see problems, a child that’s sleeping in class, a child that’s not fed, not dressed. Perhaps something’s wrong at home, and we get involved…we see children who are failing and once we get in there, their grades shoot straight up.”
There is also a truancy task force in the district attorney’s office, Duhe said.
Duhe said that when he went to work for former DA Bernie Boudreaux, he asked, “How much does it pay? It was more than a law clerk, so I said sure, I’m in. I thought I was going to take an oath of office that would require me to convict everyone. It’s much different. We’re not here to convict everyone, though it’s sometimes necessary and appropriate, it’s for justice.”
He said the objective of the office is “to do the right thing.”
Duhe concluded that, if the audience noticed he was limping that day, it was because he injured his knee.
“I was driving through Jeanerette and we’re passing a convenience store,” he said. “I looked and saw a clerk standing behind the counter and I see a male with a shirt wrapped around his head, with a gun to her head. As I’m driving there, there’s another guy by the cooler. The clerk’s alone.”
Duhe said, “I’m seeing this, and I’m thinking, is this really happening? My wife was with me, and she had no idea what I was doing. I turned my car around, went to that convenience store and pulled up, and the two perpetrators run out behind. I jump out of my car and I rush into the store to make sure the clerk was OK.
“There was no arrest made. You might be thinking, why is he relating that to his torn meniscus (in his knee)? Well, for no reason other than it’s an interesting story, I hurt my knee gardening,” he joked.