An Evangeline Parish prosecutor, who faces discipline for misconduct in his private practice, has resigned.
Timmy Fontenot faces seven formal charges from the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel related to his work representing a family in an auto-accident lawsuit, including "committing a criminal act, especially one that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer."
Fontenot resigned from his public position on Thursday afternoon, according to 13th Judicial District Attorney Trent Brignac.
According to ODC documents outlining the charges, Fontenot dismissed his clients' lawsuit without their knowledge or consent, in 2008, and forged their signature on the settlement documents. He distributed some of the settlement funds five years later, leading his clients to believe that's when the matter settled —and for a different amount than the insurance company agreed to disburse, according to the charges.
Fontenot also failed to put his contingency fees in writing and cashed checks from his trust account, all in violation of legal and professional conduct, according to the charges.
Both Fontenot's clients and an attorney defending against their lawsuit filed complaints about his actions, according to the document.
According to the document, Fontenot "admits that he acted improperly and explains his behavior by stating at the time of the settlement he was involved in a very bitter, highly contested and protracted divorce from his first wife," the document states. Additionally, Fontenot "concluded that he does not dispute the underlying facts as alleged in the complaint and states that if the matter were tried, he would seek a trial in mitigation."
Fontenot faced the disciplinary board on Wednesday for a hearing on the charges. Evangeline Parish District Attorney Trent Brignac accepted Fontenot’s resignation one day later, he said in a Tuesday interview with KATC.
“I felt it was in the best interest of the District Attorney’s Office and the public to accept his resignation, and that’s what I did,” said Brignac.
This is not the first time Fontenot has faced discipline for misconduct.
In 2011, the state Supreme Court placed Fontenot on two years of probation, with a one-year suspension on the line if the probation was violated.
According to the decision, Fontenot "neglected a legal matter, failed to communicate with a client, charged an excessive fee, and made misrepresentations."
Brignac said he knew about Fontenot’s previous misconduct when he hired him.
“The facts of that particular situation were such that I did not feel it would affect his ability to handle the duties and carry out the responsibilities of being an Assistant District Attorney,” Brignac said.
According to Brignac, this was not the case with the second incident.
“In this second incident the allegations are more serious and such that I felt it is in the best interest of the District Attorney’s Office and the public to accept his resignation — and that’s what I did,” said Brignac.
The complaint comes at a time when law enforcement in Evangeline Parish is facing extreme scrutiny.
The Sheriff’s Office is in a dire financial situation after an employee was convicted of stealing. Both the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office and Ville Platte Police are in the spotlight after the Department of Justice investigated their use of “investigative holds,” finding they violate the constitutional rights of residents.
Given the context, Brignac said he believes accepting Fontenot’s resignation was a necessary step in restoring public trust.
“Unfortunately there have been a lot of things that have occurred recently that may have caused the public to question our law enforcement and our law enforcement system,” Brignac said. “I am confident that we are turning the corner, heading in the right direction and doing the things that need to be done to restore that trust. In my opinion, not accepting (Fontenot’s) resignation would not have furthered that interest.”
Brignac said his office is in the process of interviewing candidates for Fontenot’s position and will hopefully make a decision within the next week or so.
We reached out to Fontenot but he did not return our calls. We also reached out to his clients but they chose not to speak with us.