Director of New Orleans-based nonprofit found in contempt of court
LAFAYETTE - After the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center, a New Orleans-based nonprofit that provides legal representation to impoverished individuals accused of capital crimes, dropped a client without first consulting the case's overseeing judge, the judge ruled that LCAC's director, Richard Bourke, was in contempt of court.
According to KATC, 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards said Bourke's actions were an abandonment of the client's defense, which "caused serious harm" to the client and "created an unnecessary delay."
The client is 30-year-old Ian Howard who faces a first-degree murder charge, accused of killing a Lafayette Police officer in October 2017.
The attorney originally chosen to represent Howard is Stephen Singer, who was terminated from the LCAC on May 14.
Despite Singer's termination, Howard still wanted Singer as his attorney.
So, on May 18 Singer emailed LCAC a retainer agreement signed by Howard stating that he understood that the LCAC would not serve as co-counsel, and that he would now be represented by Singer.
Singer then requested that Howard's client file from LCAC be transferred to him.
LCAC stated in court and in its filings that as an indigent defendant who had counsel assigned to his case but had now retained private counsel, Howard had in fact discharged LCAC, which moved to withdraw as counsel in the case.
As a result of receiving the retainer agreement on May 18, LCAC stated in its motion that, on the advice of its own counsel, it had ceased work on Howard's case beyond transferring the client file and moving to determine counsel.
But Judge Edwards was highly displeased with the LCAC/Bourke's handling of the situation.
Edwards said in court Wednesday that no work had been done on the case between May 18 and June 10, despite a hearing set for July 13 to determine if the trial will be moved out of Lafayette Parish.
Edwards sentenced Bourke to pay a $300 fine within 30 days, and gave him a 30-day jail sentence, which was suspended. Bourke is on two years of probation, the judge ordered.
Singer is back on the case as Howard's lead defense attorney along with Elliott Brown as associate counsel. The LCAC will also continue to provide auxillary services for Howard's defense.
However, under the terms of the court's order, Bourke cannot interfere with any employee of LCAC in their attempts to assist Howard and his defense in the trial.
Howard has two pending cases against him: a first-degree murder case in the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting death of Lafayette Cpl. Michael Middlebrook - for which prosecutors intend to pursue the death penalty - and in a separate case, three charges of attempted first-degree murder that involve the other alleged victims.
Howard's felony trial is set for Nov. 9, which is nearly three years after Middlebrook was gunned down.
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