LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The judges at the 14th Judicial District Court have told the Calcasieu District Attorney's Office to stop allowing defendants to purchase gift cards and money orders in lieu of community service.
The gift card program allowed misdemeanor defendants to donate gift cards or money orders to the District Attorney's Community Assistance Foundation, a 501C charitable organization set up by District Attorney John DeRosier. The donations - which cost $8 per hour of community service - could pay for up to half of a defendant's community service, according to the District Attorney's Office.
DeRosier told KPLC Thursday that the foundation currently has between $23,000 and $25,000 in gift cards and has between $80,000 and $85,000 in money that has been sent in through money orders.
The program has come under scrutiny, in part for the accounting of the money, following an article in the Washington Post about the gift card program.
The letter, signed by Chief Judge Mitch Redd and dated Nov. 18, references a recent meeting between the judges and DeRosier. It is addressed to DeRosier.
"Please be advised that the Court has discussed the matter and agreed not to allow gift cards to be substituted to any degree for our court-ordered community service."
The letter from the judges follows a memo sent on Nov. 4 by DeRosier to misdemeanor probation officers on Nov. 4, which reads: "Any defendant on Misdemeanor Probation who desires to change or modify any terms of Misdemeanor Probation will be required to present such a request to the court for. its consideration. Only after response from the court will this office take any action to modify any term or condition of Misdemeanor Probation."
DeRosier said while the gift card program will no longer be used as be part of misdemeanor probation, it will continue as part of the District Attorney's pretrial diversion program, which falls under his jurisdiction and not that of the judges.
KPLC has filed public records requests with the District Attorney’s Office as part of our investigation into the gift card program.