Parish passes increase to coroner's pay while Louisiana State Police continue investigation

The Lafourche Parish Council increased the coroner's pay by a narrow vote. The government and the coroner are under investigation for past payments.

Council Chairman Armand Autin, who proposed the pay raise, said the change will correct long-standing discrepancies in the ordinances that govern how Parish Coroner Dr. John King has been paid. According to Autin, the ordinance will have no retroactive effect on how King has been paid up to this point, thereby preserving the integrity of the investigation by Louisiana State Police.

"This is clearing up our paperwork and allowing us to move forward. From today forward, this ordinance does not address the paperwork inaccuracies that exist from now for the last ten years." Autin said. "It's from today forward."

The Lafourche Parish Council narrowly passed an ordinance increasing the Parish Coroner's pay. Both the Coroner, and the Lafourche Parish Government are under investigation for payments the coroner received.
The Lafourche Parish Council narrowly passed an ordinance increasing the Parish Coroner's pay. Both the Coroner, and the Lafourche Parish Government are under investigation for payments the coroner received.

The original ordinance dictating King's pay had his salary at $25,000 per year, and allowed him to collect $250 in fees per autopsy completed. In 2011 the fee portion of his compensation was removed. A separate annual ordinance, called a budget ordinance, has raised King's salary over the years. Under these ordinances King has been paid $50,000.

Autin's new ordinance has officially set the position of the Lafourche Parish Coroner's salary at $50,000 and reinstated the fee-per-autopsy payment at $300.

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The ordinance narrowly passed with only five votes. Both Councilmen Jerry Jones and William Adams voted against the motion. Councilmen Aaron Melvin and James Wendell abstained from their vote.

"I just don't get it, you're already getting paid to do a job. I understand you got fees to pay somebody to come do it or you need supplies to do it, but you are already getting paid to do a job so why do we have to pay you extra to do your job," Adams said. "$50,000, I'm fine giving him a salary, now I'm going to give him a salary and he can make as much money as he wants?"

The Louisiana State Police are investigating both King and the Lafourche Parish Government for at least $75,000 that King potentially shouldn't have received from fees. State law says coroners are allowed to bill no less than $250 nor more than $300 for autopsies at the discretion of the parish government.

The $75,000 came to light when King sent an invoice raising his per-autopsy rates to $500 last October. King had been sending invoices since 2011 for autopsies performed and being paid since the ordinance was amended to remove the fee portion of his compensation. Each time he sent an invoice, he collected payment and increased his rates multiple times until October, when the parish noticed it.

In an interview with the Houma Courier/Daily Comet on December 29, King said he was never notified of the change to the ordinance. According to King, the money budgeted for the per autopsy payments goes to whoever carries out the work, and he never exceeded the budget. He acknowledged that in one year he received $35,000 from fees that were in addition to his salary.

The State Police are close to completing their investigation, and will bring their findings to the Lafourche Parish District Attorney's Office for review to decide whether charges should be pursued, said Ross Brennan, Louisiana State Police public information officer.

"I spoke to the lieutenant in charge of the investigation today (because) I wanted to find out if it was actually true (because) I wanted to make sure for myself and yeah there is a criminal investigation going on so like I said I don't want to touch any of this," Adams said.

Until charges are filed, the state police investigation is not considered criminal, according to Brennan.

According to Autin, he conferred with the district attorney's office, the clerk of court, the parish administration, and King's attorney William "Chuck" Credo III, in creating the ordinance.

Autin said his concern was that, without a clear path forward, bodies could stack up while the administration and the coroner's office disputed how the office would be compensated.

This article originally appeared on Daily Comet: Under looming investigations, Parish Council increase coroner's pay