For Paulette Irons, the mayor's race is finally over. She recently was cleared of any possible wrongdoing in connection with the public jobs she has held at the Recorder of Mortgages office and the First City Court Constable's office.
Those jobs became an issue in the mayor's race and contributed to Irons' precipitous drop in the polls in the final weeks of the campaign. Her critics, including this newspaper, blasted her for claiming to be a reformer who would end patronage while at the same time she held two public jobs (in addition to her state Senate seat) through her political connections.
Constable Lambert Boissiere III had hired Irons through a contract, while Recorder of Mortgages Desiree Charbonnet had put Irons directly on the payroll. Both are her political friends.
The inconsistency of Irons promising to end patronage while feeding at the trough was fair game on the political stump. But it was not, in the opinion of St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed, a criminal violation. Reed was appointed special prosecutor in the case by state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub after New Orleans DA Harry Connick recused himself.
Reed's investigation examined Irons' employment as an attorney for the two parochial offices as well as the senator's financial disclosure statements -- one of which initially did not include information about her work for the constable's office. Irons amended that statement to correct the inaccuracy. In all instances, Reed said, there was no criminal violation.
"We determined that a technical violation occurred by failing to file an accurate report of her earnings from the office of Constable of the First City Court, which is required to be filed with the Senate and ethics officials under [state law]," Reed wrote to Ieyoub. "This failure has been addressed by the Board of Ethics for Public Officials and the appropriate penalty has been imposed. Additionally, the reporting violations have been amended and the records in Baton Rouge are now properly filed."
With regard to her work for Charbonnet's office, some of Irons' enemies wanted her prosecuted criminally. Technically, some paperwork indicated that Irons was a "full-time" employee there who even received retirement benefits. If she were employed full-time, she would have violated state law.
Irons noted during the campaign that the job paid less than $23,000 a year -- hardly a full-time attorney's pay. She insisted, and Charbonnet concurred, that the job always was part time. Because her work for Boissiere was done pursuant to a contract, it was OK under state law.
Reed agreed with Irons' interpretation, although he noted some glitches in the paperwork.
"We didn't find any criminal violations," Reed told me last week. "She was part-time on both jobs, and the one they were saying was full-time was paid only about $20,000. It would not have been reasonable to conclude that that was a full-time salary for a lawyer. ... If it had been a close call at all, I would have grand juried it. But it wasn't even close."
Irons is glad it's finally over.
"I always tried to tell people that there really wasn't anything to that, that it was just political shenanigans," she said last week. "I was careless in filing my disclosure statement, but I had filed it correctly before and again after. I'm excited that it's over, but I'm glad the investigation was done because it was a very thorough investigation."
If there is a culprit in all this, it's the state's dual-office holding law. It is so riddled with inconsistencies that it's virtually meaningless. Maybe Irons and her fellow lawmakers could do us all a favor by eliminating all the exceptions and putting teeth back into the statute.
Meanwhile, Reed's investigation gives Irons closure -- and a measure of vindication.