La. Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Theft of Clients’ Insurance Money

January 26, 2006

A Thibodaux, La., lawyer recently pleaded guilty to more than 40 criminal charges stemming from an investigation into his misuse of clients’ insurance money.

Keith Labat pleaded guilty to seven counts of felony theft, two counts of forgery and 33 counts of issuing worthless checks before State District Judge F. Hugh “Buddy” Larose as prosecutors prepared to try the case Jan. 23.

Lafourche Parish District Attorney Cam Morvant II said Labat was to return March 21 to Larose’s courtroom with $111,170.10 in restitution in hand. Larose also set sentencing for March 27.

Forty-two victims, including three minors, are involved in the case, Morvant said.

Thibodaux police began an investigation into Labat’s activities last year after three of Labat’s former clients claimed he kept their insurance checks, signed them and deposited the money into his business bank account, Police Chief Craig Melancon said.

“Medical bills associated with those cases were not paid and insurance money was not received (by clients),” Melancon said.

Detectives also found that Labat used a Houma lawyer’s name along with his law firm’s address on his letterhead, implying that he was working with that lawyer. The Houma lawyer had no knowledge that his name was being used, Melancon said.

Labat has claimed he is the victim of two Lafourche Parish judges and said he was essentially forced to plead guilty when Judges Jerome Barbera and John E. LeBlanc refused to testify at his trial.

Labat said the criminal charges against him were a result of questionable rulings by the two judges in cases dating back to about three years ago. “How can I distribute money that these two judges illegally seized?” he asked.

Labat filed a lawsuit in July against Barbera and LeBlanc for conduct that he calls a “breach of the public trust.” But on Oct. 3, U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan dismissed it, saying that the two men enjoyed judicial immunity.

Labat appealed and on Nov. 23, he filed a request with the Louisiana Supreme Court to unseat Barbera and LeBlanc.

In the lawsuit, Labat claimed that Barbera, who presided over most of his 2003 divorce, met behind closed doors with Labat’s ex-wife, her lawyer and Labat’s former law partner, who also served as Barbera’s campaign manager. The meetings produced a string of rulings favoring Labat’s ex-wife, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit also details claims against LeBlanc, who Labat said made several unlawful judgments against him stemming from a 2002 case in which Labat represented a couple suing an insurance company.

Neither LeBlanc nor Barbera would comment on either the lawsuit or Labat’s trial.

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