Put together strong-willed attorneys, mix in the death penalty and you've got a recipe for a battle. But this one isn't being waged in a courtroom.
Hugo Holland, the Shreveport lawyer who prosecutes cases for districts attorneys around Louisiana, is involved in an out-of-court dispute with a lawyer who accuses him of milking the system.
The dispute pits Holland, an outspoken proponent of capital punishment, against defense attorney Nicholas Trentiscosa of New Orleans, an equally fervent opponent of the death penalty. But the main dispute is over who Holland works for and how much he's paid, not the death penalty.
Holland, who became a "circuit prosecutor" after he lost his job with the Caddo district attorney's office in 2012 amid a scandal over a small group of prosecutors obtaining fully automatic guns, currently prosecutes cases in seven parishes. At one time or another, he's worked for prosecutors in 15 parishes -- from one end of the state to the other. None are five-day-a-week jobs unless he's in trial.
Trenticosta, who called Holland "a mercenary," has asked the state legislative auditor to investigate him for payroll fraud and dual office holding, alleging he shouldn't be allowed to work in multiple judicial districts at the same time. Trenticosta said Holland, who makes more than $200,000 a year, has so many taxpayer-paid positions it's impossible for him to juggle all those duties at the same time.
The legislative auditor's office isn't currently investigating.
Holland is unapologetic, saying all of the positions he holds are considered part-time jobs and is allowable under Louisiana law. He also challenges critics to ask the prosecutors he works for if they're satisfied with his work.
"I am not bashful to say I have a skill set that D.A.s want to pay for," Holland said. "I did not apply for a single job that I now have. All those D.A.s came to me and asked me to work for them. And there are more out there that asked but I declined because I do not have the time. I'm maxed out right now as it is. However, ask any of the D.A.'s for whom I work if they are getting their money's worth."
Holland currently works for D.A.s in seven parishes: Bossier, Webster, DeSoto, Natchitoches, Calcasieu, St. John the Baptist and Rapides -- most, but not all, with small attorney staffs. He draws salaries from $24,000 to $55,000 in the first five parishes, according to public records, and charges by the hour in St. John the Baptist and Rapides parishes. Each D.A.'s office has a certain number of positions where the state pays the prosecutor's salary. The rest of the money comes from the local offices' funds. Holland's state salary of $45,000 is paid by the Calcasieu D.A.
He previously worked for D.A.s in Caddo, Winn, Vernon, St. John, Lincoln, Union, Avoyelles, and West Feliciana parishes. He was paid the state contract rate for attorneys of $150 per hour.
Holland said he is considered an assistant district attorney and has provided legal advice for prosecutors in LaSalle and Terrebonne parishes but has not billed them.
"When you add them all up, it's very clear that no one can perform all that duty unless they're working 24 hours a day," Trenticosta said.
Holland started working for multiple D.A.s after he lost his job in Caddo Parish amid a scandal over the D.A.'s office acquisition of eight M-16 fully automatic weapons in February 2012. Holland was among the assistant district attorneys who had outfitted vehicles with lights and sirens and accompanied police on operations. District Attorney Charles Scott, who approved getting the weapons, fired one of his office's investigators after the investigator contacted Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator with concerns the guns were inappropriate.
Scott hired Holland back on an hourly basis to work on proposed criminal-justice legislation, to appear before legislative committees and to work with the state district attorneys' association. He made $4,334 in 2015 and $7,050 in 2016, records from the district attorney's office show. Scott died in 2015 and current District Attorney James Stewart, elected later that year, ended the relationship with Holland early this year.
Holland has been the subject of national articles. An editorial piece in the Washington Post last month called him an "old-school" prosecutor who is "arguably the most powerful prosecutor in Louisiana, which is odd given that not only has he never run for office, he isn't even officially a full-time state employee."
Holland scoffs at the description. He doesn't dispute the numbers on his salary but does dispute Trenticosta's allegation he's violating the law.
"What's not accurate is for him to suggest that I don't perform the work that I perform," Holland said.
Calcasieu District Attorney John DeRosier, who hired Holland to handle death penalty cases and do supervisory work, praises Holland.
"You don't get a first-year law student and put him to doing that kind of work," DeRosier said. "He's not the only one capable of doing this, but he's one of the best."
Holland also calls Trenticosta a hypocrite -- saying private lawyers should not complain about expenditure of state funds considering the amount a handful are paid by the state public defender office to defend death penalty cases. Those are contract cases and the state public defender office gets taxpayers money. Holland said the attorneys are paid more than $1 million each to do a handful of capital cases.
"They set their own salaries, which I don't do, and then set their caseload, which I cannot do," Holland said. "It is the richest irony that this group of people have filed a complaint against me for 'fraud, waste and abuse' when they are in fact the poster children for such a claim."
Trenticosta's complaint is in line with those of several other capital defense attorneys who have accused Holland of being overzealous in seeking death sentences.
"Do the math," said Marty Stroud, a former state and federal prosecutor who is now an outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Stroud made national headlines when he went public with his angst for putting a man on death row for nearly 30 years for a murder he did not commit. "He's constantly fighting to cut the budgets of the indigent defender's capital defense and here he is holding down 13 positions around the state at taxpayer expense."