DA Ward not to seek reelection

Staff Report
Plaquemine Post South

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney Ricky Ward says it's time to begin a new chapter in his life.

Ward, who has held that office 29 years, announced this week he will not seek another term in office.

Voters in the 18th JDC will elect the next district attorney in November. Ward will remain in office until his successor takes office in January 2021.

"I wish I could put into words how grateful and honored I have been to serve as your District Attorney," said Ward, 65. "I truly wish everyone in this country could experience just for one day the feeling of privilege and honor that I have been so fortunate to do every day of my life for almost 30 years."

Ward took office in January 1991 after he defeated 10-year incumbent Houston C. "Hammy" Gascon, who had succeeded Ward's grandfather Sam Cashio, who served more than four decades as district attorney.

Upon his announcement, Ward said that Scott Stassi, who has served as First Assistant District Attorney since 2000, has chosen to step back from that position and serve in a more active administrative capacity.

Ward also appointed Tony Clayton his 1st District Attorney.

"Tony has proven time and again that he is one of the best prosecutors in Louisiana, and he has been one of my most loyal and trusted employees for more than 20 years," Ward said.

The decision not to seek another term did not come easy, Ward said.

"It came only after much prayer and many hours of discussion with my wife, family members and staff members, who are close friends and the best in the world," he said. "It has been an unbelievably humbling experience to wake up every day of the week to immediately know that you represent everyone – every man, woman and child – within the three parishes I represent and serve.

"As a person of strong faith in God, I have always been honest and fair in reviewing all criminal cases that come through my office," Ward said. "I believe that honesty and fair-mindedness are the two most important characteristics a district attorney must possess."

Ward said he considers it a privilege to have an office of more than 50 employees, many of whom have worked with him since his first day in office.

"As happens so often, because I have so many capable employees, I have often had the opportunity to make decisions regarding them that have a great and positive impact on them and my office, which happened at the beginning of this year," he said.

Clayton, who has Chief Felony Prosecutor for most of the time he has worked with Ward, has tried nearly every major felony case involving a murder or rape.

"He has done so with an almost perfect record of convictions," Ward said. "Without a doubt, he has more experience prosecuting murder, rape and other crimes of violence than any other person in Louisiana."

Clayton, as lead prosecutor, brought down convicted serial killers Derrick Todd Lee and Sean Gillis, who terrorized south Louisiana for years. Both were convicted as charged by Clayton and received life sentences.

Clayton was also one of two persons in Louisiana who receive the "Home Run Hitters" award from the National District Attorney's Association, which inducts select prosecutors into the club in recognition of outstanding work in trying complicated and difficult high-profile cases, Ward said.

"It's the highest national award given in recognition of exception work from prosecutors who step up to the plate and score a 'home run hit' for their office," he said.

Clayton received the award for his successful prosecution of a case in which the defendant killed five people using his vehicle as a weapon and ran over six minors.

He successfully prosecuted the case and secured five death sentences against the defendant.

Clayton was also named "Prosecutor of the Year" in 2015 by Crimefighters of Louisiana, a victim advocacy organization to protect and advocate on behalf of victims of crime. He landed the honor for his successful prosecution of Karl Howard and Monique Kitts for the "murder for hire" death of Corey Kitts Jr. in West Baton Rouge Parish.

"In terms of experience and training in prosecuting serious criminal cases in 18th Judicial District Court, I can't think of anyone who is more qualified to bring us into the next decade than Tony Clayton," Ward said.