St. Charles Herald-Guide

Clerk of Court says employee scandal contributed to election loss

By Kyle Barnett - July 3, 2012

Former Clerk of Court Charlie Oubre sat at a lunch table in the inner confines of the Clerk of Courtís office on the lower level of the St. Charles Parish courthouse. He had two days left as the Clerk of Court, a position he held for the past 33 years.

Oubre hesitantly sipped out of tiny coffee cup.

"This way I wonít drink too much," he said.

The walls of the lunchroom were filled to the ceiling with filing cabinets of records going back to 1811.

"That is as far as it was when I got here," Oubre said. "Weíve got plenty of records there. Most of them are in French. I canít read French."

Oubre himself joins the history of the office after being replaced by new Clerk of Court Lance Marino earlier this week.

Oubre is part of a historic turnover in St. Charles Parish politics. He and outgoing District Attorney Harry Morel were both sworn in 1979.

"We were sworn in the same day," Oubre said. "He went out already, but I am a little behind him."

The difference is that Morel stepped down from office while the 83-year-old Oubre lost his reelection to Marino.

Oubre said a contributing factor to his loss was a scandal involving members of his staff who were convicted of fraud for taking payments to resolve tickets.

"If they paid a ticket they would say, ĎIím going to help you. Iíll let you pay the ticket and then Iím going to go bring the money to the Sheriffís Office.í They would never bring it and they would ask someone in the D.A.ís office to help them with the ticket and keep the money," Oubre said.

Oubre said the way the matter was portrayed by the media contributed to his loss in the election.

"They were doing wrong, but it wasnít wrong in this office," Oubre said. "It helped lose it. It was the way you all wrote it up."

Oubre also said recent claims by Marino that he was not assisting in the transition are false.

"Thatís what he said," Oubre said. "Itís a public office. He can come in when he wants. He was supposed to come two or three times, but he never showed up. And heís telling people I wonít let him in the door."

Oubre said despite the way his career ended, he enjoyed his time in office.

"It is a good job, it was a good job. I enjoyed it. I got to talk to a lot of people, you know," Oubre said. "I knew a lot of people that came in here."

Although being the parishís head clerk was Oubreís longest held job, he began his working life in a completely different field as a minor league baseball pitcher in 1947.

He played in Kentucky, Oakland and as far away as Edmonton, Canada.

"Edmonton, Calgary all that–it was cold as hell, cold in the summertime," he said.

Oubreís baseball career was interrupted in 1949 when he joined the Army and served on Gen. Douglas MacArthurís staff in post-World War II Tokyo, Japan.

"It was something different. Something really different," Oubre said. "How primitive they were when I was there in comparison to how it is now. We were staying in one of the few buildings that wasnít bombed out."

Oubre served in recreation services and set up basketball and football leagues for the troops. His initial two-year contract was extended to three years after the Korean War began in 1950.

"I did my job and that was it," Oubre said. "I wasnít shot at. Half of the special service company that I was in went to Korea. They kept half there and the rest went to Korea, so I guess I was one of the lucky ones that got to stay (in Japan)."

When Oubre returned from Tokyo in 1951, he again played baseball from 1952 until 1956. In Ď56, he learned he was being traded to another minor league team in Norfolk, Va.

"I didnít report. I just went home. I figured I wasnít going to go any higher (to the major leagues) and my arm wasnít feeling too good so I gave it up," Oubre said. "I wanted to come back. I was born and raised and I knew everybody here. Over there you donít meet too many people when you are playing ball. You are kind of isolated."

Upon returning to St. Charles Parish, Oubre joined his father as a production worker at Shell Oil where he stayed for seven years.

In 1957 he married his wife, Carol. The two have four sons and a daughter in addition to four grandchildren.

In 1963, Oubre entered public service for the first time when he took a temporary job at the Sheriffís Office.

"They offered me a job for a week. I went to fill in for somebody who was sick or something and Iím still here," Oubre said.

After working his way up to chief deputy, where he served as Parish President V.J. St. Pierreís boss, he moved over to working as a court administrator for the district attorneyís office. Oubre said from there it was a natural fit for him to move into the Clerk of Courtís office.

"I had knowledge of the job because a lot of my work was here," Oubre said. "And the D.A. and the sheriff used to do the paperwork. I knew the job."

Oubre said he faced a lot of competition when he first ran for the office in 1978.

"Eight ran for the job. They all wanted it. They had three or four lawyers and a few guys on the council," Oubre said. "I went house-to-house. I hustled for the job."

Oubre led the field in the first primary, won the second and then held on to the position for the next nine terms until he was beaten out of the job last year. Oubre said during that time his office grew.

"We have 30 employees now and the first day I took office we had seven," Oubre said. "Weíve got over 20 people with over 20 years of service. They came in and they stayed. They must like me, so they stayed."

Oubre said he can equate his time as clerk to his time playing baseball.

"Playing baseball you always have transition. You move around every day, every week. So in baseball you have your good days and your bad days and over here youíve got the same thing," Oubre said. "You donít have many bad days in here though. If somebody wants to know why you are doing something this way–hereís the law book. You follow the law, thatís it."

Oubre said his biggest accomplishment during his tenure was digitizing the public records.

"Everything was done manually when I took office and now everything is 99 percent on the computer," Oubre said. "I am happy with what we did. We were one of the first ones in the area to go to computers in 1981."

Oubre said although he is not going out on his own terms, he is ready to retire from public service and will not run for office again.

"Iíve got plenty I can do," Oubre said. "Iím going to support somebody (in 2015). Iíll take my part, but weíll worry about that when it comes."