A prominent civil rights lawyer told a defendant he’d get probation. He got 10 years. | Crime/Police

An alleged drug dealer, represented by a prominent civil rights attorney, wants his guilty plea overturned and claims attorney Ron Haley Jr. promised to use an alleged relationship between a private investigator and a Baton Rouge judge to help the man to secure parole in a deal with prosecutors.

Instead, he got a decade in prison.

Marcus Clayton walked into a courtroom in Baton Rouge to be convicted on two drug charges this June, with plans to take his fiancé and children out to breakfast later in the morning. In a court filing, Clayton said he agreed to plead guilty to two of the 26 narcotics charges against him because Haley assured him he would be sentenced to probation.

According to Clayton, Haley had claimed to have back channel access to 19th Circuit Judge Beau Higginbotham, although there is no evidence to support this. Clayton cited three separate text exchanges he had with Haley, including one in which Haley claimed the judge owed Haley’s private investigator a favor.

“A PI I fuck with … is good friends with (Higginbotham),” Haley Clayton said in a text exchange filed with the court in February. “I would like the PI to ask a favor and he has agreed,” Haley later wrote in the same exchange.

But there was no parole.

“Mr. Clayton, you are a drug dealer,” the judge told Clayton as he simultaneously sentenced him to five years in the Louisiana Department of Justice prison. “You are a danger to the people of this community.”

Higginbotham, who has a tough record on crime and is running for a seat on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, declined to comment through a clerk who said the judge could not discuss pending cases.

In letters filed with the court, Clayton’s fiancee wrote that she felt “dazed” by what had happened.

The 45-year-old dealership owner’s case is the second this year in which one of Haley’s customers has cried ill over what the customers describe as penalties harsher than what Haley promised to negotiate on their behalf.

Haley declined to comment but transferred the calls to another attorney on Thursday. She did not respond to phone calls to her office or email messages asking for comment.

His various high-profile clients include embattled local rapper Lit Yoshi and the family of Ronald Greene, a black motorist who died in northern Louisiana in 2019 after a brutal encounter with state troops.

Haley recently served a six-month suspension that began in December 2021 after the state disciplinary board investigated allegations that he neglected a legal matter, failed to communicate with a client, improperly attempted to resolve a malpractice claim with a client, and fails to return a customer file upon request.

In August, Lit Yoshi, real name Mieyoshi Edwards, tried to withdraw his guilty pleas to assault and attempted murder, saying in court documents that Haley had misrepresented how long he would serve in prison as part of the deal with prosecutors. Clayton filed a similar request in late August. He is represented by the same law firm, Longman Jakuback, that took over Edwards’ appeal after he split from Haley. The company declined to comment.

Lucas Investigations-based private investigator Jacob Sarver, named in the court documents, declined to comment.

Clayton says Sarver visited him in prison after his sentencing and apologized for the way the episode went. According to Clayton, during that meeting, Sarver told him that he had only discussed the case with the judge in general terms.

Shortly after he asked in August to rescind Clayton’s guilty plea, his new attorneys asked Higginbotham to withdraw from the case and have also requested subpoenas for Higginbotham, Sarver, Haley and an associate of Haley’s who served him during his suspension represented.

“The facts surrounding this consultation need to be established in order for the court to make an informed decision on the matter,” the attorneys wrote.