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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Forty years ago, actress Tippi Hedren offered a program for 20 Vietnamese women to learn the profession of being manicurists. The result was a complete revolution of the nail salon industry. The industry is now an $8 billion powerhouse which is dominated by Vietnamese operators. According to Nails, a publication devoted to the nail salon industry, 51 percent of nail salon operators nationwide are Vietnamese. Moreover, in Louisiana, despite the fact that Louisiana Cosmetology Board (LCB) Executive Director Steve Young said that the vast majority of nail salon operators are Vietnamese, his only explanation for why the LCB has no Vietnamese representation is that “it just has not reached that point.”

Vietnamese operators routinely undercut the competition’s price by 30-50 percent. They are recognized by Nails to have a stellar reputation for high-quality work, and they often support relatives in Vietnam. Numerous Vietnamese nail salon operators told Louisiana Voice that the LBC has targeted them for harassment and discriminatory inspections designed to drive them out of business. Their claims are detailed in a class action lawsuit filed by former U. S. Congressman Joseph Cao on February 6, 2014.

The suit alleges the LCB, its Executive Director, one of its attorneys, Celia Cangelosi (who is named personally as a defendant), and at least two of its inspectors, Sherrie Stockstill and Margaret Keller (also both named as defendants) have subjected the Vietnamese operators to being “harassed, intimidated, falsely imprisoned, and arbitrarily discriminated against.”

The lawsuit alleges that Thoa Thi Nguyen’s Exotic Nails was visited by LCB inspectors, including Stockstill, on Friday, July 19, 2013, at a time when the salon was “packed with patrons.” After several minutes of loitering and communicating facts of the salon’s operations, Stockstill shouted, “Everyone keep still.  Don’t move!” The suit alleges Stockstill and the other inspector, despite producing no identifications or search warrant, began opening drawers, sorting through files, and, for two hours, and demanded that Nguyen not leave the premises. Nguyen contends that LBC’s actions resulted in a loss of confidence among some of her patrons who witnessed the scene and that her business has suffered from the episode.

The lawsuit details several other similar incidents including operators being subjected to repeated “inspections” and forcing some operators to sell their businesses to escape the relentless attacks.  Meanwhile, the plaintiffs allege that non-Vietnamese operators are rarely, if ever, subjected to any inspection whatsoever. The lawsuit provides exhibits which show virtually all of the hearings for the LCB entail Vietnamese nail salon operators.

LCB meetings appear to be a vehicle for impeding competition and creating a self-generating source of revenue to provide fees for attorneys who serve under contract and to pay the board’s salaried staff. While the “inspectors” of the LBC earn average salaries of around $27,000, which perhaps explains their fundamental lack of knowledge or training regarding requirements to conduct searches, the LBC payroll approaches a staggering $1 million a year!  That doesn’t even include the $200,000 or so per year it generates for its two contract attorneys:  Cangelosi and Sherri Morris. Meanwhile, Vietnamese operators, who supply much of the funds through which they are harassed, are forced to literally beg the board for permission to work as evidenced by this applicant’s husband’s plea to the board after they moved from Texas and she sought a Louisiana license through reciprocity. Instead, the LCB proceeded to grill her on questions about her Vietnamese high school diploma and decide if the transcript translator should be “approved.”

Vietnamese citizens often immigrate to California and practice as manicurists before relocating to Louisiana, and one salon operator said he personally knows of 15 manicurists planning to relocate to Louisiana within weeks.

These operators were understandably concerned about the April agenda item on “California reciprocity.” At that meeting, Young sought to suspend California reciprocity based on its licensing authorities informing them they were “removing their seal from their documents.”  It was also claimed that it was difficult getting anyone on the phone from California.

Louisiana Voice contacted California licensing authorities, and we had no difficulty getting them on the phone. Moreover, we were told that Young’s statement was false and that they’d experienced a temporary machine failure but that a new color-printed seal was being incorporated into their documents. Accordingly, Louisiana Voice made a public records request for whatever documentation Young referenced in the previous video clip indicating California was removing its seal. What we got was this this email which confirmed what California licensing authorities said to us. It’s not clear whether the LBC is going to accept the new color seal, but what is clear is that Young came across as being determined to suspend California reciprocity and slow the expansion of Vietnamese nail salon operators in Louisiana. Though it’s not clear what an acceptable seal now is, Young and the LBC agreed to back off of reciprocity suspension and merely return as “rejected” any California documents with “no seal.”

Another common complaint among Vietnamese operators is that the LCB itself can’t decide what is legal and what isn’t. Inconsistency appears to rule the day. One operator indicated he was licensed by an LCB official only to be informed by a subsequent inspector that he failed to have proper equipment nor adequate space for conducting his operations. Another operator appeared to suffer a similar plight as evidenced by this video clip from the April 2015 LCB meeting during which one LBC attorney, Sherrie Morris, had to explain to another LBC attorney, Cangelosi, as to the fact that nails can’t be done in an esthetic salon. Cangelosi says “somebody” told them they could but she says it was “not someone from the Board.” Louisiana Voice has been told by several operators that it was LCB officials who told them they could operate. Cangelosi even admits, “Somebody licensed them.” In yet another instance at the same meeting, the LCB demonstrated that its inability to provide guidance to its licensees on acceptable “cheese graders.”

Still another nail salon operator said his salon was cited for violations and, when he informed the inspector that a beauty salon nearby operated in the same manner as he with the same equipment and space allocation, the investigator told him, “There are different rules for you guys.” When he complained to the investigator that he may challenge an administrative hearing on the issue, she said, “You may as well pay the $1,200 fine now.  If you challenge it, they’re just going to add $550 administrative costs and there is no way you can win!” When he inquired how that could be possible for his operation to be treated so differently than the nearby beauty salon, the investigator responded, “They can do whatever they want!”

Yet another complaint of Vietnamese operators is the haphazard manner in which Young is “notified” of violations. Many Vietnamese salon operators said inspectors were shifted to their districts to concentrate on them and that they make it a point of showing up on Saturdays to provide the maximum negative impact to their salon’s operations.

Young said that unlicensed salon operators have “no skill” and “aren’t educated.” Vietnamese manicurists and salon operators said his statement was as an insult and indicated Vietnamese families train relatives to perform the service with safety at the forefront.

Recently, President Obama proposed his FY ’16 budget containing $15 billion for states to explore abolishing many boards and commissions which restrict job opportunities. Louisiana Treasurer John Kennedy supports such action in Louisiana.

In an interview with Louisiana Voice, Young indicated the Federal discrimination lawsuit is “about over with,” a curious claim given that Federal Judge Brian Jackson has denied every state effort to toss the suit. In his rulings of March 20, Jackson denied the state’s motions to dismiss the complaint against inspector Stockstill both for racial discrimination and false imprisonment. Jackson dismissed the false imprisonment complaint against Keller but refused to dismiss the discrimination claim. The trial is estimated to commence on January 17, 2017 and last for seven days.

According to records available through LaTrac, the state has authorized spending of close to $300,000 so far in defending the racial discrimination lawsuit. Louisiana Voice made a public records request directly to the law firm providing the defense, Shows Cali. Readers may recall that Shows serves as Buddy Caldwell’s campaign treasurer for this fall’s attorney general race.  Further, in an investigative report by WWL in New Orleans, Shows was identified as a huge beneficiary of Caldwell’s propensity to award lucrative multi-million-dollar contracts to his close friends and associates.

Mississippi, also has considerable problems with its Cosmetology Board as evidenced by this rant by Mississippi State Representative Steven Holland in February of 2015. Unlike Louisiana, however, Mississippi requires all funds collected by boards and commissions to be placed in the state’s general fund and then individual boards and commissions must make application for funds for that year. Holland says the Mississippi Cosmetology Board’s funds need to be a “big goose egg.”

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It’s curious how a judge can look directly at a clear violation of a law, yet somehow concoct a ruling favorable to the violator and completely disregard the rights of more than 4 million citizens of Louisiana.

That, in our humble (but admittedly biased) opinion was what occurred in the Baton Rouge courtroom of 19th Judicial District Judge Mike Caldwell on Monday.

At the risk of sounding like Bobby Jindal in calling a ruling that went against him “wrong-headed,” we will at least attempt to lay out the details of the case along with the reasons for Caldwell’s ruling so you may decide for yourself if justice was done.

Our lawsuit against the Division of Administration (DOA) and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols was based on four separate public records requests with which DOA took its sweet time in complying—and, in the case of the most egregious violation, did not comply for three full months and then only after we filed our lawsuit.

Caldwell did throw us a bone which, to our satisfaction, had a little meat on it. He held in our favor on one of the four requests, assessed $800 in fines plus court costs and (best of all) held Nichols personally liable.

So, unless there is an appeal, Nichols, and not the state, will be required to write a personal check and the money will not come out of the taxpayers’ pockets (of course the salary of DOA’s staff attorney is picked up by John Q. Public).

But back to the one that sticks in our craw and leaves us perplexed and angry at the manner in which Caldwell bent over backwards to let the state off the hook for the most flagrant violation, one that had he ruled differently, could have cost Nichols thousands more in fines.

In that case, we submitted a rather detailed request for public records on Oct. 14, 2014 relative to the state’s $500 million contract with a California outfit called MedImpact, which is contracted to administer the Office of Group Benefits’ pharmaceutical program.

At the same time, we had a legislator to make a nearly identical though somewhat less detailed request through the House Legislative Services Office (HLSO).

HLSO received an email at 3:15 p.m. on Oct 23 to the effect its records were already downloaded to a CD and would be delivered by DOA. Here is the content of that email:

“You requested the MedImpact contract, Notice of Intent to Contract, ratings, and recommendations for awarding the contract. Please note the contract contains some proprietary and/or confidential information that has been redacted under La. R.S. 44:3.1. We have scanned these records. They are too large to email, so I can bring a CD over. I heard you’re out of the office. Do you want me to drop it off for you or wait until you get back?”

The records were actually delivered to the House offices on Oct. 24, 2014.

For our part, we found it necessary to send a second request on Oct. 19 because DOA had failed to respond to our initial request as required by law. Here is that section of the law, courtesy of the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR):

  • “If not in “active use” when requested, the record must be “immediately presented.” The custodian is required to delete the confidential portion of a record and make the remainder available. If it is unreasonably burdensome or expensive for the custodian to separate the public portion of the record from the confidential portion, the custodian must provide a written statement explaining why. If the record is in “active use,” the agency must “promptly certify this in writing” and set a day and an hour within three working days from receipt of the request when the record will be available.” http://www.parlouisiana.com/citizensrightscard.cfm#exempted

 

Remember that part about “unreasonably burdensome and the requirement for a written statement from the custodian of the record. We will be referring back to that part because Judge Caldwell took it upon himself to determine the unreasonableness of our request even though the state never made that argument. Thus, Judge Caldwell made the state’s argument for them.

When I made my second request, I received a response on Oct. 21 estimating the records would be available “on or before October 31, 2014.” Here is a copy of that email:

  • From: Tameika Richard
  • Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 12:21 PM To: ‘azspeak@cox.net’
  • Subject: PRR re: Pharmacy Benefit Management RFP

“Mr. Aswell,

Pursuant to your public records request, we are still searching for records and/or reviewing them for exemptions and privileges. Once finished with the review process, all non-exempt records will be made available to you. It is estimated the records will be available on or before October 31, 2014.

Public Records Requests

Division of Administration

State of Louisiana

Email: doapublicrecords@la.gov

 

We still had not received the records by the time we filed our lawsuit on Jan. 16, 2015, but almost miraculously, they were delivered to our attorney’s office on Jan. 23, precisely one week after the lawsuit was filed.

So, taking DOA’s promised delivery date of Oct. 31, 2014, and projecting it out to Jan. 23, 2015, discounting about 10 holidays and several weekends (which don’t count), DOA still should have been looking at penalties of upwards of $5,000 on just that one request.

But, Caldwell mused, our request was “broad,” making it difficult for DOA to comply in a timely manner. “I’ve had experience in other cases involving voluminous requests for information where much redaction had to be done (nothing was redacted from the records we received), so I know how difficult it can be for the state to drop everything and meet your demand,” he volunteered. Accordingly, he disallowed our request for damages—again, despite the state’s never having put forward the burdensome argument. But then, why should they when an obliging judge will do it for them?

Moreover, the $800 fine he did assess against Nichols was far less than it should have been for that one violation. The records in that case (travel records for OGB personnel) were first made on October 4, 2014, and we were told the records did not exist. We re-submitted our request in December, but the records were not made available until Feb. 18, 2015.

That fine should have been in excess of $3,000, not $800.

There are several conclusion we can draw from this:

  • Judge Caldwell completely missed—or ignored—the part where DOA promised the records “on or before October 31, 2014;”
  • His honor overrated the difficulty in producing records that already existed and were in the possession of DOA;
  • The judge has little concern for the public’s right to know what its government does, nor he have any sympathy for those who work to report those actions;
  • He simply could not bring himself to impose such a heavy fine against Nichols personally despite the clear intent of the law—so he arbitrarily set a low fine for the one request and simply denied the others.

At this point, we don’t know if the state will appeal Caldwell’s judgment. We can’t imagine Nichols rolling over so easily and writing a check for $800, plus costs and attorney fees. After all, the attorneys work for the state, not her, so what does she have to lose with an appeal?

As for us, we still must meet with our attorneys to decide how to proceed with a partial victory coupled with a stinging loss.

But the question here is just what will it take to get the courts to pay attention to what the state is doing and use the power of the bench to force compliance with the law? How long will the courts simply look the other way to the detriment of the citizenry’s right to know?

We’re told that Judge Caldwell is a good judge and a fair man but we certainly don’t feel as though we received fair treatment before him.

No, we didn’t go to law school and we don’t hold a law license. But we can read and the law is quite clear on the demands placed on governmental agencies to comply with public records laws. There is no ambiguity on that point.

And one other thing: If Kristy Nichols thinks we’re going to fold our tent and skulk away, she’s in for a rude awakening. We’re not going anywhere. There will be other requests and in cases of non-compliance, there will be more litigation.

That’s a solemn promise.

 

 

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One might think the Jindal administration and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) might have learned something from the Bruce Greenstein fiasco over at the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).

Greenstein, you will remember, was the DHH secretary when that $280 million contract was awarded by his agency to his former employer, CNSI.

That scenario could be repeated at OGB.

Even though Greenstein insisted he had established a “firewall” between himself and CNSI, it was subsequently revealed that Greenstein had hundreds of email and text message exchanges with his old bosses during the contract selection process.

That eventually led to Greenstein’s forced resignation and criminal indictment and a civil suit by CNSI the entire messy episodes are slowly making their way through the Baton Rouge District Court system.

Which brings us to OGB and its $35 million-a-year contract with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBS) to administer OGB’s Preferred Provider Organization—a task that apparently proved somewhat daunting to BCBS during the first year of its contract, costing the contractor more than $3.1 million in performance penalties.

One of five contracts with the state totaling $1.2 billion, that three-year contract will end on Jan. 1, and OGB is currently accepting proposals for a new three-year contract.

OGB issued its request for proposals (RFP) on March 13, giving an April 20 deadline for proposals but that deadline was extended to April 30 in an addendum issued on Wednesday (April 22). OGB RFP

LouisianaVoice, however, has learned that OGB Administrator Elise Cazes has been put in charge of the evaluation committee which will make recommendations on awarding a winner of the new contract.

The problem? Cazes was appointed Group Benefits Administrator on June 23, 2014.

Cazes was previously employed by BCBS of Louisiana, raising the possibility of a conflict of interests. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/26/ogb-laying-of-24-more-blow-softened-when-ceo-assures-affected-employees-losing-their-jobs-not-like-losing-a-child/

She earns $106,000 per year in her current position.

Not only does she head up the evaluation committee, but she also was given the responsibility of naming other members of the committee. To date, the name of only one other evaluation committee member, OGB Interim Deputy Director Bill Guerra, has been revealed.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned that BCBS in 2013 was fined more than $3.1 million for performance deficiencies in connection with its contract with OGB. BLUE CROSS PENALTIES

BCBS was paid slightly more than $32.2 million to administer the PPO plan for calendar year 2013, the first year of its current contract.

Under terms of its contract with OGB, BCBS could be fined up to $9.7 million for failure to meet a variety of standards. Those include:

  • General Standards (10 percent of total medical administrative fees): $3.52 million;
  • Data Submission Standards: $10,000 per day, or a maximum of $20,000;
  • Mental Health & Substance Abuse (MH&SA) Standards (17.5 percent of total medical administrative fees): $6.2 million.

The actual penalties imposed for 2013, according to OGB’s own report, and the breakdown included:

  • Average speed to answer phones (39 seconds against an industry standard of less than three seconds): $352,325;
  • Claims Accuracy: $352,325
  • Membership Identification Cards Timeliness: $352,325;
  • Data Submission Timeliness: $20,000 (the maximum amount allowed);
  • MH&SA Appeals: $528,487;
  • MH&SA Ambulatory Follow-Up: $528,487;
  • MH&SA Medical Integration: $528,487;
  • MH&SA Member Satisfaction Survey Score: $528,487

TOTAL: $3.19 million.

In explaining the deficiency report, OGB noted that the contract between BCBS and OGB “contains 26 performance goals (called service level agreements, or SLAs) related to customer service and claims processing. During 2013 Blue Cross experienced challenges in meeting a handful of these goals.”

The report indicated that “all issues” had been resolved and that OGB and BCBS were “fully prepared for excellent performance during the 2014 calendar year.”

But LouisianaVoice recently received the following email from a retiree which would seem to indicate otherwise:

“Here’s a laugh; Look at the insurance health cards my wife and I received thus far:

  • Received 3/6/15:  deductible—$300
  • Received 03/09/15: insured deductible—$600
  • Received (date unknown): insured deductible—$600
  • Received 03/20/15: insured deductible—$1800
  • Received 03/20/15: spouse deductible—$600
  • Received 03/27/15: spouse deductible—$600
  • Received 03/27/15: insured deductible—$1800
  • Received 04/04/15: insured deductible—$600. 

“Do I get to pick our deductible from these cards?  You can tell that BCBSLA and OGB are on top of this matter, right? I plan to make a personal visit to the OGB office probably next week and show them this trash and find out what our deductible(s) really are. Do you think they know? I will ask while I am (at the OGB office) for the real executive director at OGB (to) please stand up.

“Our online monthly premium is a different figure from the letter received in the mail today from OGB. I am ready for someone to figure out what’s going on, and do something logically and correctly.  Health insurance is a serious matter for people and they are playing with us. Everything needs to be corrected and cleaned up for all state employees (retirees and actives).

“OGB use to be correct on these technical matters and they had in the past straightened out BCBSLA for me several times on what was to be paid, etc. Now OGB has gone crazy too! I guess it’s from all the new executives at the top.” 

 

 

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The absentee Jindal administration, already under fire for its fiscal train wreck that has legislators scrambling in attempts to cover a projected $1.6 billion budgetary shortfall, had a grenade dropped into its lap on Wednesday in the form of a LAWSUIT against the administration and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) over the method in which OGB attempted to implement adverse changes in benefits and premiums for 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith filed the petition for declaratory and injunctive relief in Baton Rouge District Court on behalf of six plaintiffs who are either current state employees or state retirees.

At issue is the way that OGB attempted to increase premiums and reduce benefits for members of OGB last August without complying with the state’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA) which requires promulgation (a formal declaration of intent and public hearings) of any rule changes.

Listed as plaintiffs are Marilee Cash and Aileen Hendricks of East Baton Rouge Parish, Nancy Dickie and Debra Thornton of Lafourche Parish, Rebecca McCarter of Ascension Parish and Dayne Sherman of Tangipahoa Parish. Named as defendants were the State of Louisiana, the Office of the Governor, the Division of Administration (DOA), and OGB.

They claim to be members of an organization called Louisiana Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity, (LA VERITE). They say they chose the name because La verite is French for Truth.

The petition tracks the record of the Jindal administration and chronicles the manner in which the plaintiffs claim that the administration, abetted by the legislature, frittered away a surplus of nearly $2 million at the time Jindal took office, repeatedly used one-time revenue to cover recurring expenses, repealed the popular Stelly tax plan, passed numerous business tax breaks totaling some $367 million, approved $20 million in private school tuition and home schooling tax credits and scrapped the sales tax that businesses previously paid on utility bills.

The rollback of the Stelly plan took place despite warnings from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) that the move would cost the state more than $1.8 billion in lost revenue over a three-year period from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2012, the petition says.

The lawsuit says that the repeal of the Stelly plan provided a “substantial tax savings for upper income Louisiana” and accounted for about 75 percent of the state’s budget shortfall during those three years. “This does not take into account the billions of dollars the State of Louisiana hands out in business tax exemptions and incentives ever year that have gone unexamined by lawmakers to determine if they serve legitimate public objectives or are simply wasteful luxuries that the state can no longer afford,” it says.

Citing further examples of what it describes as fiscal mismanagement, the petition notes that from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010, the administration spent $2.4 billion in private consulting contracts. The following year, it said, that amount increased to $4 billion. The suit cited the Office of Contractual Review’s annual reports for 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 as its source.

Plaintiffs, in their petition, say that the administration announced in January of 2011 its intention to explore the privatization of OGB’s Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) even though a Legislative Auditor’s report predicted that premiums would increase because of marketing costs for a private provider, the necessity of a private provider’s turning a profit, the requirement that private health insurance companies pay premium taxes and the requirement that private companies must purchase reinsurance.

Despite that, the lawsuit says, then-Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater promised that in the event of privatization, benefits would remain the same and premiums would not be increased.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Louisiana won the contract to administer the PPO and the new plan went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013. That same year, the administration actually reduced rates by 7.11 percent and the next year another reduction of 1.77 percent went into effect.

“While this saved money for the employees,” the plaintiffs said, “it reduced the state’s required premium (matching) payments by about twice as much, thereby reducing the state’s obligation to pay into the system even though medical expenses were increasing by about 6 percent. The rate reductions, while saving the state money it could then apply to the budgetary shortfall, it meant that OGB could no longer cover expenses from current revenue and had to dip into its reserve fund, which was about $500 million when BCBS took over operations.

OGB has been spending millions per month more than it has been taking in in premiums and the Legislative Fiscal Office has said there is a risk that the reserve fund balance could be zero by the end of the current fiscal year (June 30).

“Gov. Jindal adamantly opposed every attempt on the part of legislators to deal with the financial crisis through tax increases,” the petition says, and he “capitalized on the financial crisis of the state to advance an ideological agenda that called into question the rationale for government to perform basic services on a wide range of issues.”

In listing three causes of action, Smith said the state and OGB violated the state’s APA by attempting to make “substantial unilateral modifications to both benefits and costs under the OGB health plan.”

Some of the changes included:

  • Significantly increasing out-of-pocket maximums for all health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increased co-pays 100 percent for plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximums for prescription drug benefits by $300 (from $1,200 to $1,500, a 20 percent increase);
  • Eliminating out-of-network benefits for some plan options;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Removing all vision coverage from health plan options.

The plaintiffs point out that on Sept. 30, 2014, only seven days after an attorney general’s opinion said OGB had violated the APA with its unilateral modifications of benefits, OGB issued a press release “stating its intention to publish an emergency rule reinstating the legally insufficient Aug. 1 changes.”

OGB’s emergency rule, the petition says, “was an apparent effort to retroactively ‘cure’ the illegalities found by the Attorney General in his Sept. 23 opinion. Moreover, the fact (that) the changes would not become effective until March 1, 2015, belies the claim that (there) was an ‘emergency’ which necessitated less than full compliance with the APA.”

OGB did finally comply with the APA by conducting a public hearing on Dec. 29, 2014, in the middle of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season and after the enrollment period had already been closed, causing the plaintiffs to call the hearing a “sham.”

“With all of the proposed changes, including significant changes (made) during the enrollment period, the haste in which they were handled, and the timing of the Dec. 29, 2014, public hearing, it was very difficult for state employees and retirees to intelligently evaluate their options under these proposed plans and (to) make informed choices,” the plaintiffs said.

The petition also claims the state violated due process and contract clauses.

It claims that state agencies can only change promulgated regulations by the process of the promulgation of a new rule or regulation and that if a change is not properly promulgated in accordance with the APA, “it is not a legally effective pronouncement by the agency (not a law), and therefore, none of the abortive attempts in August, September, October and thereafter should be viewed as having changed the existing law.

“Since the contracts clauses prohibit the state from passing a ‘law’ that retroactively impairs the obligations of contract, OGB can only legally change the benefits program when it adopts through proper procedure and final rule to that effect, and that final rule cannot constitutionally be given retroactive effect.”

The petition is seeking declaratory judgments that:

  • OGB’s health care plans are in violation of the Louisiana APA;
  • Defendants have violated the Constitution of the State of Louisiana;
  • OGB has violated its fiduciary duties as prudent administrators.

It also seeks injunctive relief enjoining the applications of the OGB health care plan modifications.

The lawsuit was assigned to 19th JDC Judge Janice Clark.

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A couple of weeks ago, we received a comment from a reader identifying himself only as “The Truth Man” who proceeded to go on a 128-word tirade against another reader who called himself the “Dental Genie” and gloating over the outcome of the lawsuit of Dr. Randall Schaffer against the Louisiana State Dentistry Board.

Normally, it is the policy of LouisianaVoice to protect the identities of those commenting on our stories. We take the position that if they do not wish to divulge their real names, there must be a legitimate reason. Often, that reason is that the writer is a state employee who would fear for his job should his name be revealed.

But when the writer turns out to be the former director of the state board that was being sued by Dr. Randall Schaffer and when that writer attempts to color the results of the legal action in the board’s favor, we take the position that he is waiving his anonymity. He is, after all, a very public figure, retired or not.

Barry Ogden, former director of the Louisiana Board of Dentistry, was referring to Schaffer’s lawsuit against the board after the board turned on him for blowing the whistle on a defective joint replacement device for temporomandibular jaw (TMJ) sufferers by the head of the LSU School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department in the mid-1980s. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/11/from-protecting-their-own-to-persecution-of-a-whistleblower-its-all-part-of-the-bureaucratic-shuffle-by-state-dental-board/

Schaffer who was a resident at LSU at the time, became aware of the negative effects to patients receiving the implants and when he was named as a witness and consultant in the class action cases that ensued, the Board of Dentistry immediately launched an investigation and ultimately revoked his license to practice dentistry.

Schaffer sued the board and moved to Iowa where he worked as a consultant and expert witness in legal matters involving dental malpractice. His case wound its way slowly through the courts, as legal cases always do, running up tremendous costs in the process. Meanwhile, Schaffer was forced to undergo bypass surgery and the combination of medical problems and legal costs left him with no choice but to allow his case to abandon.

Thus, he did not “lose” his case; it was dismissed because of the aforementioned reasons. “I simply could not afford to keep feeding the (legal) beast,” Schaffer said. “It has cost me more than $100,000 and it broke me.”

Ogden’s misleading and less than gracious rant led to several email exchanges between LouisianaVoice and Ogden. We first reminded him that the dismissal of Dr. Randall Schaffer’s case was not based on the merits of the case, but upon extenuating circumstances—money and health. We also reminded him that there are other lawsuits pending against the board and that state agencies have—and are continuing to—investigate tactics by the board and its contract investigator Camp Morrison, who inexplicably was given free office space in the Dental Board’s suite, paid for by taxpayers.

“Are you going to print my comment or not?” Ogden replied. “You obviously have made up your mind about me. Everything I said is true and public. Is your blog blocking what you don’t want to hear? I hope you will give myself and the other defendants a fair and balanced report after we prevail in court.”

We promised to publish his comment, but in context with the facts of the Schaffer case and Ogden’s 400-page deposition in another pending legal matter (Dr. Ryan Haygood). “The Schaffer case does not end the legal actions against the Louisiana Board of Dentistry,” we wrote, adding that as long as we were now communicating (we couldn’t get a comment from the board in our original story), “please explain how it is that the private investigator (Morrison) who is (or was) under contract to the board had the luxury of having an office in your office suite.”

Rather than answer that question, Ogden wrote back, “I cannot authorize you to publish my comment until I see how you plan to edit it and in what context. Are you on a witch hunt against the board or are you willing to publish non-biased comments? I do not wish for my comments to be changed. However, you may delete the final sentence admonishing you to know your subject before commenting. Further, do you require that I will only have my comments published if I allow you to controvert them with your own commentary?”

Well, yeah, when we feel it appropriate to clarify certain claims we do reserve that right.

We then asked him to please answer a few simply questions, to wit:

  • Why do you send in people posing as patients with the express purpose of setting these dentists up?
  • How is it that many of the dentists penalized with the board just happen to be in competition with board members?
  • How do you justify levying a fine of say, $2,000 and when the dentist refuses, you suddenly hand him a bill for $100,000?
  • How can you justify the board serving as accuser, prosecutor and judge? That makes it impossible for a dentist to receive a fair hearing.
  • When the U.S. Constitution says that everyone accused of wrongdoing is innocent until proven guilty, how is it that a dentist first learns of his “guilt” upon receiving notification of his fine?

We wrote that we had other questions, but unless he could address those satisfactorily, we could see no reason for further discussion. “You answer these and we can talk further,” we said.

“All I was attempting to do in my first comment,” he replied, “was to set the record straight, as I have been fed up with the  lies being said about the board and, in fact, all the horse manure thrown at us by you which you believed from the start… Now you wish me fill in the blanks in your next story which you have probably already written. I see no use in further communication, especially on matters in litigation. You are attempting to take advantage of me knowing I cannot answer your questions.

“Therefore, please do not print any of my comments, and let’s call it a day.”

Sorry, Mr. Ogden. That’s just not the way it works. You opened this dialog with your April 3 email to us in which you taunted us about the dismissal of Dr. Schaffer’s case—without revealing the real reasons for the dismissal—and advising us to keep our mouths shut. You offered your remarks as a comment to our story and even asked if we intended to print it before apparently having a change of heart and asking that it not be printed.

Sorry again, but when you want something to be off the record, you preface it that way—up front. You don’t come back after the fact and ask that your ill-advised remarks not be printed.

Accordingly, here is the original comment by Barry Ogden, retired director of the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry (verbatim, as he requested):

  • For all of you who believe the fairy tale told by the dental genie, please be advised that ALL lawsuits filed on Dr. Shaffer’s behalf have been DISMISSED. I guess now you have to complain that both state and federal judges are as corrupted as the dental board. Further, how can anyone make a legitimate comment without looking at both sides? You can obtain a copy of the decision revoking Dr. Shaffer’s license from the dental board. It’s a public record. You may also look up all the lawsuits he has filed in state court and federal court in New Orleans to get the true picture. You know the old saying it is better to keep your mouth shut if you don’t know what you are talking about.

Next, we will examine how the board attempted to revoke the medical license of a New Orleans surgeon who has never even practiced dentistry using highly questionable investigative methods and employing tactics can only be described as extortion.

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