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Attorneys for the E.I Du Pont have filed a motion in limine which seeks to block plaintiffs in the pending litigation against the Ascension Parish plant from citing reports of prior leaks and regulatory proceedings against DuPont “not related to the gas leaks” at the Burnside facility.

DuPont’s motion is particularly timely in that it was filed only four days after the deaths of four DuPont workers following a toxic gas release at a Du Pont plant in La Porte, Texas.

Limine (lim-in-nay) is Latin for “threshold,” and is a motion made at the outset of a trial that requests that the presiding judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial.

A 22-year employee of DuPont’s Burnside plant filed a confidential lawsuit in the Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge two years ago which became known only last March that claims the plant has consistently been experiencing toxic gas leaks on almost a daily basis for more than two years without reporting the leaks to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as required by the Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/31/whistleblower-claims-duponts-burnside-plant-has-been-leaking-carcinogenic-sulfer-trioxide-more-than-two-years/

Plaintiff Jeffrey M. Simoneaux, an Ascension Parish native who served for 14 years as chairman of the plant’s Safety, Health and Environmental Committee, also claims he was harassed, intimidated and denied promotions after he said he complied with DuPont’s own internal procedures for reporting a leak of sulfur trioxide (SO3) gas, a known carcinogen which is regulated under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and was reprimanded for doing so.

The case, should it go to trial, would be heard by Federal District Judge Shelly Dick and Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger.

Simoneaux, who filed his suit under the 151-year-old False Claims Act (FCA), has listed as trial exhibits documents pertaining to leaks and releases at other DuPont plants, some of which have resulted in settlements with the government. He also has listed documents as yet to be obtained from various EPA offices through Freedom of Information Act requests that seek information about enforcement actions against DuPont.

“Because the exhibits regarding other leaks and enforcement actions do not relate to the leaks at the Burnside facility, (Simoneaux), his counsel and witnesses should be prohibited from mentioning, in any manner in the presence of the jury, such leaks, releases or regulatory proceedings,” said DuPont attorneys Monique Weiner and Lori Waters of the New Orleans firm of Kuchler, Polk, Schell, Weiner & Richeson in their memorandum that accompanied the actual motion.

“Evidence of leaks at other DuPont facilities and/or regulatory action against DuPont arising from situations not involving the gas leaks at the Burnside facility is irrelevant to the issues for determination by the jury in this case,” the motion says.

“DuPont will object to the introduction of such exhibits at trial as they are sought to be used or introduced,” it says. “But in advance of trial, DuPont seeks an order that counsel and the witnesses may not refer to these matters in questioning, testimony, during opening statement or in closing argument.”

The motion cited United States v. Beechum, a 1978 case which the defense attorneys say “requires a showing that the prior acts sought to be introduced are ‘relevant to an issue other than the defendant’s character. At the heart of this relevance inquiry is a question of similarity: ‘The relevance…must be determined with respect to the particular issue…”

The motion said that even if the court determines there is relevance, “the evidence would be confusing, prejudicial and a waste of time.”

A seven-member team of investigators from the Chemical Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Chemical Safety Board have already begun looking into the La Porte deaths of the four men, including two brothers. Among the first discoveries:

  • The men had been trapped for an hour by the poisonous methyl isocyanate for an hour before anyone at the plant called 911 at 4:13 a.m.;
  • It is unclear if the workers killed had any advance knowledge or warning of the degree of toxicity inside the unit;
  • Methyl isocyanate (MIC) is the same chemical that escaped a Bhopal, India, plant in 1984, killing more than 2,200 people;
  • Workers lacked quick access to breathing equipment that would have given them a chance at survival;
  • No DuPont official contacted a special emergency industrial response network called the Channel Industries Mutual Aide (CIMA), a nonprofit set up to deal with just such disasters;
  • It took 12 hours before DuPont confirm the four deaths;
  • DuPont never disclosed the size of its toxic inventory in reports filed annually with the La Porte emergency management officials;
  • Volunteer firefighters from nearby Deer Park who responded to the company’s 911 call were forced to rely on word-of-mouth to confirm quantities of the chemical leaked from the plant.

One other fact that could be crucial to Simoneaux’s case should Judge Dick deny the motion in limine and allow testimony about safety concerns at other plants:

The unit where the La Porte workers died had been shut down for five days before the Nov. 15 accident and workers had for months reported persistent maintenance problems, including inadequate ventilation in the unit.

Around 3:15 a.m., Gilbert Tisnado, 48, called his wife on his cell phone to tell her something had gone wrong in the unit. When he learned that his younger brother, Robert, 39, was among four men trapped in the unit, he grabbed an “escape pack” and entered the unit. Both brothers were among the four who subsequently died.

Firefighters found three bodies but only two tanks and masks inside the plant. Each was equipped with only five minutes of air—time for an emergency escape but not for a rescue mission.

Though the 911 call from DuPont was made at 4:13 a.m., more than two hours went by before “fenceline” air monitoring was conducted to learn if hazardous levels of chemicals had escaped the plant, leaving the community dependent upon DuPont to know if it was safe to go outside.

It also was unknown if DuPont even had any comprehensive toxics fenceline monitoring, said Adrian Shelley, director of the Air Alliance Houston advocacy group.

The refining industry, especially, has balked at calls for continuous fenceline monitoring, which provides streams of data about what gases are leaving a plant but can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, Shelley said. A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that would require such systems at refineries is under review. Even if adopted, it wouldn’t apply to the DuPont plant because it doesn’t refine fossil fuels.

Simoneaux filed his lawsuit more than two years ago, on April 16, 2012, but because it was filed under seal, meaning it was not released to the media, its existence, along with DuPont’s October 2013 answers to discovery, has only recently been made public.

Simoneaux said DuPont identified gas leaks to which it will respond “only by visible assessment and (it) has no monitors at equipment sites.”

DuPont, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., was ranked 72nd on the Fortune 500 in 2013 and reported 2012 profits of nearly $2.8 billion, down more than 19 percent from 2011, according to a report by CNN Money.

Despite profits from its worldwide operations which employ 60,000 people, DuPont has for years avoided paying any federal income taxes.

The company has contributed more than $21,000 to various state politicians since 2003, including $4,500 to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Its plants in Burnside and in St. John the Baptist Parish have been granted more than $21 million in various state tax credits.

Those included, in order, the project, the year, parish, total investment, tax exemption and number of new jobs created:

  • Plant expansion, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $93 million $1.4 million five-year tax credit, 11 new jobs;
  • Plant expansion, 2008, St. John the Baptist, $58.8 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $10.9 million, five new jobs;
  • Retrofit project, 2010, Ascension, $72.2 million, 10-year property tax exemption, $541,000, three new jobs;
  • Miscellaneous capital addition, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $1.3 million, 10-year property tax exemption, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, St. John the Baptist, $6.7 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $1.2 million, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, Ascension, $45 million, 10-year property tax exemption, no new jobs.

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The good people of Alabama need not fear the corruptive influence of former Gov. Donald Siegelman. Women and children may emerge from hiding, confident they are now safe and no longer must be protected from his treachery.

Siegelman is securely incarcerated at Oakdale’s federal lockup, the same facility that once housed another former governor—Louisiana’s very own Edwin W. Edwards—and from all accounts Sweet Home Alabama is the better for his prolonged absence.

The man, after all, took a $500,000 contribution from a member of the state board for hospital oversight, one Richard Scrushy, CEO of HealthSouth.

But wait. The half-million bucks didn’t go to Siegelman, after all. The money was contributed by Scrushy instead to help underwrite a campaign to convince the voters of Alabama to vote in favor of a state lottery, the proceeds of which would provide funds for Alabama youth to attend state colleges for free.

The referendum was controversial in that owners of the Indian casinos next door in Mississippi were somewhat skittish about Alabamans spending their gambling money at home to fund, of all things, education—not to mention that free college sounds a bit socialistic.

Suddenly, major players entered the picture—players like Karl Rove and notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who would soon face his own legal problems. No matter. Abramoff led the fight, pouring money into the campaign to oppose the referendum which ultimately lost.

And what did Scrushy get in return? Siegelman reappointed him to the Certificates of Need Review Board where he had been serving without pay for the previous 12 years.

The prosecution of Siegelman has been heavily criticized by legal experts and columnists across the nation. https://madmimi.com/p/940b05?fe=1&pact=23974859063

Even the award-winning CBS news magazine 60 Minutes weighed in on the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-ex-alabama-governor-get-a-raw-deal/

Siegelman, a Democrat with Jewish and Catholic roots, had won every state office in Alabama by 1998, including attorney general and lieutenant governor. In 2002, having already served one term as governor, he was heavily favored to win election over incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, the man who had defeated him four years earlier. But then the state’s top Republican operative, Bill Canary, contacted the nation’s top Republican operative, Rove, and the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman—led by Canary’s wife, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary—was launched.

With rumors swirling about alleged wrongdoing, Siegelman suddenly found himself in a tight race with Riley. On election night, Siegelman went to bed after having been declared the winner only to awake the next morning with Riley claiming victory.

Overnight, an unexpected redistribution of gubernatorial votes in Baldwin County, which includes the city of Daphne and part of Mobile Bay, reduced Siegelman’s total votes by 3,000, giving Republican Riley the governorship. Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor denied a recount of the paper ballots. No votes for any of the other offices being contested were changed. (Can you say hanging chads?)

And who was running Riley’s re-election campaign? That would be Bill Canary, husband of federal prosecutor Leura Canary. Well, no conflict of interest there.

Canary’s first efforts, carried out by assistant U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, were unsuccessful. Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon threw out the indictment for lack of evidence, saying the prosecution “was completely without legal merit” and “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career.”

Canary was successful on her second try, however, obtaining a conviction on one of the 23 counts on which Siegelman was indicted. Presiding over that trial was Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who omitted a key legal requirement when giving the jury its instructions before it retired to deliberate: the need for an explicit promise of understanding in accepting the $500,000 from Scrushy.

Fuller, an appointee of President George W. Bush, would later have his own legal problems as well. In August of this year, he was arrested for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/federal_judge_mark_fuller_a_ti.html but unlike Siegelman, was able to get the record expunged. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/don-siegelman-trial-judge-weasels-out

So what has all this to with the price of eggs in Louisiana?

Well, we just thought it would be interesting to compare the single transgression that got Siegelman a ticket to Oakdale with certain activities in Louisiana—and to ask somewhat rhetorically why no investigative agency is taking a closer look at some of the tactics of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Take, for example, the case of Richard Blossman, Jr., of Lacombe and his Central Progressive Bank.

Blossman, while CEO of Central Progressive, “gave” each of his 11 board members a $5,000 bonus. The reality is (to borrow a favorite Jindal phrase), however, none of the $5,000 bonus payments ever went to the board members, according to Raphael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission. Instead, immediately after the bonuses were “announced” by Blossman, 11 individual checks of $5,000 each were sent to Jindal’s 2007 campaign in the names of the individual—and oblivious—board members.

“The defendant (Blossman) well knew the ‘bonus’ was to funnel illegal political contributions and was not a bonus, as he caused to be inscribed in the board minutes,” prosecutors said in June of 2012.

“That is a felony,” Goyeneche added.

This revelation came on the heels of word from the Louisiana Board of Ethics in May of 2012 that Jindal received $40,000 in campaign contributions from landfill company River Birch, Inc. of Metairie when the company formed six “straw man entities” to launder illegal donations to Jindal.

So, did Jindal’s campaign return the $95,000 in ill-gotten gains?

Well….no. “We accept every contribution in good faith and in accordance with the law,” said Timmy Teepell, who ran Jindal’s 2007 campaign. Asked if Blossman received anything in exchange for his contributions, Teepell sniffed, “Absolutely not. Everyone who donates to our campaign gets the same thing and that is good government.”

Wow. Perhaps Earl Long was correct when he once said, One of these days, the folks in Louisiana will get good government “and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Jindal’s campaign and his Believe in Louisiana organization also accepted $158,500 in contributions from Iowa, LA., businessman Lee Mallet, his family members and several of his companies. Jindal then appointed Mallett, a college dropout, to the LSU Board of Supervisors and also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

ATS LETTER

No quid pro quo there, right?

Mallett and his son were major contributors to other Republican candidates and the National Republican Party as well.

Carl Shetler of Lake Charles also received an appointment from Jindal—to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors—after contributing $42,000 to Jindal’s campaign. Shetler, a Lake Charles car dealer, some years before had singlehandedly gotten McNeese State University placed on athletic probation by the NCAA when it was learned that he’d paid money to McNeese basketball players.

In fact, Jindal’s campaign received $1.8 million in contributions from people he has appointed to state boards and commissions, some of whom delivered their checks only days or weeks after their appointments, according to Nola.com. Virtually the entire memberships of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Commission) and the LSU Board of Supervisors are comprised of major contributors to Jindal political campaigns.

In 2008, Jindal accepted $30,000 from Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, his law firm and his wife. Rothstein was later disbarred after his conviction for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in Florida history.

Jindal also accepted $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration.

Jindal took $11,000 from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA). The LHBPA board president, Sean Alfortish, was subsequently sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

And then there is Tony Rudy.

Rudy once headed up an influence-peddling organization called the Alexander Strategy Group and through that firm, he pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in the 2004 and 2005 election cycles on behalf of Jindal from such donors as UPS, Eli Lilly, Bellsouth, R.J. Reynolds, Microsoft, Fannie Mae, Koch Industries, DuPont, AstraZeneca (a biopharmaceutical company), the National Auto Dealers Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, the American Bankers Association, and Amgen (biotechnology and pharmaceutical company).

Alexander Strategy Group was one of Washington’s premier lobbying operations before it was shut down in January of 2006 after its ties to DeLay and Abramoff, became known.

Rudy, a former aide to DeLay, worked for Abramoff before joining Alexander Strategy Group. Rudy’s wife also ran a political consulting firm that received $50,000 in exchange for services Rudy performed while working for DeLay. Delay was indicted in 2005 on money-laundering charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty in early January of 2006 to fraud and conspiracy charges.

One of Abramoff’s clients was the Chitimacha Indian Tribe of Louisiana that contributed at least $1,000 to Jindal who since has claimed to have given that money to charity.

Abramoff also received $32 million from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to help promote and protect their gambling interests. The legal counsel for the Coushattas was one Jimmy Faircloth who once served as Jindal’s executive counsel and who has pulled in well over $1 million in representing Jindal in lost causes in various courts in Louisiana. Faircloth advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales.

And most recently, courtesy of Manuel Torres of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Lee Zurik of WVUE-TV in New Orleans, we have learned that Jindal has spent more than $152,000 of state campaign funds on trips that bear a suspicious resemblance to federal campaign activity. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/louisiana_gov_bobby_jindals_tr.html

State Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the state’s campaign finance law grants considerable latitude as to how money may be spent but that the law prohibits the expenditure of funds on the office of president or vice president of the U.S. and Congress, presidential electors and party offices.

“When I read these provisions together, the conclusion is that you are a candidate for a state race and the money you raise can be used only for (a state) campaign or for exercise of that office,” Allen told Torres and Zurik.

There are other activities of the Jindal administration which have little to do with campaign contributions or appointments but which are nonetheless are questionable as to their motives:

  • Efforts to enhance State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by as much as $55,000 per year. Because of our story, that unconstitutional attempt by our governor and his allies in the State Senate and the Department of Public Safety was thwarted.
  • Major pay increases given unclassified employees in the Jindal administration at the same time rank and file state employees have been denied raises for five years.
  • Generous tax incentives, exemptions and other favorable treatment given corporations that are costing the state some $3 billion per year even as repeal of the Stelly plan has cost the state $300 million per year.
  • Widespread abuses by the State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board.
  • Bruce Greenstein’s initial refusal in testimony before a Senate committee to name the winner of a $200 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals and his eventual admission that the contract went to his former employer—testimony that eventually led to his indictment on nine counts of perjury.
  • Attempts by the Department of Education to enter into a data sharing agreement whereby sensitive personal information on students in the state’s public schools would be made available to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News.
  • Funding sources for Jindal’s political organization Believe in Louisiana—sources who have received major concessions and political appointments from the Jindal administration.
  • The real reason for the firing and indictment of former head of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter: Painter’s refusal to crater to demands from the governor’s office that favored New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaigns (Painter was subsequently acquitted of all charges and the state was forced to pay his legal expenses of some $300,000).
  • Efforts by Jindal to force retirees out of the Group Benefits health program with irresponsibly unaffordable increases in co-pays and deductibles, a story that eventually prompted hearings by the House Appropriations Committee.
  • The subsequent revelation that a document cited by DOA and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) representative as the basis for the health benefits changes in reality said just the opposite of what was testified to.

And while all this goes on unabated in Louisiana, the former governor of Alabama, who did nothing more than accept a contribution to fund a referendum to benefit education, remains in Oakdale, victim of a prosecution with far more questions about the participants and their surreptitious activities than answers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bennett-l-gershman/bribery-cases-_b_1590284.html

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You have to love the Division of Administration (DOA) and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB). Their concern for the 230,000 state employees, retirees and dependents is surpassed only by their arrogance.

Saying “We heard the financial concerns of our members and Legislators,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols made the self-serving announcement that OGB has decided to delay the effective date of changes arbitrarily (and illegally) implemented to medical and pharmacy plans from Aug. 1 to Sept. 30. OGB RELEASE

Here is the information provided on the OGB web site: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D344D6A45794E533551524559334E6A4D32

Never mind that State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite) told Nichols and OGB CEO Susan West back on Sept. 25 that they were flirting with major litigation and the threat of having to refund millions of dollars to OGB members who were hit with benefits changes which were illegal until such time as a rule could be adopted. Here is the link to video clips of that hearing: http://youtu.be/ct652tBa8Mc.

Except for Edwards who said the move was illegal. He requested and obtained an Attorney General’s opinion that agreed with him.

            Nichols, as is her custom, was not going to promulgate rules at all in implementing the new rates members would have to pay for prescriptions even though the law requires advertisement and public hearings on such changes. Instead, the administration, facing a shrinking OGB reserve fund because of its repeated premium cuts, plunged ahead, the law and state employees be damned.

The premiums were reduced so that the state would enjoy a similar reduction in the 75 percent of premiums it is required to pay for health coverage of OGB members. Gov. Bobby Jindal and Nichols cut the rates by nearly 9 percent despite a report from Buck Consultants which stated flatly that it never made such actuarial advice.

Pursuant to testimony given in the Sept. 25 hearing by the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB) in which Kristy said Buck Consultants had recommended a premium reduction, Edwards requested a copy of the actuarial recommendations.

            “I still have not received any actuarial recommendations for the 2013 and 2014 premium reductions at OGB,” Edwards said Tuesday. “Nor have they told me that such recommendations do not exist. Clearly, they do not.”

The OGB web site does contain a request for proposals (RFP) for an actuarial that is dated Sept. 26: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D774E4445794D793551524559334E444531

The Baton Rouge Advocate said the refunds the state must now make to OGB members who were overcharged in the form of out-of-pocket expenses will come to nearly $4.5 million and is expected to be refunded within 60 days.

http://theadvocate.com/news/10718472-123/group-benefits-change-announced

Getting the refunds for the overcharges won’t be a walk in the park if past experience with the OGB pharmaceutical benefits administrator is any indication. “Members who incurred increased pharmacy costs between Aug. 1 and Sept. 29 based on exclusions must submit an appeals form to MedImpact,” said the news release from OGB, adding that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBS) will reprocess claims for members who incurred increased medical costs through their providers during that time period. There is an appeals form for MedImpact on the OGB web page, but it appears to apply only to prescriptions that were rejected or denied by pharmacies in August and September: https://www.groupbenefits.org/portal/pls/portal30/ogbweb.get_latest_news_file?p_doc_name=4D7A4D344D6A45794E693551524559334E6A4D33

If members incurred costs that were not submitted through a provider, they must submit an appeal request form to Blue Cross and Blue Shield,” the release said. “The forms can be found on the OGB website at www.groupbenefits.org.”

Edwards said the burden should not be placed on state employees and retirees to file appeals on overpayments. “Group Benefits has the claims information and they should be required to make the determination of who is owed what and it should be Group Benefits that takes the initiative on this,” he said.

Of course, by placing the onus on employees and retirees, DOA is counting on members being unfamiliar with the process or uninformed about the refund program altogether. If they do not file appeals for refunds, no refund will be made and the state will not have to repay victims of the overcharges. “That’s why Group Benefits should be the one responsible for seeing to it that everyone who was overcharged because of its illegal actions in implementing the changes in the first place should get those overcharges refunded,” Edwards said. “The members should not be held responsible for the illegal actions of Group Benefits and DOA.”

Here are links to the after-the-fact DOA Emergency Rule declaration: http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/Presentations/Emergency_Rules_-_Office_of_Group_Benefits_9-30-2014.pdf and DOA’s Notice of Intent: http://www.doa.louisiana.gov/doa/Presentations/Ordinary_Rule_-_Office_of_Group_Benefits_10-01-2014.pdf

The clumsy attempt at circumventing the law is just another in a long line of embarrassing episodes perpetrated by the Jindal administration as the governor pays less and less attention to the home front in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, leaving the job of running the state to appointees equally unqualified as he to run so much as a snow cone stand.

Nichols typically ignored the threat of litigation in making the announcement just as the administration ignored the law in implementing the changes, even disagreeing in that Sept. 25 hearing on the necessity of publishing the proposed changes and conducting public hearings.

And West even attempted to justify the changes by pointing out to retirees and active members that she must pay the same premiums as they. She apparently failed to consider the fact that most state employees and certainly most retirees do not make her $170,000 per year salary.

The Retired State Employees Association (RSEA) threatened a lawsuit, challenging the administration’s contention that it could use the emergency rule (employed repeatedly by the administration during Jindal’s nearly seven years in office) to make changes in the medical and pharmacy plans.

Nichols was not even around for the conclusion of that Sept. 25 JLCB meeting, having stepped out of the committee room ostensibly to take an “important” phone call. In reality, it turned out she stepped out permanently to take her daughter to a boy band concert in New Orleans where she watched from the comfort of the governor’s luxury box at the Smoothie King Arena (see the snow cone stand reference above).

“Let’s hope that the legislature will continue to exercise oversight on this issue to drive more changes in the plans whereby the out-of-pocket cost increases of OGB members are reduced and (so that) the state will share in the cost of restoring the system’s soundness,” Edwards said in a prepared statement.

 

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Our October fund raiser enters its final five days and we still need assistance to help us offset the cost of pursuing legal action against an administration that prefers to conduct its business behind closed doors and out of sight of the people to whom they are supposed to answer.

We also are launching an ambitious project that will involve considerable time and expense. If Gov. Bobby Jindal does seek higher office as it becomes more and more apparent that he will, the people of America need to know the real story of what he has done to our state and its people. Voters in the other 49 states need to know not Jindal’s version of his accomplishments as governor, but the truth about:

  • What has occurred with CNSI and Bruce Greenstein;
  • How Jindal squandered the Office of Group Benefits $500 million reserve fund;
  • The lies the administration told us two years ago about how state employee benefits would not be affected by privatization;
  • The lies about how Buck Consultants advised the administration to cut health care premiums when the company’s July report said just the opposite;
  • How Jindal attempted unsuccessfully to gut state employee retirement benefits;
  • How Jindal attempted to sneak a significant retirement benefit into law for the Superintendent of State Police;
  • How Jindal appointees throughout state government have abused the power entrusted to them;
  • How Jindal has attempted a giveaway plan for state hospitals that has yet to be approved by the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS);
  • How regulations have been skirted so that Jindal could reward supporters with favorable purchases and contracts;
  • How Jindal fired employees and demoted legislators for the simple transgression of disagreeing with him;
  • How Jindal has refused Medicaid expansion that has cost hundreds of thousands of Louisiana’s poor the opportunity to obtain medical care;
  • How Jindal has gutted appropriations to higher education in Louisiana, forcing tuition increases detrimental to students;
  • How Jindal has attempted to systematically destroy public education in Louisiana;
  • How Jindal has refused federal grants that could have gone far in developing internet services for rural areas and high speed rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans;
  • How Jindal has rewarded major contributors with appointments to key boards and commissions;
  • How Jindal attempted to use the court system to persecute an agency head who refused to knuckle under to illegal demands from the governor’s office;
  • How Jindal has manipulated the state budget each year he has been in office in a desperate effort to smooth over deficit after deficit;
  • And most of all, how Jindal literally abandoned the state while still governor so that he could pursue his quixotic dream of becoming president.

To this end, LouisianaVoice Editor Tom Aswell will be spending the next several months researching and writing a book chronicling the Jindal administration. Should Jindal become a presidential contender or even if he is selected as another candidate’s vice presidential running mate, such a book could have a national impact and even affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

This project is going to take time and involve considerable expense as we compile our research and prepare the book for publication in time for the 2016 election.

To accomplish this, we need your help.

If you are not seeing the “Donate” button, it may be because you are receiving our posts via email subscription. To contribute by credit card, please click on this link to go to our actual web page and look for the yellow Donate button: http://louisianavoice.com/

If you prefer not to conduct an internet transaction, you may mail a check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727-0922

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“Judge Free’s actions have harmed the integrity of and respect for the judiciary.”

—Report of the Louisiana Judiciary Commission on 18th Judicial District Court Judge Robin Free, who accepted a free flight on the private jet of a plaintiff attorney who had just won a $1.2 million settlement of a personal injury case presided over by Free. The seriousness of Free’s breach of ethics notwithstanding, the judicial commission recommended only a 30-day suspension.

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Did you ever have one of those what were you thinking moments?

We’re talking about when you do something that in hindsight simply defies all logic. You’ve seen them in stupid criminal emails and on videos.

Whenever we watch the local newscast and see a report of some incredibly stupid criminal action in which the perpetrator had to have known things wouldn’t end well, we find ourselves wishing we just sit across the table from him, just us, and ask him, “What were you thinking? How did you think this turn out?”

Usually, it’s some petty thief or someone from an uneducated background whose rash judgment overrides his ability to think things through to the obvious conclusion of terrible consequences.

Someone like the hapless bank robber in one Baton Rouge-area city several years who slipped a “This is a robbery” note in the drawer at a bank drive-through window—a bullet-proof window, no less. The teller read the note, turned it over and wrote, “I don’t see a gun” and sent the note back to the nervous driver who promptly placed his gun in the drawer and sent it in to the teller. What was he thinking?

But you wouldn’t normally associate such transgressions with a high profile individual like a district judge who took an oath to uphold the law and to protect the citizenry from the lawless, a judge who no doubt pledged to “be tough on crime” when he was running for office. Nor would you think the question would apply to the state Judiciary Commission which meted out a recommendation for a 30-day suspension for the errant judge, a mere slap on the wrist for a serious breach of judicial ethics that might well have deserved a permanent suspension.

Judge Robin Free of West Baton Rouge Parish is guilty of one of the most blatant what were you thinking? flaunting of ethics and he compounded his sin when he attempted to minimize the severity of his actions by claiming he was unfamiliar with the judicial canons governing such behavior.

And it wasn’t even Free’s first offense, which should have provoked the commission’s fury at his arrogance.

Here’s what happened. Free presided over the trial of a class action lawsuit in which a): his mother was a potential plaintiff and b): he accepted a free flight to a south Texas hunting camp—on the private jet of a plaintiff attorney only days after that attorney had won a $1.2 million settlement in Free’s court in another case.

What was he thinking? Most likely that he wouldn’t get caught.

The flight to the Casa Bonita Ranch in Goliad County south of Corpus Christi was made at the suggestion of Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton who regularly appears in matters before Free. Both men represent the 18th Judicial District, which includes West Baton Rouge Parish. Clayton supposedly was interested in purchasing the property but ultimately did not.

But here’s the rub: The ranch is owned by Texas attorney David Rumley who, it turned out, was working with Clayton on the personal injury case and judiciary commission determined the invitation came “at or near the time of settlement negotiations” in the case.

Free described the trip as “just some friends going to look at some property together and boiling crawfish and hanging out,” according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. http://theadvocate.com/news/10518947-123/judiciary-commission-recommends-30-day-suspension

Free, in an incredulous admission, said there were “a lot of things I was not aware of in the canons.”

It’s something of a stretch for someone who has probably told a defendant or two that ignorance of the law is no excuse to attempt to plead ignorance, especially for a man who has been on the bench for 17 years—since 1997—and who has had previous dust-ups with the judiciary commission.

In 1998, only a year after taking office, Free was “cautioned” by the judiciary commission after an earlier hunting lodge relationship that resulted in accusations of a biased decision. And in 2001, Free signed what is known as a deferred recommendation of discipline agreement with the commission following his failure to recuse himself from a case in which he had previously served as the prosecutor of a defendant.

Then in 2005, he again came under criticism and was given a warning by the commission to avoid appointments which might create the appearance of impropriety after he named a political ally ex parte as a temporary liquidator in a case.

In the class action case involving Free’s mother, his attorney, Steven Scheckman, called it a misunderstanding and said his client was a “fall guy” for a mapping error that had gone unnoticed in the class action for two years.

But the special counsel for the judiciary commission said an attorney for Dow Chemical, a defendant in the matter, had informed Free of the conflict in a letter to the judge. Instead of calling a status conference involving all the parties, however, Free instead improperly called the attorney’s law partner to complain—yet another breach of judicial canons.

Scheckman said Free had not known the boundaries in the class action had been changed by a prior judgment to include his mother’s address even though it was Free who signed the judgment, all of which prompted Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill to observe that Scheckman’s protestations of ignorance on the part of his client were “unlikely to wash.”

http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/10544318-123/james-gill-free-ride-in

Called before the Judiciary Commission, Free took a strategy that has become all too familiar whenever any high profile individual, be it an elected official or professional athlete: he publically apologized for his bad judgment.

But a judge should not be making bad judgments. And these contrite admissions, coming as they always do after the sinner is caught, are becoming a little thin and time worn—and void of any real substance.

As Gill pointed out, the opinion put forth by the Judiciary Commission that Free should have known better because of his seniority on the bench is laughable. “The sleaze here is so obvious that no judicial experience whatsoever is required to recognize it,” he wrote.

But Gill did not limit the sleaze factor to Free; he also took the Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission to task, criticizing them for the practice of keeping judicial disciplinary matters secret until the ethics violations become so blatant as to demand public airing.

He said the Office of the Special Council recommended to the Judiciary Commission that Free be suspended for a full year but the commission reduced its recommendation to 30 days, a sentence Gill called “derisory.”

Saying Free might not have been re-elected unopposed in his last run for office had his ethical lapses been known to the public, Gill added that “Litigants have no way of knowing how many more Judge Freerides are out there” and that if Free really did not understand what he had done wrong, he is “too stupid to be a judge.”

We can certainly concur in that evaluation and for our part, we’re still waiting for a politician to apologize for some wrongdoing before he is caught. That would be a public official we could trust.

 

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As if the administration’s handling of bogus criminal accusations against former Commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter wasn’t already embarrassing enough after Painter’s acquittal ended up costing the state $474,000 in reimbursement of his legal fees and expenses, a recent civil court decision has added insult to injury.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa/New Hampshire/Florida/Anywhere but Louisiana) thought he could make an example of Painter over the then-ATC commissioner’s refusal to bend the rules for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, whose family and businesses have poured some $40,000 into various Jindal political campaigns.

Painter twice rejected applications by SMG (formerly Spectacor Management Group), the Mercedes-Benz Superdome management firm, for a permit to erect a large tent at Benson’s Champions Square adjacent to Benson Towers across from the Superdome. The tent was to house beer sales by Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle and approval of the permit was sought by Southern Eagle, SMG, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) board and a law firm representing SMG. Altogether, the Benson family, LSED board members, SMG, its law firm and Southern Eagle had combined to pour more than $203,000 into Jindal campaigns between 2003 and 2012.

When Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack insisted that the permit be expedited, Painter asked that he put his concerns in writing but Waguespack refused.

Not only did Jindal fire Painter when his commissioner insisted that the permit application for the Champions Square tent be complete and proper, he even had Painter indicted on criminal charges of stalking a female employee. Present at the firing ceremony were Waguespack, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, and another member of the governor’s legal staff.

The subsequent criminal prosecution of Painter fell apart and his acquittal carried a stipulation that the state pick up the tab for Painter’s legal fees and affiliated costs.

Now, a civil trial jury has determined unanimously that the female former employee, Kelli Suire, defamed Painter even though the Louisiana Office of Risk Management, most likely at the insistence of Jindal’s Division of Administration, settled Suire’s claims against the state in 2011 without Suire’s ever having been required to sit for a sworn deposition in the apparent hope the settlement would bolster the state’s case against Painter.

Oops.

Painter’s defamation suit against Suire was bifurcated, meaning it was to be tried in two parts. The first part, the part just completed, was to settle the question of actual liability. Had Suire been found not guilty of defamation, the second part to determine actual monetary damages would have been unnecessary.

Unfortunately for Jindal’s chances to avoid further embarrassment over the sloppy manner in which the Painter matter was handled, such was not the case and the damages part will be tried next.

Throughout the entire matter, Painter has made clear that he wanted his day in court.

The liability trial was heard in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana before Judge Shelly Dick and a seven-person jury. Following a three-day trial, the jury took about three hours.

Painter was represented at trial by attorney Al Robert, Jr., and Suire by Jill Craft.

The issues in the case first arose on Aug. 16, 2010, soon after Suire filed a complaint with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OID) alleging a myriad of allegations against Painter. The lead OIG investigator at the time, Shane Evans, now employed by the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office, testified that he met with Suire and that he personally chose to use the words “stalking” and “harassing” to describe the nature of Suire’s complaints in his application for a search warrant.

Painter also has a civil lawsuit pending against OIG which alleges the agency’s investigation, which began in August of 2010, was improperly conducted.

Robert said the jury’s verdict confirmed the finding of an outside investigator hired by the Louisiana Department of Revenue (DOR) under which ATC operates. The investigator determined that Painter’s actions did not violate DOR anti-harassment policy. Moreover, when questioned by the DOR investigator, Robert said, Suire “admitted that Painter did not make unwelcome sexual advances toward her and that he did not request sexual favors or engage in verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature toward her. Inexplicably, the Office of Inspector General ignored this investigation when it chose to move forward with its investigation of Mr. Painter,” he added.

“This has been a long, four-year ordeal to clear my name of the lies and untruths that Ms. Suire—and those working with her—used to damage my character and reputation,” Painter said.

In her instructions to the jury, Judge Dick said defamation requires proof of a false or defamatory statement made to a third person or persons. “A person who utters a defamatory statement is responsible for all republication that is the natural and probable consequence of the person’s statement,” she said.

Suire, in her defense, did not deny making the statements but said rather that her statements were subject to “privilege,” or inadmissible, Judge Dick said, acknowledging that Suire’s communications did in fact “occasion a conditional or qualified privilege.”

Therefore, in order for Painter to prevail, she said, he “must prove that (the) defendant abused this privilege by acting with actual malice.” Such a finding, the judge said, would require that Suire either knew the matter to be false or acted in reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

Suire currently resides in Florida.

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