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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

And the hits just keep coming.

Bobby Jindal, a little distracted in his presidential campaign by his pesky job back home in Louisiana, has yet more legal problems piling up on his desk.

Meanwhile, Jindal, laser focused on becoming the leader laughingstock of the free world, offered up one of his most confusing diatribes yet while on his 99-county tour of Iowa, offering conflicting comments that any reporter worth his press credentials should be salivating over about now.

As the infamous north Louisiana hospital deals, complete with a contract containing 50 blank pages, begins its inevitable collapse (predicted by just about anyone with an IQ higher than a cluster of wet Spanish moss), complete with litigation and a backdoor public relations campaign by the current operator of the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway in Monroe, yet another lawsuit has been slipped under the door.

The first court hearing for a lawsuit against the state Office of Group Benefits (OGB), the Office of the Governor and the state Division of Administration will be conducted July 27 in Baton Rouge District Court before Judge Janice Clark. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m.

And guess who the state’s defense attorney will be? Yep, you got it. Jimmy Faircloth who has enjoyed about as much courtroom success as Wiley E. Coyote in pursuit of the elusive roadrunner. The only thing missing from Faircloth’s courtroom misadventures are anvils and dynamite. In representing the state in the OGB litigation, Faircloth will be adding to more than the $1.5 million he has already received in other representations. It’s not all Faircloth’s fault of course; he has been given some dogs to defend by this hapless administration.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of state employees, teachers and retirees, who are asking the court to overturn changes to OGB’s health plans that took effect March 1—premium increases and reduced coverage that were predicted by LouisianaVoice way back when the privatization of OGB was first proposed by the Jindal administration.

Representing the plaintiffs is J. Arthur Smith III of the Smith Law Firm of Baton Rouge.

The plaintiffs are claiming that changes forced on them by OGB were not enacted legally and they were denied a reasonable opportunity, as required by the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act, to comment on the proposed changes. The plaintiffs further maintain that the OGB and the administration violated due process, the contracts clause of the Louisiana Constitution and their fiduciary duties to plan participants. The plaintiffs also say that increased costs and decreased benefits pose a financial hardship that limits their access to healthcare services and needed medicines.

An association formed to fund the lawsuit, LA VERITE’ 2015, is registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State. LA VERITE’ is French for TRUTH, and stands for Louisiana Voices of Employees and Retirees for Insurance Truth and Equity. There are no dues and membership is open to any active or retired state employee, teacher, or other interested individual.

Plaintiff Marilee Cash, a retiree, said the goal of the lawsuit is to protect approximately 230,000 state employees, teachers, retirees and their dependents who have health insurance through the Office of Group Benefits. “Large increases in out-of-pocket expenses, combined with withheld pay increases for active employees and cost-of-living adjustments for retirees, pose a financial hardship for many people covered by OGB,” she said. “Our compensation has not kept up with inflation during Gov. Jindal’s administration, due to mismanagement of state funds and poor fiscal decisions. Before March 1, our healthcare costs and insurance premiums were manageable. Now these increased costs have put healthcare services out of reach for many dedicated public servants and retirees.”

The administration claims the changes were made to preserve the Group Benefits reserve, which has been drastically reduced as OGB reduced premium revenue while paying out increasing medical claims expenses. The fund, created by the premiums paid by those who are insured, stood at about $500 million just two years ago. Less than half that amount remains. The Jindal administration drew down the reserve by reducing employer contributions in order to balance the state budget and then using money saved from reduced employer contributions to patch holes in the state budget.

In Iowa, Jindal took what might be considered an ill-advised swipe at President Obama and the U.S. Supreme Court (you know, the court he said several days ago should be abolished) at the Family Leadership Summit over the weekend.

At issue was the court’s ruling on the court’s recent same-sex marriage decision that prohibits discrimination against gays by businesses.

“The next president should do what we did in Louisiana,” he said: “issue an executive order saying the federal government will not discriminate or take action against any individual or business that has a traditional view of marriage.”

But wait. Isn’t the ACLU suing Jindal over his May 19 executive order that he issued after the legislature shot down a bill by Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) to pass the Marriage and Conscience Act?

And wait again. Didn’t Jindal recently go a little ballistic over executive orders issued by President Obama?

Yep. As a matter of fact, after calling on the next president to issue an executive order like his, he turned right around and said…Wait. We want to make that a separate paragraph:

            “We’ve got a president who has made it a consistent practice to ignore the Constitution, ignore the laws, issue executive orders,” Jindal said as he promised that if he is elected president, he would immediately rescind Obama’s “illegal” executive orders.

So, on the one hand, he wants to rescind Obama’s “illegal” executive orders while proposing that the next president (presumably himself) to issue an illegal executive order identical to his own “Marriage and Conscience” order—illegal because the governor may issue executive orders pertaining to the executive branch of government only and not on matters that affect private sector action of any kind, according to ACLU executive director Marjorie Esman.

But hey. Once again LouisianaVoice implores you to remember that it was a Jindal operative who told Division of Administration employees in a meeting, “Let’s not be bound by the law.” If that’s not downright Nixonian, then up is down, down is up, and Brenda Lee was acid rock.

Any bets as to who will be representing the state on the ACLU litigation?

We’re reminded of the joke that (and we’re paraphrasing to fit the situation here) Jindal is a lot like a slinky: Not really good for anything but they still bring a smile when you push them down a flight of stairs.

Except Jindal’s not a slinky. He’s more like a train wreck and the damage inflicted when he went off the rails was widespread and massive—and it impacted every one of us.

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Troy didn’t want me there and, as if it might be his rights instead of a subordinate’s that were being violated. “Are the media allowed in here?” he asked, almost pleading.

Assured by the hearing referee that I could stay, he was reminded that it was a public hearing and anyone could attend, including the media.

The referee was presiding over a civil service appeal of the firing of one of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) agents by agency director Troy Hebert and Hebert clearly did not want the proceedings to become public.

Hell, yes, the media are allowed Troy and you can expect to see a lot of me at the various civil service hearings, EEOC hearings, and court trials currently pending against you. But Troy, I can understand your reluctance to operate in the open and in plain sight.

You probably learned that paranoia from your boss, Bobby Jindal. You know, the two of you are a lot alike in that regard; Bobby likes the furtive style of governing and he likes to fire anyone who doesn’t buy whole hog into his B.S. The problem is, Troy, Bobby (and it really hurts to say this) is a little smarter than you.

And it almost seemed there were as many lawyers as witnesses in the crowded hearing room. But this wasn’t like the O.J. Simson trial, it was a civil service hearing. Nevertheless, Hebert strolled into the hearing room in the W.C.C. Claiborne Building across the scenic but polluted Lake from the towering State Capitol accompanied by not one, not two, not three, not four, but (count ‘em) five attorneys—all paid for not by Hebert but by the good citizens of Louisiana. If I didn’t know better, I’d call that a classic case of overkill.

One of those attorneys was Jessica Starnes, officially Hebert’s “counsel of record.” Starnes served as legal counsel for ATC, a civil service classified position, but on March 30, was appointed to the unclassified position of “advisor,” assigned to the Executive Office (governor), all of which raises the question of how she can be an advisor to the governor and defense attorney for Hebert.

Oh, wait. I forgot. Hebert is the governor’s “legislative liaison,” so everything is tied up in a neat little incestuous knot; Bobby Jindal is apparently joined at the hip by Starnes on one side and Hebert on the other in this sordid mess, interchangeable parts, if you will. Remember the image of a beaming Starnes standing behind Bobby at his announcement for the Republican presidential candidacy? http://louisianavoice.com/2015/06/26/just-when-it-seems-jindal-cannot-get-creepier-viral-video-shows-willingness-to-exploit-his-children-for-political-gain/

But an even more pressing question: now that Starnes is no longer legal counsel for ATC but is the “counsel of record” for Hebert’s defense, will her work be billed to ATC along with the other four attorneys? Or was she on the clock, drawing a salary as the governor’s “advisor,” while arguing on behalf of her former boss in a matter seemingly unrelated to day to day activities in the governor’s office? Did she take leave from her current position to represent Hebert?

There wasn’t much at stake at the hearing, just the career and livelihood of former agent Brett Tingle of Prairieville, fired by Hebert in February—a dismissal carried out by letter delivered to Hingle’s home while he was convalescing from a heart attack.

The reasons for the firing were answered in detail in an 11-page letter from J. Arthur Smith, Tingle’s attorney, on March 10, which indicated the basis of the firing appears to stem from Hingle’s support of several black agents either disciplined or fired by Hebert. To learn more about Hingle’s firing and the response by his attorney, go here: http://louisianavoice.com/2015/03/13/atc-director-troy-hebert-rivals-his-boss-in-cold-hearted-demeanor-fires-agent-who-is-recovering-from-heart-attack/

There isn’t much to report about Friday’s proceedings. Settlement negotiations which were initiated by the referee before the scheduled hearing and which lasted about two hours, were done behind closed doors as is proper. When we were admitted back into the room and the hearing resumed, the referee simply informed us that the hearing was continued until Sept. 1-4.

The fact that no settlement was reached between the two parties could be interpreted as bad news for Troy because he is staring down the barrel of that federal EEOC racial discrimination complaint by three black agents filed almost exactly a year ago after two were fired and a third was transferred from Baton Rouge to Shreveport with no prior notice. http://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/14/forcing-grown-men-to-write-lines-overnight-transfers-other-bizarre-actions-by-troy-hebert-culminate-in-federal-lawsuit/

Hebert, known to require agents to stand and greet him with “Good morning, Commissioner” when he enters a room, who in the past has required agents—grown men and women—to write lines, and who once ordered a female agent to patrol dangerous New Orleans bars in uniform after she had already worked narcotics detail in the same bars in plain clothes, cannot easily afford an adverse civil service ruling prior to the EEOC hearing. That just would not bode well for him.

Hebert, who succeeded Murphy Painter who was fired after being set up by Team Jindal on bogus charges, ostensibly for accessing information on individuals on his state computer, ordered one of his agents to conduct a warrantless background check on me (it turns out I was found to be somewhat boring). Hebert also once boasted to another agent that he could easily have his IT people hack into my computer. http://louisianavoice.com/2015/03/25/hebert-like-bobby-jindal-stumbles-from-one-ill-fated-fiasco-to-another-in-oblivion-and-without-a-trace-of-embarrassment/

So what happened to Hebert after those two little episodes were revealed? Well, he was promoted to Jindal’s legislative liaison, whatever that may entail. We see it as simply a synonym for lap dog. Oh, and he also held a state contract for debris cleanup after Hurricane Katrina—while simultaneously serving in the Louisiana Legislature. No conflict there.

Witnesses were admonished not to discuss the pending Tingle matter with each other or anyone else, including the media. A violation of that dictum, the referee said, could result in disciplinary action, including dismissal from their jobs.

Well, folks, I’m not among the subpoenaed witnesses, I’m already retired, and I can’t be fired.

As the popular ’60s song goes, see you in September, Troy.

 

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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

On Monday, November 5, 2012, the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) conducted a meeting at which two members, Vice President James Sims and Greg Bordelon, engaged in racist roll call responses. Because the meeting was quietly moved up by nearly three weeks, neither I nor Rev. Freddie Lee Phillips, Louisiana’s only African American auctioneer in its history, were aware of it and thus didn’t attend (our only absence in seven years).

Upon learning of the meeting, I made a public records request for an audio recording of it.  My request was ignored for almost a month, so I threatened litigation. Reluctantly, the LALB provided the recording.  Phillips, who thought I was joking about the racist responses, was justifiably outraged when he heard the tape. He wanted the Jindal Administration to hear the recording, so I supplied it to them. Meanwhile, an Advocate reporter, Ted Griggs, took an interest in the matter, and published this article on December 22, 2012. Jindal called upon the inspector general (IG) to “investigate” the matter. That “investigation” concluded with the release of this this report on February 20, 2013 in which the behavior is excused as mere “diabetes and dentures” flaring up for Sims and Bordelon merely “mocking Sims as a North Louisiana redneck.” Griggs published a follow-up story on the IG’s report soon after its release.

I was intrigued by the recording’s revelation of LALB members, especially Vice Chairman James Sims, lambasting Jindal over his freezing their per diem payments. Despite Jindal’s signing this Executive Order effective August 5, 2012, LALB members defied the order and accepted payments for the September 2012 meeting. I raised this issue privately with LALB Attorney Larry S. Bankston via email, and he responded with an email assuring me I could address my concerns at the next meeting (January 8, 2013). Meanwhile, Phillips wanted to address the roll call responses as part of the approval of the November 5, 2012 minutes. Phillips wanted verbatim roll call responses entered into the record of those minutes.

When January 8, 2013 rolled around, Bankston was emphatic that neither Phillips nor I would be permitted to speak on our respective issues as evidenced in this video.

Louisiana Revised Statute 42:14(D) mandates an opportunity for public comment on any meeting agenda item for which a vote is taken. Since the minutes of the prior meeting requires a vote for adoption, as does approval of financials (within which the illegal per diem payments constituted a line item), Phillips and I filed this open meetings law violation lawsuit pro se on March 6, 2013. In an effort to maximize his billings to his LALB client, Bankston filed back-to-back Dilatory Exception motions (a fruitless legal technique to drag out a case’s duration). The first motion, for which oral arguments were heard on July 22, 2013, resulted in Judge Hernandez granting a 30-day period to amend the lawsuit to more succinctly state a cause of action. The second motion, for which oral arguments were heard on February 3, 2014, was denied, thus forcing Bankston to file an answer to the suit over a year after it had been filed.             Because the case was a clear violation of the law, Phillips and I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on May 12, 2014.  Oral arguments on our motion were heard by Hernandez on August 4, 2014. We argued that the case was a violation of the open meetings laws and we were therefore entitled to $100 each from the board members for denying us the right to speak on items clearly on the agenda. In a motion for summary judgment, one side (us in this instance) argues that no issues of material fact exist which can permit the case to continue to trial; therefore, judgment should be granted to the moving party as a matter of law. Upon the conclusion of oral arguments on August 4, 2014, Judge Hernandez took the matter under advisement, saying, “It will all boil down to whether the court finds there is a matter of material fact to permit the case to continue.”

Bankston filed his own Motion for Summary Judgment for the LALB for which oral arguments were set for September 15, 2014. Meanwhile, in a continued effort to maximize his legal billings, Bankston took depositions for both Phillips and myself. For Phillips, Bankston argued he suffered “no harm” from not being able to address the roll call response, to which Phillips told Hernandez, “I was unable to defend my culture, my heritage, or to confront the two board members directly on their actions.”

Bankston also argued that, because per diem payments were not a line-item on the agenda, the LALB violated nothing in terms of denying me the opportunity to speak. Never mind that per diem payments were a line item on the financials and that those very financials containing the illegal payments were being approved at that January 8, 2013 meeting. Never mind that Bankston had provided me with an email on December 23, 2012 which said that I would be permitted to address my concerns. If one isn’t permitted to discuss such an integral component of the financial statements being approved, what can the public state regarding the financials at the meeting? Bankston also posed the argument that, because I had informed Jindal’s office that the LALB was defying his executive order and Jindal’s office had demanded that the board members refund the per diem overpayments as a result, my goal had been accomplished notwithstanding the fact I was not permitted to discuss the matter at a public meeting.

Judge Hernandez again took the matter under advisement. When no ruling was issued prior to the November 4, 2014 election, I told Phillips, who resides in Hernandez’s district, that was a very bad sign. I said if Hernandez were to issue a ruling against us before the election, the contents of his ruling may cause Phillips to implore his congregation, relatives, and friends to vote for Hernandez’s opposition. Because of that, Hernandez was delaying making his ruling until after the election. If so, he was smart because he barely survived a strong challenge by Democrat Collette Greggs (53-47).

Judge Hernandez issued his ruling granting Bankston’s Motion for Summary Judgment more than 60 days after the election. In doing so, Hernandez went from openly questioning if any issue of material fact existed on Aug. 4, 2014, to permitting defendants to continue toward a trial, in effect saying plaintiffs had no basis for proceeding with trial!

Hernandez said in his ruling, “The agenda did not include the subject of per diem payments,” and he therefore ruled that the board would be required to add the line item of per diem payments to the agenda to permit discussion! So, using Hernandez’s “logic,” a board guilty of making illegal payments must vote to add a line item entailing the illegal payments in order for the public to address them! Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to occur. Hernandez’s ruling not only makes a mockery of LA R. S. 42:14(D), but his ruling makes the court culpable in attempts to keep illegal payments by board members. Moreover, the court is made to appear even more culpable than those seeking to keep the illegal payments. His ruling sends a horrible message to members of the public seeking to hold public bodies accountable.

Hernandez went on to say that, even if a violation of the open meetings law transpired on January 8, 2013, it was remedied at the March LALB meeting. The fact that a judge has to say, “even if a violation occurred,” is a point-blank statement that an issue of material fact exists in the case and therefore he was bound by law to deny Bankston’s motion and permit the matter to continue to trial.

We wanted to appeal Hernandez’s ruling as it’s doubtful any three-judge panel of the First Circuit would have upheld his ruling. State agencies, with infinite resources of taxpayer dollars, routinely appeal rulings knowing they stand no chance of being overturned.  LouisianaVoice readers may recall an article on the CNSI trial in which Judge Kelley told the state’s attorneys “there is nothing to appeal because this matter is that clear,” regarding Bruce Greenstein having waived attorney-client privilege. Nevertheless, at a cost approximating $30,000, the state appealed Kelley’s ruling, only for it to be upheld.

My attorney informed me it would cost about $9,000 to appeal Hernandez’s ruling and even if we prevailed, there was no way to recover that $9,000. Hence, we had little choice but to walk away. That’s why Judge Caldwell’s “split the baby” ruling in the Tom Aswell’s public records request lawsuit last week felt like such a victory from my vantage point. A judge finally provided some relief to the “small guy.”

 

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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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You have to love Rolfe McCollister, Jr. The man has done the following:

  • Was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor-president of Baton Rouge;
  • Contributed $17,000 to the campaign of Bobby Jindal in 2003, 2006, and 2008;
  • Served as treasurer for Jindal’s 2007 gubernatorial campaign;
  • Served as chairman of Jindal’s transition team following Jindal’s 2007 election;
  • Served as a director of Jindal’s first fundraising organization Believe in Louisiana;
  • Currently serves as treasurer of Jindal’s super PAC Believe Again;
  • Been appointed by Jindal as a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Moreover, McCollister’s Louisiana Business, Inc. partner, Julio Melara has:

  • Contributed $7,500 to Jindal’s campaigns in 2007, 2010, and 2011 (his wife also contributed $1,000 in 2007);
  • Been appointed to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Board).

At the same time, McCollister, apparently with a straight face, attempts to pass himself off as an objective news executive as Publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report, even publishing a story by his staff today (Monday, April 27) on the long-running court battle by real news organizations to obtain the names of 35 candidates for the LSU presidency. https://www.businessreport.com/business/along-alexander-lsu-board-considered-candidates-texas-alabama-east-carolina-presidential-search-2012

Before the finger-pointing begins, let’s set the record straight. While McCollister carries the water for Jindal on such issues as protecting what should obviously be public records, firing an LSU president (thus, making the new hire necessary) and giving away LSU hospitals to a foundation run by a fellow LSU board member, he also purports to be an objective chronicler of political news.

We at LouisianaVoice, on the other hand, make no pretense at objectivity. We are opinionated and we freely express those opinions—and invite readers to do the same, both pro and con. We spent a quarter-century working for the so-called objective publications. But a political blog is very much like an op-ed opinion piece. McCollister should be familiar with those; he’s certainly seen enough of them from Jindal in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

Louisiana Business, Inc., led by McCollister and Melara, is the parent company of the Business Report, so both men are in the news business but nevertheless have continued to curry favor from the man they apparently believe will one day occupy the big house at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.

What is so particularly galling about Monday’s story about the release of the documents by the LSU board attorney is that a reader unfamiliar with the story would have no way of knowing that the publisher was complicit not in attempting to shine the light of transparency on a secretive board, but in participating in the board’s harboring of the information. Nowhere was a single word devoted to revealing that the piece’s publisher was a party to attempting to hide information from the public—an effort, by the way, that cost the state tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in legal costs and fines.

As if that were not enough, McCollister, in his ever-diligent vigil to defend the public’s right to know, turned his guns on an LSU faculty member who was bold enough to criticize the LSU board in print over its efforts to keep its business away from the public’s prying eyes.

On April 1, McCollister, in a column titled The Two Hats of Bob, attacked LSU journalism professor Bob Mann who also writes a political blog called Something Like the Truth, which is also published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “Man is one to take full advantage of free speech and faculty tenure as he pontificates in his columns on all that’s evil,” McCollister sniffed. https://www.businessreport.com/politics/rolfe-mccollister-survey-reveals-contradictions-confusion

He was writing about Mann’s blog and the accompanying column that ran in the Times-Picayune in which Mann said the LSU Board was more loyal to Jindal than to the students at LSU and that the entire board needed to resign or be fired. In that column, Mann quoted from another McCollister essay in which McCollister “chided those in the news media who ‘sound like Chicken Little. Let me predict here and now, the world will not end for Louisiana or higher education during the upcoming session. Solutions will be found.’ What those magic solutions are, McCollister does not say,” Mann wrote.

“I asked a former seasoned journalist about the ethics of a faculty member who has a second job as a journalist and (who) writes about his university,” the publisher continued in that April 1 column. “He said, ‘Every good journalist knows that you cannot ethically cover the institution that pays your salary and the people who supervise the work you do for that salary.”

Oh, really? And just who was that “former seasoned journalist”? And was he a former journalist or just formerly seasoned?

As for ethically covering “the institution that pays your salary” (or in this case, appointed you and your business partner to two of the more prestigious boards in state government), doesn’t McCollister provide Jindal glowing press coverage at every opportunity? (Of course, whether that can accurately be called real “coverage” is still open to debate. There’s another word for it in the reporting business. It’s called fluff.)

“The ethical equation doesn’t change if a reporter vilifies those people (for whom he works),” McCollister continued. “Who is to say the reporter’s self-interest isn’t involved. When journalists don’t recognize this fundamental aspect of journalism, everything they write, on any topic, lacks credibility.”

Wait. We’re confused. Is McCollister still talking about Mann—or about himself? It’s really impossible to tell, considering all the self-interest and conflicts of interests involved in everything McCollister writes about Jindal.

But let’s review. McCollister, it seems, was also a member of the LSU Board back in 1992 when the state was in the throes of another financial crisis and cutting budgets. At that time, McCollister, indignant over the cuts to LSU, called for the arrest of the governor.

The governor? Edwin Edwards. http://www.nola.com/opinions/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2015/03/higher_education_budget_cuts_l.html

Mann responded to McCollister, of course. Anyone would. But rather than delve into their “he said, she said” exchange, let’s look at what others are saying.

The Hayride blog, which is somewhere off to the right of Rush Limbaugh, trumpeted its headline: “Bob Mann goes after Rolfe McCollister, but doesn’t have the numbers on his side.”

http://thehayride.com/2015/03/bob-mann-goes-after-rolfe-mccollister-but-doesnt-have-the-numbers-on-his-side/

Repeating the Chicken Little quote by McCollister, it added a quote by him which it accused Mann of omitting: “Business is strong in Louisiana and getting even better. I hear from many company CEOs who had a record year and look to grow and expand in 2015.”

(Perhaps that’s why Louisiana continues to rank third in the nation in our poverty rate and why Louisiana’s colleges and universities are looking seriously at declaring financial exigency.)

We’ll get back to The Hayride momentarily.

Red Shtick, a Baton Rouge publication that specializes in parody, took its turn at lampooning McCollister for his obvious double standard. http://theredshtick.com/2015/04/03/jindal-crony-who-pens-pro-jindal-editorials-accuses-professor-of-unethical-journalism/

Likewise, the Independent of Lafayette, one of the state’s better political publications, noted with some irony that McCollister found it necessary to reach out “to an anonymous source” to obtain an opinion about journalistic ethics—after all, “hasn’t he run a newspaper for more than 25 years?” the Independent asked somewhat rhetorically, adding, “I’m sure that untenured, junior faculty at LSU will take note that one of the governor’s best friends, who serves on the LSU Board, has this opinion of academic freedom. http://theind.com/article-20612-rolfe-mccollister-faculty-who-criticize-lsu-in-print-are-unethical.html

“Did McCollister threaten my LSU job? The Independent quoted Mann as asking. “Not really. He just finds some gutless anonymous source to call me unethical for criticizing a group of public officials.”

As promised, we now return to The Hayride and one of its regular columnists who seems to fit comfortably in Jindal’s back pocket and who slings darts and arrows at anyone who dares criticize his governor.

We’re talking, of course, about one Jeff Sadow who works as…(ahem), ah…well, as a full time political science professor at LSU-Shreveport. Correction. Make that associate professor. And one who has (gasp!) a political blog.

Rather than go into a lot of Sadow’s qualifications to speak his opinion in a blog as opposed to those who would censure Mann, we’ll let yet another blogger lay it out for us.

https://lahigheredconfessions.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/biting-the-hand-that-pays-you/

But at the end of the day (to borrow a phrase from Bobby Jindal), we still believe in tolerance and we will defend with our last breath the First Amendment rights of McCollister, Sadow, and Mann. They have every right to voice their opinions, though two of those three do not appear to agree.

To sum it all up, it appears we have an LSU Board member who is a Jindal operative in every sense of the word and who just happens to own a news publication. But that board member/journalist steadfastly refuses to advocate for openness on the board (as would just about any member of the Fourth Estate), who votes to fire an LSU president only because the governor wants him to, who votes in favor of giving away teaching hospitals to a fellow board member, and who calls for the censuring of free speech by a journalism professor and newspaper columnist. And, coincidentally, we have an associate professor who does the same thing as Mann, but who gets a free pass because his opinions happen to dovetail nicely with those of  McCollister, Jindal, et al.

Okay, as long as we understand the ground rules.

But, Chicken Little, it appears the sky really is falling. And as for those solutions McCollister promised “will be found,” they now appear more distant than ever.

And meanwhile, he calls Bob Mann unethical.

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