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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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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

Two months ago, Louisiana Voice reported on Livingston Parish DA Scott Perrilloux’s determination to prosecute Corey delaHoussaye.  Perrilloux, working with the State Inspector General’s Office (IG), has charged delaHoussaye, an FBI informant responsible for FEMA denying $59 million to contractors for Livingston Parish’s hurricane Gustav cleanup due to rampant fraud, with falsifying public records.  Specifically, Perrilloux and the IG allege delaHoussaye submitted paperwork for some time periods for which he claimed to be working but which the IG asserts he was at times golfing, visiting his doctor, working out, and tending to other personal matters.

Perrilloux failed to procure an indictment of delaHoussaye in December of 2013, but he nevertheless proceeded forward with a bill of information.  Meanwhile, delaHoussaye filed federal and state civil suits against the parish as a result of incoming Parish President Layton Ricks stopping payment on a $379,000 check to delaHoussaye for his final invoice.

The civil matter ended Friday when delaHoussaye agreed to accept $325,000 as payment for his final invoice and to dismiss both his federal and state civil actions against the parish.

For now, the state criminal trial continues even though Judge Brenda Ricks ruled on February 23, 2015 that insufficient evidence exists to proceed with a trial.  Mere minutes after Ricks’ ruling, Perrilloux angrily stated to reporters that he would appeal Ricks’ ruling, and he added, “Just because they wear a black robe doesn’t mean they know everything.”  True to his word, Perrilloux recently filed an appeal with the First Circuit Court of Appeal seeking to overturn Ricks’ ruling and proceed with the criminal trial.

On Monday, April 20, 2015, delaHoussaye’s attorney, John McLindon, argued before Judge Ricks a motion to suppress and motion to quash the evidence gathered by the IG on multiple fronts.  Judge Ricks’ ruling, expected sometime this week, may go a long way on clarifying just what authority and powers the IG has.

First, McLindon asserts that the IG is entitled to access the records only of a “covered agency.”  Thus, IG access is limited to only executive branches of state government, of which Livingston Parish, with whom delaHoussaye executed his contract, clearly is not.  In an obvious admission that Livingston Parish is not a covered agency, Greg Murphy, Assistant District Attorney, placed Ben Plaia, an attorney for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP), on the witness stand.  Murphy utilized Plaia’s testimony to buttress Murphy’s argument that, because GOHSEP controls access to federal emergency funding and because those funds flow through it to the parish, delaHoussaye’s records were fair game by virtue of GOHSEP’s standing as a covered agency.  Essentially, Murphy argued that, by virtue of funds flowing through GOHSEP, its own presumed covered agency status is imputed unto Livingston Parish.

McLindon attacked that assertion during cross examination by asking Plaia a series of questions.  When asked if GOHSEP, delaHoussaye, or C-Del (delaHoussaye’s company) were covered agencies, Plaia responded, “I don’t know.”  Obviously, if GOHSEP isn’t a covered agency, nothing can be imputed, and Plaia would not testify that GOSHEP is a covered agency.    When asked if delaHoussaye or C-Del were contractors of a covered agency, Plaia again responded, “I don’t know.”  Similarly, when asked if delaHoussaye or C-Del were subcontractors, grantees, or sub-grantees of a covered agency, Plaia again responded, “I don’t know.”  When asked if GOHSEP had any contractors or subcontractors, Plaia indicated that it did not.  When asked if it would be proper for GOHSEP to pay delaHoussaye or C-Del directly if invoices seeking payment were submitted directly to GOHSEP, Plaia responded, “No.  In fact, I believe it would be improper for us to do so.”

Based on Plaia’s testimony, not only was there no foundation to establish that GOHSEP could impute any covered status unto Livingston Parish, but there was no foundation for establishing that GOHSEP is even a covered agency with anything to impute.  Nevertheless, taking no chances, McLindon continued to attack the IG’s powers and authority even under the assumption that somehow covered status were deemed to exist and be imputable to Livingston Parish.

In doing so, McLindon is not the first attorney to fire a shot across the bow at the IG’s investigative powers and techniques.  In December of 2013, during the trial of Murphy Painter, former Commissioner of the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (ATC), both Mike Fawer and Al Robert, Jr., Painter’s defense attorneys, sharply criticized the IG in terms of overreach regarding search warrants and sloppy investigative techniques.  Robert asserted to Federal Judge James Brady that the IG’s execution of the search warrant entailing Painter was both sloppy and that the agency acted well beyond the authority the judge granted.  In perhaps the most stunning quote of the entire trial, Robert, outside the presence of the jury, stated to Judge Brady, “Your Honor, this is not the FBI!  This is the OIG!  These people do not know what they’re doing!”

Similarly, when Fawer had IG investigator Shane Evans on the witness stand, he asked him to confirm his notes documenting that ATC officer Brant Thompson indicated Painter was “out of control, manic-depressive, and selectively enforcing alcohol statutes.” Evans confirmed that Thompson made those statements to him.  Fawer then asked Evans what investigative procedures he used to substantiate Thompson’s allegations against Painter.  Evans stated that he’d performed no investigative procedures at all and instead that he “merely wrote down what Thompson said.”  Fawer then inquired, “And based on your notations, my client (Painter) was summoned to the Governor’s Office later that evening, and he was fired by the Governor, wasn’t he?”  Evans responded that it was his understanding that Painter had resigned, to which Fawer responded, “Resigned, fired, whatever the case.  The bottom line is that very evening my client was out of a job all based on a few notes you wrote down with no attempt whatsoever to substantiate what you wrote, correct?”  Evans, who has left the IG and now serves as an investigator for the EBRP Coroner’s Office, didn’t challenge Fawer’s assertion.

McLindon takes Fawer and Robert’s assertions a step further and indicates his firm belief that the IG has no search warrant authority at all.  He argues that the Louisiana Legislature specifically granted the IG subpoena power but was silent on search warrant authority.  He said that fact, combined with the fact that, for criminal matters, “statutes are to be given a narrow interpretation and any ambiguity resolved in favor of the accused,” (the Doctrine of Lenity) means that the IG has no search warrant authority.  McLindon said that, prior to this case, nobody has ever challenged the IG on its search warrant authority, but he is formally doing so in this case and seeks for Ricks to make a formal ruling on whether they have such authority.  Murphy countered that Ricks must believe the IG has the authority to execute search warrants since she signed one dated June 21, 2011.  He then provided a copy to Judge Ricks, to which she responded, “You went way back to find that one, didn’t you?”

Next, even if covered status is somehow deemed to exist for Livingston Parish and search warrant authority is deemed by the court to be vested unto the IG, McLindon next argued that the IG failed to conform to the statutory requirement regarding an added step for subpoenas sought by the IG.  Specifically, McLindon argued the statute says that the judge shall issue a written decision within 72 hours of the application for the subpoena.  McLindon indicated that the IG and prosecutor have taken the position that the Motion for the Search Warrant is the decision, but McLindon counters that the motion is merely the application.  Furthermore, he stressed heavily that the Legislature could have granted unfettered subpoena power to the IG in the same manner as that which exists for the Attorney General, but it intentionally meant to provide an added layer of review in the case of the IG.  McLindon argued that the IG has been wrong to merely ignore that added layer as it has historically done.  Again, McLindon argued nobody has challenged the IG on this requirement, but he’s doing so in this case.

McLindon concluded his arguments by indicating that failure to suppress the evidence obtained by the IG for the reasons he argues “gives agencies carte blanche to engage in fishing expeditions into the private, sensitive information of citizens.”

In yet another added challenge to IG authority on obtaining its evidence, McLindon cited a case, State v. Skinner, in which the Louisiana Supreme Court made clear the need for a warrant, and not a mere subpoena, to obtain an individual’s medical records.  McLindon thus seeks for delaHoussaye’s medical records indicating he was visiting a physician during a timeframe that the IG alleges he reported working to also be suppressed.  He seeks such suppression based upon the IG obtaining the records via subpoena rather than a warrant.

Readers may read McLindon’s full post-trial memo outlining his arguments.

Louisiana Voice has interviewed several attorneys about the wisdom of the Louisiana Legislature granting the IG law enforcement authority even with the provision of no arrest powers, silence on search warrant authority, and an added hurdle for subpoenas which McLindon asserts has historically been simply ignored by the IG.  The consensus among the attorneys with whom Louisiana Voice has interviewed on the subject is that the Legislature made a mistake and that the IG is often abusing its power and, in at least some instances, acting in a reckless manner.  Perhaps Judge Ricks’ ruling later this week will provide guidance as to whether she may be inclined to agree and, more specifically, to concur with arguments McLindon has advanced in this case.

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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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