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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

“Loyalty to Joe Aguillard apparently would include a requirement to ignore unlawful and unethical behavior…”

“The reports by Timothy Johnson to Louisiana College obviously had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with personal and institutional integrity and honesty.”

—Statements by Tim Johnson in his Mar. 11 lawsuit against Louisiana College and college President Joe Aguillard. Tim Johnson, son-in-law of Rev. Mack Ford, is said to have removed a girl from the New Bethany Home for Girls after she recorded Ford’s sexual assault of her more than 30 years ago. Johnson, whose son served for a decade as State Director for former Congressman Rodney Alexander, was appointed Wednesday to a $55,000-a-year job with the Louisiana Office of Veterans Affairs which Alexander heads.

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OIL*

*(Only in Louisiana).

A man with direct ties to a defunct church-operated home for girls and boys in Bienville Parish—and to the Baptist minister accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls at the facility—has been hired by former Congressman Rodney Alexander as an administrative program manager at the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Louisiana Civil Service records indicate that Johnson was given the somewhat vague title and began working for the Department of Veterans Affairs today (Wednesday, April 16) at a salary of $55,016 per year.

No explanation was given as to why his employment started in the middle of the week and only two days before Good Friday, a state holiday.

Timothy Johnson’s hiring is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing saga in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District.

Johnson, of Choudrant in Lincoln Parish, was fired last May as executive vice president at Louisiana College in Pineville after leading an unsuccessful coup against President Joe Aguillard. Johnson had served briefly as acting president of the college and there was speculation at one time that he would be named permanent head of the school.

He filed a lawsuit against Aguillard and Louisiana College little more than a month ago, on March 11. In his suit, he claims his termination last May was in retaliation for his whistleblower complaint alleging misconduct by Aguillard. https://www.thetowntalk.com/assets/pdf/DK219640311.PDF

He claims he followed established policy when he reported to college trustees that Aguillard had misappropriated funds in such a manner that a major donor terminated gifts of about $2 million a year to the school. He further claimed that Aguillard lied to both donors and trustees about the financial matters.

He is married to the daughter of Rev. Mack Ford who ran New Bethany Home for Girls and Boys for several decades south of Arcadia in Bienville Parish and served on the New Bethany board until its closure.

One source said New Bethany was closed in 1996 but the facility was not officially closed until 2001 when the board, on motion of Timothy Johnson, voted to dispose of all of New Bethany property by transferring all physical property and bank accounts to New Bethany Baptist Church. Board records show that both Timothy and Jonathan Johnson attended the June 30, 2001, board meeting.

A support group comprised of female former residents of the New Bethany facility who say they each were physically, mentally and sexually assaulted claims that one girl who was assaulted by Ford managed to record the attack and was subsequently whisked away from the school by Timothy Johnson in an effort to protect his father-in-law. The tape, which the women say was turned over to home officials, subsequently disappeared. http://louisianavoice.com/2013/09/16/neil-riser-campaign-worker-linked-to-defunct-church-girls-home-accusations-of-sexual-abuse-by-father-in-law-minister/

Despite this incident and despite his serving on the board and making the motion to sell the home’s assets at a 1996 board meeting, Tim Johnson is said to have insisted in a conversation with an employee at Louisiana College that he had never heard of New Bethany.

More recently he and his son were active in the unsuccessful campaign of State Sen. Neil Riser to succeed Alexander for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District seat.

The winner of last November’s election, Vance McAllister, has his own problems after a video recording of him kissing a married woman in his office recently surfaced.

Tim Johnson performed volunteer work on behalf of Riser who was endorsed by Alexander after Alexander suddenly retired last fall with a year still left on his term. His son, Jonathan Johnson, Ford’s grandson, worked for about a decade as State Director for Alexander at $75,000 per year and worked as a paid employee of the Riser campaign.

When Alexander announced last August that he would retire in a matter of weeks, Gov. Bobby Jindal immediately announced Alexander’s hiring as head of the State Office of Veterans Affairs at $150,000 per year, a job that will provide a substantial boost (from about $7,500 per year to $82,000 per year) to Alexander’s state retirement over and above his federal retirement and social security benefits.

The state’s entire Republican hierarchy, with the notable exception of U.S. Sen. David Vitter, immediately endorsed Riser as Alexander’s heir apparent and two of Jindal’s top campaign aides actively worked on behalf of Riser’s campaign.

And now we have Alexander, in his new position, appointing the father (Timothy Johnson) of his former state director (Jonathan Johnson)—a son-in-law and a grandson, respectively, tied to a fundamentalist Baptist preacher who is said to have preyed on teenage girls for several decades, both of whom served on the preacher’s board and both of whom worked in Riser’s campaign—to something called an administrative program manager at $55,000 per year right smack dab in the middle of Jindal’s spending freeze.

Folks, you can’t make this kind of stuff up. The only thing needed to make this story complete is for Jimmy Faircloth to serve as Timothy Johnson’s attorney in his litigation against Louisiana College and Aguillard.

OIL.

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“No one involved understood there to be an ethical violation or that there was a potential for a violation. Further, Mr. Davidson has retired and is no longer employed by the DPSO.  Accordingly, the relationship in question and the potential for a conflict have terminated.”

—Shreveport attorney James R. Sterritt of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway, in response to a state audit that revealed that former DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Davidson’s private company used the sheriff’s office to run nearly half a million dollars in background checks in an 11-month period, netting his firm approximately $372,000.

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A former DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy may have violated state law by using his office to run background checks for a company in which he owned a major interest, according to an investigative audit report by the Legislative Auditor’s office in Baton Rouge.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

His company, Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations, ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during an 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the report says.

The report, released on Monday, also noted that three DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) employees were paid nearly $2,000 by Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations for running the background checks between January 2011 and May 2013, duties they would normally perform as part of their jobs with the sheriff’s office.

The company charged its customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 per report. That represents an income of more than $498,800 and a profit of more than $372,000 for owners Robert Davidson and Allan Neal Castillo over the 11-month period.

Davidson, retired chief investigator for the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, is 50 percent owner of Lagniappe and Castillo. He was employed by DPSO from 1980 until his retirement in May of 2013. Besides being listed by the Secretary of State as 50 percent owner, he also is listed as the registered agent of the company.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle, through his legal counsel, defended the practice, saying that Davidson did not own a “controlling interest” in the company and that he did not “participate” in the transactions because he was employed in the criminal investigation division of the sheriff’s office and the background checks were performed by the civil administrative division. “The criminal investigation division is both physically and functionally separate and apart from the civil administrative division,” he said. “Thus, he did not “participate” as defined by the Code of Ethics…”

Arbuckle also claimed that the three DPSO employees ran the background checks for which they were paid by Lagniappe and Castillo on holidays and weekends, adding that state law does not prohibit deputies from being paid by a non-public source for off-duty work.

State law requires that employers obtain criminal background checks prior to making an offer to employ or contract with a non-licensed person. Background checks are run through the Louisiana State Police Internet Background Check System database.

The obvious question becomes: could there conceivably have been 41,574 jobs or job applicants in an 11-month period in a rural parish of only 27,000 living souls, including children? If not, for what purposes were these background checks done, what information was contained in them, and to whom were they sold?

Perhaps we have a Fourth Amendment issue here.

One other question still unanswered is whether or not Sheriff Arbuckle received any of the proceeds from the transactions other than the $3 per report charged by the sheriff’s office.

Employers who request background checks through the State Police are charged a $26 fee. Authorized agents approved by State Police are also charged $26 for each report but until July 1, 2013, State Police did not charge a fee to local law enforcement agencies. To circumvent the $26 charge for each report, Lagniappe and Castillo simply routed its requests through the DPSO, which was not charged for the reports. For that privilege, the company paid the sheriff’s office $3 while charging clients $12 for each reported generated through the DPSO, the audit report said.

State Police records indicate that during the 11-month period from April 1, 2012 through Feb. 28, 2013, all local law enforcement agencies statewide combined to run 91,074 background checks. Of that number, 65,174 (72 percent) were ordered by DPSO. The 41,574 ordered by Lagniappe and Castillo represented 63.8 percent of the total run by DPSO. Arbuckle said his office averaged 200 to 300 background checks per day.

“During the audit period, Mr. Davidson’s company paid DPSO more than $124,000 ($124,722) for information that we understand his company sold to private clients for nearly a half a million dollars,” ($498,888) the audit says. “Because Mr. Davidson entered into transactions with the DPSO in which he had a personal, substantial economic interest, he may have violated the state’s ethics laws.”

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Arbuckle’s attorney James R. Sterritt of Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway of Shreveport argued that Davidson, with 50 percent ownership, did not own a “controlling interest” in the company, he committed no wrongdoing.

Nice try. Such creative interpretation of the law might even land him a job representing Gov. Bobby Jindal if Jimmy Faircloth didn’t already that gig.

Sterritt’s legal interpretation notwithstanding, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:1102(8) clearly defines controlling interest as “any ownership in any legal entity…which exceeds 25 percent of that legal entity.”

The audit report also cites a state statute which “prohibits public servants from participating in transactions involving the governmental entity (sheriff’s office) with any legal entity in which the public servant (Deputy Davidson) exercises control or owns an interest in excess of 25 percent (emphasis added) and who by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly the economic interests of such public servant.”

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says the former deputy did nothing wrong.

Thus, the report says, “former DPSO Chief Investigator Robert Davidson’s 50 percent interest in Lagniappe and Castillo was a controlling interest which may have prohibited Lagniappe and Castillo from entering into transactions with the DPSO.”

The audit also cites yet another state statute [R.S. 42:1111(C)(1)(a)] which “prohibits public servants from receiving anything of economic value for any service from a nonpublic source that is similar to the work being done for the public employer.”

The audit report said that since the three employees’ jobs “were to run background checks for the DPSO, this relationship may have violated the state’s ethics law.” The report added that the “vast majority” of the reports “appear to have been performed during on-duty hours, thus contradicting Arbuckle’s contention that the work was done on weekends and on holidays.

But the lawyer for the High Sheriff says that’s okay, too.

The audit report also dismissed Arbuckle’s examples of off-duty deputies working for private concerns such as providing security for businesses. “The instant case differs from the instances cited by Sheriff Arbuckle in that, here, the deputies were performing the same—not similar—services that they are paid to perform in their on-duty jobs.”

The audit report, signed by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, ended with a recommendation that Arbuckle seek further legal guidance (emphasis added).

“We recommend that the DPSO consult with legal counsel and the Louisiana Board of Ethics on the legality of these relationships.

“The DPSO should also adopt detailed ethics policies and procedures, including requiring all employees to complete the annual ethics training in accordance with (state statute) and prohibiting employees from contracting with the DPSO,” it said.

A copy of the audit letter was sent to the Board of Ethics.

Sterritt, meanwhile, assures us that “no one involved understood there to be an ethical violation or that there was a potential for a violation.

“Further, Mr. Davidson has retired and is no longer employed by the DPSO. Accordingly, the relationship in question and the potential for a conflict have terminated.”

While this has the potential of becoming a gravely serious issue for a small community—and it certainly should be considered as such—we can’t help thinking after reading Sterritt’s convoluted (and glaringly faulty) legalese of the half-serious joke about an attorney’s legal response to the claim that his dog had bitten a man as he walked past the lawyer’s home:

“My dog doesn’t bite. I keep my dog inside a fence. I don’t own a dog.”

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A six and one-half-year-old lawsuit has taken a dramatic turn following a Mangham contractor’s claim that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) denied payments for work performed by his company because he resisted shake-down efforts by a DOTD inspector.

Jeff Mercer owner of the now-defunct construction company that bears his name, worked as a subcontractor to several prime contractors on six different projects for which he says he has not been paid. He first filed his lawsuit against DOTD on Sept. 7, 2007, in state district court in Monroe, claiming that the state owes him nearly $9 million for actual work done for which he was never paid, plus interest and delay costs which bring the total to more than $11.6 million.

He raised the stakes when he and three of his employees filed sworn affidavits with the court in which all four say DOTD inspector Willis Jenkins demanded that Mercer either “put some green” in his hand or that Mercer place a new electric generator “under his carport” the following day, Mercer’s affidavit says.

Foreman John Sanderson, carpenter Bennett Tripp and traffic control supervisor Tommy Cox, all employees of Mercer at the time, signed similar affidavits attesting to the same sequence of events in which they each say Jenkins tried to extort either cash or equipment from their boss.

The incident, all four said, occurred in 2007 when Mercer was contracted to perform work on a $79,463 project on Louisville Avenue in Monroe.

“While working on that project,” Sanderson said in his sworn statement, “I was approached by Willis Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins informed me at that time that he could make things difficult on Jeff Mercer, LLC.

“He indicated that this burden would not necessarily be on the Louisville Avenue project but on future jobs awarded to Jeff Mercer, LLC,” Sanderson said. “I replied, ‘You didn’t mean to say that,’” whereupon, Sanderson said, Jenkins repeated his threat. “During that conversation, I heard Willis tell Jeff that he ‘wanted green,’” Sanderson said.

Tripp, in his signed statement which was notarized by Baton Rouge attorney Jennifer Dyess, also said he heard Jenkins tell Mercer he “wanted some green.” He said he also heard Jenkins tell another Mercer employee that Jenkins, pointing to a generator in Tripp’s truck, said he “wanted one of those under his carport.”

Following complaints from Mercer, Jenkins was subsequently removed from the project but Tripp said the shakedown continued when another state official told Mercer employees, “Y’all had my buddy removed and we’re going to make the rest of the job a living hell.”

Cox likewise said he heard Jenkins tell Mercer employees he wanted a generator in his carport. “Willis (Jenkins) further indicated that he “wanted his generator to be new,” or “this could be a long job.”

Mercer, who founded his company in 2003, said that Jenkins approached him and said he needed “to put some green in his hand.” Mercer says in his affidavit that he asked Jenkins to repeat himself, and he did so. “I then replied that ‘I don’t do that,’” Mercer said.

Jenkins responded that Mercer “better do that or you won’t finish this project or any other project in this area.”

During their exchange, Mercer said that Jenkins told him, “This is going to be a long job if I don’t get the green or the generator.”

Mercer said in his sworn statement that he call Jenkins’ supervisor Marshall Hill and advised him of Jenkins’ action. “Marshall advised that he would remove Willis from the Louisville Avenue project,” Mercer said, adding, “Marshall also stated, ‘Off the record, this doesn’t surprise me.’ Shortly thereafter, (Jenkins) was removed from the …project.”

It was after that incident that Mercer’s problems really began, he says. After receiving verbal instructions on the way in which one project was to be done, it was subsequently approved but several days later, DOTD officials, including defendant John Eason, advised that the work was not acceptable.

Work for which Mercer says he has not been paid includes:

  • Two projects on I-49 in Caddo Parish ($1.6 million);
  • A Morehouse Parish bridge project ($7.1 million);
  • Louisville Avenue in Monroe ($79,463);
  • Well Road in West Monroe ($50,568);
  • Airline Drive in Bossier City ($57,818);
  • Brasher Road in LaSalle Parish ($70,139).

Mercer claims in his lawsuit there was collusion among DOTD officials to “make the jobs as costly and difficult as possible” for Mercer.

He claims that DOTD officials provided false information to federal investigators; that he was forced to perform extra work outside the contract specifications; that a prime contractor, T.J. Lambrecht was told if he continued to do business with Mercer, closer inspections would result, and that job specifications were routinely changed which in turn made his work more difficult.

DOTD interoffice emails obtained by LouisianaVoice seem to support Mercer’s claim that he was targeted by DOTD personnel and denied payment on the basis that the agency was within its rights to “just say no.”

One email from DOTD official Barry Lacy which was copied to three other DOTD officials and which stemmed from a dispute over what amount had been paid for a job, made a veiled threat to turn Mercer’s request for payment “to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General.”

Still another suggested that payment should be made on a project “but never paid to Mercer.”

“I did everything they told me to do,” Mercer told LouisianaVoice. “But because I refused to allow one DOTD employee to shake me down, they put me out of business. They took reprisals and they ostracized me and broke me but now I’m fighting back.”

Both Mercer and his Rayville attorney David Doughty indicated they had reported the events to the governor’s office but that no one in the administration had offered to intervene or even investigate his allegations.

It was not immediately clear if the Louisiana Office of Inspector General had been notified of the claims.

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Without belaboring the obvious, several things are simultaneously clear—and puzzling—about the sordid little spittle-swapping episode involving Fifth District Congressman Vance McAllister and his married aide Melissa Peacock, wife of one of McAllister’s erstwhile close friends:

    • Elected on Nov. 16 and sworn in on Nov. 21, it took him only a month and two days—Dec. 23—to get busted in his own office by his own security camera. That has to eclipse any record for infidelity by U.S. Sen. David Vitter and shows that McAllister is dumber than a duck.
    • While some deep smooching doesn’t begin to compare to Vitter’s pillow talk with prostitutes, McAllister has pretty much been deep-sixed in his re-election bid while Vitter somehow remains the odds-on favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor. Vitter’s romps were in the abstract, only written about, while McAllister’s indiscretion was caught on video for all to see in its fuzzy, grainy quality—which only served to make the whole affair a little seamier and a bit more distasteful.
    • Because the video of McAllister and Peacock was taken inside McAllister’s Monroe office, this obviously was an inside job.
    • As pointed out by political analyst Bob Mann, the most aggressive Louisiana journalist today (Lamar White) is a college student living in Texas. Shame on the rest of us. http://cenlamar.com/2014/04/08/why-the-real-scandal-isnt-congressman-vance-mcallisters-philandering/

All of which raises several equally obvious questions, to wit:

    • How was it that The Ouachita Citizen was chosen to break the story on its web page? Citizen Publisher Sam Hanna, Jr., said the video was sent anonymously to his office. But why not the much larger-circulation Monroe News-Star where the story would have received much wider circulation?
    • Why did the anonymous video donor wait more than three months to send the package to Hanna?
    • Was this video shot from a surveillance camera or a cellphone positioned for the sole purpose of entrapping McAllister?
    • Were any federal laws broken by the person or persons who made the video and/or removed it from the office of a U.S. congressman?
    • Who would stand to gain the most from shooting the video—and releasing it at this particular point in time?

Taking the last question first, the most obvious answer would be a potential Democrat positioning himself to run against McAllister next fall. But how would such a person have access to McAllister’s office to either plant or remove the video? And how would that person know of the supposed relationship between McAllister and Peacock?

There is some speculation that the fingerprints of Timmy Teepell, the OnMessage guru of Gov. Bobby Jindal, were all over this little operation. Jindal, after all, supported State Sen. Neil Riser to succeed former Congressman Rodney Alexander who was appointed by Jindal to head the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs. McAllister has embraced—sort of—the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that must surely have rankled the Jindalites who have been adamantly opposed to Obamacare since day one.

McAllister retained several of Alexander’s staff members, including Alexander’s former Chief of Staff Adam Terry who admitted he was “crushed” and “pained” that his former boss retired halfway through his term and did not anoint him as heir-apparent, choosing instead to endorse State Sen. Neil Riser. Terry is now McAllister’s chief of staff and some observers say he has never taken his eye off the brass ring—the goal of one day occupying Alexander’s old House seat.

Throwing a monkey wrench into all the speculative machinery is McAllister’s minister who points the finger at McAllister’s Monroe District Officer manager Leah Gordon, also a former member of Alexander’s staff.

The minister, Danny Chance, claimed that Gordon said she was going to take the video to State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), a Jindal ally, and to Jonathan Johnson, who previously worked for Alexander. Both men campaigned for Riser and both have denied any involvement with the video’s release. Gordon also has denied Chance’s allegation.

Chance made his claim to the Monroe News-Star. http://www.thenewsstar.com/article/20140408/NEWS01/304080023/Pastor-says-McAllister-staffer-leaked-video

It would appear, as reported by White on cenlarmar.com, that the footage was obtained by the strategic placement of a cellphone camera directed at the office’s surveillance video monitor, a tactic that would have required careful planning and forethought. Left unanswered, however, is how the perpetrator knew that McAllister and Peacock would pause at the exact spot where the camera would catch them in their amorous embrace. And knowing that a cellphone can video only for short durations, the timing here for starting the recording is key.

Speaking of which, if one watches the video closely, there are a couple of suggestions of a staged act; as the couple reaches the strategic spot for the video, it appears that it is Peacock who makes the first subtle move toward McAllister, not vice-versa. Not that this in any way excuses McAllister for his stupidity or for his lack of judgment, but it all seems just a bit too contrived to be purely coincidental.

To the question of whether or not any laws were broken, the answer is quite clear: it is a felony to bug a federal office. Period.

As for why the video was leaked to The Ouachita Citizen, suffice it to say that Hanna, in his publication, endorsed Riser in last fall’s election and has made no secret of his opposition to Obamacare and by association, McAllister.

And the timing of its release should be obvious: it’s an election year in Louisiana.

One other question remains: how are the Robertsons over at Duck Dynasty, who actively promote an image of family and church above all else and who endorsed and campaigned for McAllister, going to handle this latest PR gaffe?

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Here’s the political shocker of the year: Gov. Bobby Jindal says that the Republican Party would be better off selecting a governor as its 2016 presidential nominee.

Wow. Who saw that coming?

Jindal might wish to ask former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney how that scenario worked out for him.

Wonder how Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida feel about that little snub?

Better yet, wonder who he had in mind? Gosh, there are so many: Chris Christie of New Jersey, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and Rick Perry of Texas whom Jindal was quick to endorse a couple of years ago before Perry’s political machine sputtered and died on some lonely back road. Then there are those former governors Jeb Bush of Florida, Mike Huckabee of neighboring Arkansas, and Sarah what’s-her-name up there in Alaska.

Oh, right. We almost forgot because well…he’s just so forgettable, but there’s also Jindal who recently placed about 12th in a 10-person straw poll at that wild-eyed, frothing-at-the-mouth Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

But he’s running. You betcha (sorry, Palin, we couldn’t resist). He is so intent in his as yet unannounced candidacy that he has already drafted his own plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Presidential candidates are usually expected to exhibit voter empathy and to be spellbinding orators who are capable of mesmerizing of voters en masse. John Kennedy comes immediately to mind. So do Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. I mean, after Clinton took two steps toward that audience member in his debate against President Bush the First in 1992 and said, “I feel your pain,” Bush never had a chance. Clinton looked that voter dead in the eye and spoke one-on-one as Bush was checking his watch.

Jindal has all the empathy of Don Rickles, but without the charisma.

As for oratory skills, to borrow a line from a recent Dilbert comic strip, he should be called the plant killer: when he speaks, every plant in the room dies from sheer boredom.

So much for his strong points: let’s discuss his shortcomings.

Jindal believes—is convinced—he is presidential timber. The truth is he has been a dismal failure at running a state for the past six years and he’s already written off the final two as he ramps up his campaign for POTUS.

Yes, we’ve been beset by hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav. Yes, we had the BP spill. All of those provided Jindal valuable face time on national TV and still he trails the pack and when you’re not the lead dog in the race, the view never changes.

Because of those catastrophes, the state has been the recipient of billions of federal dollars for recovery. Nine years later, Jindal cronies still hold multi-million contracts (funded by FEMA) to oversee “recovery” that is painfully slow. The state received hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild schools in New Orleans. Construction on many of those schools has yet to commence. The money is there but there are no schools. (Correction: Largely white Catholic schools have received state funding and those facilities are up and running.)

Jindal tried to restructure the state’s retirement system—and failed. Yes, the retirement systems have huge unfunded liabilities but Jindal’s solution was to pull the rug from under hard-working civil servants (who by and large, do make less than their counterparts in the private sector: you can look it up, in the words of Casey Stengel). As an example, one person whom we know was planning to retire after 30 years. At her present salary, if she never gets another raise over the final eight years she plans to work, her retirement would be $39,000 per year.

Under Jindal’s proposed plan, if she retired after 30 years, her retirement would have been $6,000—a $33,000-a-year hit. And state employees do not receive social security.

Never mind that state employees have what in essence is a contract: he was going to ram it down their throats anyway—until the courts told him he was going to do no such thing.

He has gutted higher education and his support of the repeal of the Stelly Plan immediately after taking office has cost the state a minimum of $300 million a year—$1.8 billion during his first six years in office.

He even vetoed a renewal of a 5-cent per pack cigarette tax because he opposed any new taxes (try following that logic). The legislature, after failing to override his veto, was forced to pass a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to make the tax permanent. Voters easily approved the amendment.

Then there was the matter of the Minimum Foundation Program, the funding formula for public schools. Funds were going to be taken from the MFP to fund school vouchers until the courts said uh-uh, you ain’t doing that either.

Jindal’s puppets, the LSU Board of Stuporvisors, fired the school’s president and two outstanding and widely admired doctors—all because they didn’t jump on board Jindal’s and the board’s LSU hospital privatization plan. Then the stuporvisors voted to turn two LSU medical facilities in Shreveport and Monroe over to a foundation run by a member of the stuporvisors—and the member cast a vote on the decision. No conflict of interest there.

Six months after the transition, the Center for Medicare Medicaid Services (CMS) has yet to approve the transition and if it ultimately does not approve it, there will be gnashing of hands and wringing of teeth in Baton Rouge (That’s right: the administration won’t be able to do that correctly, either) because of the millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding that the state will not get or will have to repay. Jindal will, of course, label such decision as “wrong-headed,” which is an intellectual term he learned as a Rhodes Scholar.

And from what we hear, his little experiment at privatizing Southeast Louisiana Hospital (SELH) in Mandeville by bringing in Magellan to run the facility isn’t fairing too well, either.

By the way, has anyone seen Jindal at even one of those north Louisiana Protestant churches since his re-election? Didn’t think so.

For some reason, the word repulsive keeps coming to mind as this is being written.

Jindal’s firings and demotions are too many to rehash here but if you want to refresh your memory, go to this link: http://louisianavoice.com/category/teague/

The LSU Board of Stuporvisors, by the way, even attempted to prevent a release of a list of potential candidates for the LSU presidency. One might expect that member Rolf McCollister, a publisher (Baton Rouge Business Report), would stand up for freedom of the press, for freedom of information and for transparency. One would be wrong. He joined the rest of the board to unanimously try to block release. Again, led as usual by legal counsel Jimmy Faircloth who has been paid more than $1 million to defend these dogs (dogs being the name given to terrible, indefensible legal cases), Jindal was shot down in flames by the courts and the Board of Stuporvisors is currently on the hook for some $50,000 in legally mandated penalties for failing to comply with the state’s public records laws.

It would be bad enough if the administration’s legal woes were limited to the cases already mentioned. But there is another that while less costly, is far more embarrassing to Jindal if indeed, he is even capable of embarrassment at this point (which he probably is not because it’s so hard to be humble when you’re right all the time).

In a story we broke more than a year ago, former state Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner Murphy Painter refused to knuckle under to Tom Benson and Jindal when Benson’s application for a liquor license for Champions Square was incomplete both times it was submitted. Budweiser even offered an enticement for gaining approval of a large tent and signage it wanted to erect in Champions Square for Saints tailgate parties: a $300,000 “contribution” to the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome), whose board is heavily stacked with Jindal campaign contributors.

http://louisianavoice.com/2012/09/04/new-lsu-teaguing-by-%CF%80-yush-may-be-imminent-raymond-lamonica-rumored-on-way-out-as-system-general-counsel/

And:

http://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/page/3/

Jindal fired Painter. Because firing him for doing his job might be bad press, more solid grounds were sought and Painter was subsequently arrested for sexual harassment of a female employee and of using a state computer database to look up personal information on people not tied to any criminal investigation (something his successor Troy Hebert ordered done on LouisianaVoice Publisher Tom Aswell).

The female employee recanted but Painter nevertheless was put on trial and once more the Jindalites were embarrassed when Painter was acquitted on all 29 counts. Unanimously.

But wait. When a public official is tried—and acquitted—for offenses allegedly committed during the scope of his duties (the Latin phrase is “in copum official actuum”) then Louisiana law permits that official to be reimbursed for legal expenses.

In this case, Jindal’s attempt to throw a state official under the bus for the benefit of a major campaign donor (Benson and various family members), will wind up costing the state $474,000 for Painter’s legal fees and expenses, plus any outstanding bills for which he has yet to be invoiced.

So, after all is said and done, Jindal still believes he is qualified for the highest office in the land. He is convinced he should be elevated to the most powerful position in the world. If he has his way, it won’t be an inauguration; it’ll be a coronation.

So intoxicated by the very thought of occupying the White House is he that he has presumed to author a 26-page white paper that not only critiques Obamacare but apparently details his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Could that qualify as another exorcism on his part?

His epiphany, however, appears to be more akin to the Goldfinch that regurgitates food for its young nestlings than anything really new; it’s just a rehash of old ideas, it turns out.

During his entire administration—and even when he served as Gov. Mike Foster’s Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals—he devoted every waking moment to cutting Medicaid and depriving Louisiana’s poor citizens of health care. Even as head of DHH, according to campaign ads aired on the eve of the 2003 gubernatorial election, he made a decision which proved fatal to a Medicaid patient. That one campaign ad was aired so close to the election date that he was unable to respond and it no doubt contributed to his losing the election to then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco but he won four years later.

Nevertheless, his sudden interest in national health care prompts the obvious question: where the hell has he been for six years?

Not that we would for a moment believe that his newfound concern for healthcare is for political expedience but he apparently isn’t stopping there as he sets out to save the nation.

“This (health care plan) is the first in a series of policies I will offer through America Next (his newly established web page he expects to catapult him into the White House) over the course of this year,” he said.

We can hardly wait.

 

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An interesting civil trial is transpiring at the 19th Judicial District Court. Though estimates vary, if the plaintiffs prevail, about one taxpayer in five in the Greater Baton Rouge area may eventually wind up with a surprise check in the mail.

The trial involves a group of taxpayers, now represented as a class, who have sued the Amite River Basin Commission (ARBC) over what they claim are vastly overpaid property taxes covering construction of the Comite River Diversion Canal. The project was originally envisioned after the massive 1983 flood which resulted in significant backwater flooding long after rains had stopped. The concept behind the project involves providing a sort of relief valve (the Canal) to divert water from the Comite River into the Mississippi River. By lowering the water level of the Comite River, water levels would also be lowered in the Amite River basin in flood-prone areas such as Port Vincent and French Settlement.

What is in dispute is the amount of funding for which the ARBC (through local property owners) is responsible. The original estimate of the project’s construction costs was approximately $120 million (the current estimate is $199 million). Of that $120 million, the Army Corps of Engineers (through the Federal government) was to be responsible for 70% of the construction costs, or $84 million. The remaining $36 million cost was originally designated to be $30 million to the State of Louisiana, and $6 million to the ARBC.

A sidebar to the whole affair is how a Baton Rouge lawyer is legally or ethically able to represent ARBC when he also served as the plaintiff attorney in litigation against the state that could ultimately cost the state from $60 million to $70 million.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated that $6 million was the full extent of the construction costs for which the ARBC was responsible. To date, by way of a 3-mill property tax approved by voters in the District in 2000, combined with a renewal (at 2.65 mills) of that tax in 2010, plaintiff attorneys say about $24.5 million has been collected to date. The suit seeks a refund of the alleged $18.5 million overpayment.

At various stages in the trial, plaintiff attorneys have accused ARBC Executive Director Deitmar Rietschier of financial mismanagement and voter deception in order to “keep a project alive that is on life support.”

The attorneys have argued that Rietschier has an ulterior motive for over-collecting on the tax in order to fund his own $93,000+ annual salary along with his executive secretary’s $38,000 salary.  The board’s executive secretary, Toni Guitrau, also happens to be the Mayor of the Livingston Parish Village of French Settlement.

So, basically, the trial boils down to the claim that taxpayers of the district have been tricked into paying around $1.1 million in salaries for Rietschier and Guitrau during a period for which no funding has been appropriated for the project’s continued construction.

Plaintiff attorney Steve Irving argued that it is virtually impossible to accurately estimate the final cost of the project or if, it may even be completed.

Defense attorney Larry Bankston says there never was any intent to cap the ARBC’s contribution to construction costs at $6 million. He argues that the Canal project remains viable and is fully ongoing. He indicated that he has eight more witnesses to call.

Bankston’s roles as both plaintiff and defense attorney in cases involving the state would appear to pose a conflict of interests. Currently, he is:

  • Legal counsel to the State Auctioneer Licensing Board under a $25,000 contract;
  • Defense attorney for ARBC in its ongoing litigation over the overpayment of taxes to that board;
  • Plaintiff attorney in ongoing litigation against the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, and the state’s Rice Promotion Board and Rice Research Board over claims of excessive assessments against the state’s rice farmers.

Employing the doctrine that “the state is the state is the state,” it would appear that Bankston may have a conflict of interests under the code of ethics which governs attorney representation.

But as we discovered years ago, nothing is ever cut and dried in the legal world. And it’s obvious those in charge of attorney ethics or either ignorant of the subject or protective of their peers—or both.

And so it is with this question. We contacted a number of organizations, including the Attorney Disciplinary Board, the Louisiana Civil Justice Center, and the State Bar Ethics Council and each one punted. Eric K. Barefield of the State Bar Association’s Ethics Council did finally respond to our email question about the propriety of working both sides of Litigation Street but his answer did little to shed light on the issue:

“Thank you for your inquiry. The Louisiana State Bar Association’s Ethics Advisory Service is designed to provide eligible Louisiana-licensed lawyers with informal, non-binding advice regarding their own prospective conduct and/or ethical dilemmas under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct (the “LRPC”).  According to limitations set by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, we are not permitted to evaluate contemplated disciplinary complaints, to serve as the catalyst for potential complaints or even to comment on the conduct of lawyers other than that of the requesting lawyer. 

“As such, regrettably, we are not permitted to help you evaluate whether the lawyer in your scenario has or may be violating the LRPC nor are we permitted to give you legal advice on matters such as those contained in your e-mail. 

“In addition to the foregoing, if you are concerned about protecting and/or asserting your rights and interests in this matter, perhaps you should strongly consider consulting another lawyer as soon as possible with regard to getting an evaluation of your facts and a legal opinion about your rights, interests and options.  Regrettably, no one on the staff at the LSBA is permitted to offer legal assistance and/or legal advice.”

That rendition of the Bureaucratic Shuffle would easily get a “10″ rating on Dancing with the Stars.

Bankston, you may remember, is a former staff attorney for the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, was assistant parish attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish and a member of the Baton Rouge City-Parish Commission before his 1987 election to the Louisiana State Senate.

In 1994, while serving as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bankston met in his law office with Fred Goodson, owner of a Slidell video poker truck stop. The FBI later said Bankston and Goodson discussed a plan to manipulate the legislative process in order to protect the interests of video poker companies in exchange for providing key legislators secret financial interests in video poker truck stops.

Bankston was subsequently indicted and convicted on two racketeering counts, one of which was a scheme whereby Goodson would pay Bankston “rent” of $1,555 per month for “non-use” of Bankston’s beachfront condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama—a bribe, according to prosecutors.

Bankston was sentenced to 41 months in prison in 1997 and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine.

Released on Nov. 6, 2000, Bankston was subsequently disbarred by the Louisiana Supreme Court on Mar. 9, 2002, retroactive to Nov. 19, 1997, but was re-admitted to practice law on Feb. 5, 2004.

So, now he represents two state boards and is suing two others and a state agency.

And there apparently is no one who can—or will—call a foul in this game.

 

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On Dec. 7, 2010, Discovery Education, a division of Discovery Communications, announced that Louisiana and Indiana had joined Oregon in adopting the Discovery Education Science Techbook as a digital core instructional resource for elementary and middle school science instruction. https://www.discoveryeducation.com/aboutus/newsArticle.cfm?news_id=663

Thanks to a sharp-eyed researcher, Sissy West, who writes a blog opposing the Common Core curriculum, we have learned that on Nov. 30, seven days before the deal between the state and Discovery Education was made public, State Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) purchased Discovery Communications stock, according to financial disclosure records filed with the State Ethics Board. http://nomorecommoncorelouisiana.blogspot.com/2014/03/crisis-of-confidence.html

Appel is a major proponent of education reform in Louisiana, including the controversial Common Core curriculum.

He also is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee and was in a unique position to know not only of the pending deal between Discovery Education and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) as well as the company’s agreement with Indiana and Oregon, as well as Texas and Florida.

The Discovery Education Techbook is touted as a “Core Interactive Text” (CIT) that “separates static text from a fully digital resource.” http://www.discoveryeducation.com/administrators/curricular-resources/techbook/K-8-Science-digital-textbook/index.cfm

Appel’s financial disclosure form indicates his Discovery Communications stock purchase was between $5,000 and $24,999. APPEL REPORT PDF

Discovery Communications is traded on NASDAQ and on the date of Appel’s purchase, the company’s shares opened at $40.96 and closed at $40.78.

And while there was no significant movement in the stock’s prices on the date of and the days following Discovery’s announcement of the agreement with BESE, the stock hit a high of $90.21 per share on Jan. 2 of this year, meaning Appel’s profit over a little more than three years, on paper, was in excess of 100 percent. Put another way, he doubled his investment in three years. The stock closed on Thursday (March 27) at $75.72, still an overall gain of 85 percent Appel.

The most significant thing about Appel’s Nov. 30, 2010, purchase of the Discovery Communications stock is the volume of shares traded on that date. More than 7.5 million shares of Discovery Communications stock were traded that day, more than double the next highest single day volume of 3.1 million shares on Aug. 1, 2011. Daily trading volume generally ran between 1.1 million and 1.9 million shares in a monthly review from December 2010 through March of this year. http://finance.yahoo.com/q/hp?s=DISCA&a=10&b=30&c=2010&d=02&e=28&f=2014&g=m

While there is no way to know with any certainty, it is possible that the Discovery Education’s Techbook deals contributed to the surge of trading activity on Nov. 30.

Appel’s 2012 financial report reveals that he also purchased between $5,000 and $24,999 of Microsoft stock on June 4, 2012, the same date that the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its 85-day session. MICROSOFT

Ten days earlier, on May 25, the Louisiana Legislature approved the implementation of Common Core in Louisiana after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation poured more than $200 million to develop, review, evaluate, promote and implement Common Core.

www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database

And while no one is suggesting that Appel is involved in any type of illicit behavior or insider trading, the timing of his stock purchases might raise a few eyebrows. It could appear to some as more than coincidental—and ill-advised—that such transactions and official state actions would occur in so close a timeframe not once, but twice, and would involve a single individual who promoted Common Core legislation and who served as chairman of a key legislative committee that dealt with education issues.

Perception, as they say, is everything.

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“The record is replete with instances in which Mr. Begue acted as prosecutor throughout the proceedings, and at times, simultaneously acted as prosecutor, panel member and independent counsel—even ruling on his own objection.”

—Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal unanimous decision on Sept. 26, 2012, to reverse the the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry’s 2010 revocation of the license of Shreveport dentist Dr. C. Ryan Haygood.

“Based upon our review of the record, we find that Mr. Begue’s functions of general counsel, independent counsel, prosecutor and fact-finder were so interwoven that they became indistinguishable, which created the appearance of impropriety and deprived the proceedings of the imperative and fundamental appearance of fairness. Therefore, the board’s decision to revoke Dr. Haygood’s license must be reversed.”

—Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, in that same decision.

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