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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

 

LouisianaVoice needs your support—moral and financial—now more than ever.

The trial on our lawsuit against the Division of Administration begins on Monday (May 4) as we try to hold the administration accountable on the production of public records so that we may keep you informed on events as they take place.

Unfortunately, this administration is trying to see to it—deliberately, we are convinced, that we are not able to provide vital information about the machinations of your state government in a timely manner.

We have already told you about the records request we submitted simultaneously with an identical request by the House Legislative Service Office. The legislature got its records—the same ones we requested—within 10 days; we didn’t get ours until three months later and then only after we filed our lawsuit.

The Division of Administration (DOA) is currently sitting on another request or ours. We again made simultaneously requests of DOA and an office under DOA. The office in question responded with the records within three days or our request. It’s been nearly two weeks and we’re still waiting for DOA to comply.

This is the battle we fight almost daily with the Jindal administration—and they have said in their response to our lawsuit that they do not deliberately delay complying with our requests, that they do not single us out for delay.

That simply does not square with what a former DOA employee told us: DOA routinely gets our requested records and simply stacks them in a corner for weeks at a time before notifying us that we may inspect them.

DOA has—and continues to—open defy us in violation of the state’s public records laws (R.S. 44:1 et seq.).

But even more absurd, in its response to our petition, DOA claims that I have not suffered monetary loss, so the court should not assess damages against the state. That is in direct contradiction to the statute which sets fines of $100 per day for non-compliance. Period. The statute makes no mention of any requirement that the one requesting the records suffer monetary loss as a prerequisite for the assessment of a fine.

Were it not for quick access to the legislature’s public records (which are readily available, with no delay tactics or word games) by LouisianaVoice, that $55,000-a-year retirement pay raise for State Police Col. Mike Edmonson would have gone through.

Were it not for acquisition of public records from the Department of Education (in another, successful lawsuit) by LouisianaVoice, private records of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana public school students would have been made available to Rupert Murdoch of Fox News.

This is what we do.

And it costs money and untold hours of dogged research.

To continue our legal fight, we need your help.

If we win on Monday, DOA is certain to appeal.

If DOA wins, we most certainly will appeal. They believe they can starve us out with legal costs but we won’t back down.

Either way, the costs are going to continue to climb from what we’ve already laid out in expenses.

Please click on the Donate Button with Credit Cards button (not here, but near the top right part of our web page) to donate by credit card.

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Whichever way you choose to contribute, your help in our fight to make state government more transparent and accountable is both needed and appreciated.

Thank you.

Tom Aswell, editor

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By MIKE STAGG (Independent filmmaker, citizen activist, political strategist – Special to LouisianaVoice)

For the past seven years, as Louisiana has lurched from one fiscal crisis to another, the State of Louisiana has paid the oil and gas industry $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Despite that massive transfer of public wealth into private hands, the oil and gas industry used its influence inside the Department of Natural Resources and the Jindal administration, to limit—and for three years shut down—audits that would have revealed whether the industry’s severance taxes and royalty payments to the state were accurate.

These facts have been hiding in plain sight, contained in five performance audits of the Department of Natural Resources and the Louisiana Department of Revenue conducted by the Legislative Auditor since 2010. Two of those audits focused on royalty collections from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms. Another focused on severance tax collections; yet another dealt with mineral leases handled by the State Mineral and Energy board, while the fifth audit examined how the Office of Conservation has handled the orphaned and abandoned well cleanup program.

The cozy relationship between DNR and the oil and gas industry is explicit in the department’s regulation of the industry. That coziness, when extended to state finances, has proven disastrous for the Louisiana treasury and its residents. DNR is responsible for collecting oil and gas royalties, which account for roughly seven percent of state General Fund dollars, or approximately $800 million per year.

For a three-year period, between July 2010 and July 2013, DNR had jurisdiction to determine the accuracy of severance taxes and royalty payments.

And DNR let industry have its way.

Audits on royalty revenue dropped. Audits on severance tax revenue all but stopped, even as the state’s financial condition continued to worsen. In short, when it came to providing rigorous oversight to ensure that the royalty and severance tax payments were accurate, DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources deferred to the oil and gas industry while programs that serve the citizens of Louisiana were cut, primarily in healthcare and higher education, the unprotected portions of the state General Fund.

DNR’s relationship with the oil and gas industry is a blatant example of regulatory capture. Regulatory Capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when an agency, created to act in the public interest, advances instead the special concerns of the industry it is charged to regulate.

Severance taxes are the constitutional expression of our, as Louisiana citizens, shared claim on our state’s vast mineral wealth. Exempting severance taxes negates the public claim on that mineral wealth and undermines our ability to invest in ourselves as a state.

Severance tax exemptions are direct payments from the state to the oil and gas producers after the companies have submitted their exemption certificates. Royalties are the property owners’ share of the proceeds from the sale of oil and gas produced from wells on their land. For purposes of this story, royalties are the state’s share of the revenue from oil and gas produced on state-owned lands and water bottoms after severance taxes have been paid.

Since the mid-1980s, Louisiana Department of Revenue has published an annual report on tax exemptions called “The Tax Exemption Budget.” In that document, the department identifies each tax exemption and quantifies the cost of each exemption to the state.

It makes clear that tax exemptions are in fact a spending of state funds — here’s how the LDR explains it in every report: “Tax exemptions are tax dollars that are not collected and result in a loss of state tax revenues available for appropriation. In this sense, the fiscal effect of tax exemptions is the same as a direct fund expenditure.”

Between 2008 and 2014, according to the Tax Exemption Budget, the State of Louisiana paid oil and gas companies more than $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemptions. Those checks went out at the exact same time that our legislature cut funding for programs like aid to families of children with disabilities, behavioral health programs, home health care, and programs that assisted victims of domestic violence. During that same period, state funding for higher education was also cut by more than $700 million as the tuition and fees paid by those attending technical colleges, community colleges, and state universities were jacked up to cover the difference.

The first performance audit on royalty collections was released in July 2010. Royaltieshttps://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/B6B5DE331E9D48818625776E005CFDA5/$FILE/00018070.pdf The Legislative Auditor found that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources took a lackadaisical approach to verifying the accuracy of royalty payments from the 1,888 active mineral leases on state-owned lands and water bottoms.

The Legislative Auditor noted that severance taxes and royalties are connected, that both are dependent on the amount of oil and gas produced, as well as the price of the resource.

Desk audits compared the volume of oil and gas sold to the volume of oil and gas produced, which ensures that royalty payments are properly calculated. These audits also help ensure that production wells on state lands are submitting properly calculated royalty payments.

The Legislative Auditor found that the Office of Mineral Resources (OMR) had not conducted a single such audit in a decade. Despite the Auditor’s recommendation that it resume these audits, OMR waited another three years before getting around to doing so.

The Legislative Auditor also found that OMR did not compare royalty reports against severance tax reports filed with the state Department of Revenue, nor did it compare royalty reports to production reports submitted elsewhere in DNR.

In its response to the Legislative Auditor’s Royalty performance audit findings, on June 24, 2010, DNR announced that “As part of the Streamlining Commission’s recommendations, OMR will take over LDRs severance tax field audit program and the two audits will be integrated beginning July 1, 2010.”

In September of 2013, the Legislative Auditor released a follow-up performance audit on royalty collections. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/DB918AD8E33411F286257B490074B82A/$FILE/00031C97.pdf

The auditors were dismayed to find that the revenue produced by OMR’s audits had fallen below the levels reported in 2010.

The Auditor also found that that the State Mineral and Energy Board had waived 45% of the $12.8 million in penalties that were assessed against companies by OMR for late payment of royalties.

Neither the Office of Mineral Resources nor the State Mineral and Energy Board seemed at all concerned about the fiscal impact their indifference to generating revenue had on the programs that Louisiana residents depend on. Their primary concern was with not inconveniencing their friends in the oil and gas industry.

The Legislative Auditor conducted an audit on severance tax collection procedures in the

Louisiana Department of Revenue in 2013 but, because severance tax audit functions had been transferred to the DNR in 2010, auditors had to return to the Office of Mineral Resources close on the heels of the second royalty collections audit. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/AC044A6D3709B90C86257BE30065348B/$FILE/000351F7.pdf

In this audit, the Legislative Auditor found that oil and gas industry complaints about the LDR’s use of GenTax software (which identified possible nonpayers of severance taxes) led first, to LDR shutting off the software, and second, audit power being transferred to DNR.

The scale of the oil and gas production not audited as a result of that shift was staggering. DNR’s field audits ignored oil and gas production on private lands — which comprises 98.1% of all oil and gas leases in Louisiana — for a three-year period.

Revenue from severance tax audits fell 99.8% from the levels produced by the Department of Revenue once responsibility was transferred to the Office of Mineral Resources. The actual dollar amount fell from $26 Million in 2010 to $40,729 in Fiscal Year 2012.

For the three-year period that DNR’s Office of Mineral Resources had responsibility for severance tax audits, the industry essentially operated under an honor system.

Prior history shows why this was a problem. In the late 1990s, the Mike Foster administration filed lawsuits against more than 20 oil and gas companies claiming they had shortchanged the state by as much as $100 million on severance tax payments. Now, for three years as recurring revenue shortfalls continued, the Office of Mineral Resources ignored that history.

During this time, the Haynesville Trend emerged as the most productive shale gas field in the country.

Even though the severance tax exemption on horizontal drilling meant that the state was denied severance tax revenue for much of that play, companies still managed to game the exemption system at taxpayer expense.

Under the rules for severance tax exemptions, the state pays back the taxes already paid once it receives the exemption certificate from the company — plus “Judicial Interest” which in the period covered by the audit averaged about 4.5%.

That is, the state had to dip into non-exempt severance tax payments in order to cover the interest costs on those certificates that the companies chose to sit on for several months.

The Audit found that over the course of four fiscal years running from 2009 through 2012, the Department of Revenue issued 13,818 severance tax refund checks totaling $360,190,583. An extra $23,859,012 in interest was tacked on to that. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/CF6244B77E3A958686257C30005E80B1/$FILE/000368DA.pdf

In addition, the Auditor found that the Department of Revenue overpaid severance tax exemption refunds by $12.9 million between July 2010 and May 2012.

The decline in audit revenue, the interest paid to companies on the gaming of the severance tax exemption process, the overpayment of severance tax exemption refunds, the decision by the State Mineral and Energy Board to waive 45% of fines for late payment of royalties combined to benefit the industry at taxpayer expense to the tune of $68 million.

These gifts to the oil and gas industry were made at a time when the industry was already receiving $2.4 Billion in tax exemptions and at a time when every dollar the state did not collect translated into a cut to programs that Louisiana residents depended on.

The Auditor also pointed out that hiring additional auditors within DNR and LDR would produce a great return on the state’s investment. Each auditor costs a department between $50,000 and $60,000 per year, but they bring in an average of $1.3 million per year. LDR said it had requested additional auditors in its budgets but they were never approved by the Jindal administration.

Oil and gas companies control all of the information used in the severance tax and royalty payment process. The industry has used this power to its advantage and to the state’s detriment.

Vigilant auditing can close that information gap.

The Office of Mineral Resources has shown little interest in that kind of work. DNR’s abdication of its oversight role on royalty revenue has had an outsized impact on Louisiana because of the role that revenue plays in state finances. When added to the three-year period when DNR failed to perform severance tax audits, the agency has likely cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the past seven years.

That is corruption.

Not all of this went unnoticed. In the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Rick Gallot (D-Ruston) and Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) introduced concurrent resolutions to order LDR, DNR and the Legislative Auditor to agree upon a means to conduct a thorough audit of oil and gas production, severance taxes and royalty payments. Gallot’s resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 35-0. https://app.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/D6A0EBE279B83B9F86257CE700506EAD/$FILE/000010BC.pdf

But by the time the resolution reached the House floor in early June, the oil and gas industry and the Jindal administration recognized the threat the audit posed, so they joined forces to kill it. SCR 142

The resolution had to be killed to keep the secret.

In the midst of a prolonged and deepening fiscal crisis, the Jindal administration and the industry did not want legislators and the public to question whether the severance taxes and royalties paid to the state were accurately calculated.

The Department of Natural Resources betrayed the trust of the people of this state. It failed its fiduciary responsibility twice; first, as collector of royalty payments, and again during the time it served as chief auditor of severance tax collections. It has repeatedly put the needs of the industry above the needs of the people of this state.

For the oil and gas industry, $2.4 Billion in severance tax exemption payments were not enough. Its greed is so great that, in a time of fiscal constraints on state government, it went out of its way to cheat the state out of still more money. It used its power and influence in the Department of Natural Resources and its ties to the Jindal administration to do so.

By these acts, the oil and gas industry has shown itself to be unworthy of the trust we have placed in it.

For Looting Louisiana in our time of fiscal need, the oil and gas industry must be stripped of its severance tax exemptions. Under the Louisiana Constitution, we are entitled to the full benefits of this state’s mineral wealth.

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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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Editor’s note: Normally, we do not make a practice of publishing letters from readers as a guest column. But in this case, we make an exception because we were struck by the manner in which this writer expressed his concern for our state. With only minor editing for punctuation, syntax, etc., we offer here an essay written by a retired state employee now living in Pointe Coupee Parish.

By Kerry Phillips (Special to LouisianaVoice)

After reading this article:  http://louisianavoice.com/2015/04/24/it-wasnt-the-best-week-for-louisiana-as-state-hit-with-triple-whammy-at-least-no-1-lsu-beat-no-2-tex-am-in-baseball/,  and this article: http://bobmannblog.com/2015/04/24/for-jindal-if-the-choice-is-tax-hikes-vs-closing-lsu-its-bye-bye-lsu/, and after watching The Ed Show on April 24 on MSNBC regarding Jindal’s religious freedom bill and how he is truly now a national joke…..and finally, after reading Bobby Jindal’s op-ed in The New York Times, and not hearing anything about any of this in the news with the exception of a small article in The Advocate on the OGB fiasco, I have to say that as much as we love this great state of Louisiana, the heritage, the diversity, the culture, the beauty this state has to offer with many aspects, we will be moving AWAY from this state as soon as we possibly can.

We are at the bottom of every list possible nationwide, and thank God this info is getting out nationwide. We are a laughing stock. And I am sad. Sad for my state. Sad for the people, the young, elderly, poor, government workers, fire fighters, teachers. Should I go on?

I was born here.  I was born in Baton Rouge and attended fantastic schools there. I went to college in this state. I worked for over 30 years as a state employee. I was so proud when I first got my voter’s registration card and I have voted in every election. I retired, thinking my state would honor the commitments they made to me throughout my career.

Sadly, it seems I was fooled.

To know that our legislators are basically bought and paid for by lobbyists and special interests groups who truly have no interest in our state that we call paradise is sad. We have always been known nationwide as a “banana republic.” Now I see why.

No one should say that our citizens move away from this state because of a lack of jobs. They now move away because of this cruel joke that has been perpetrated on us by a handful of people within the last decade. None of these people even care about this state, our education, our colleges, our government workers, our healthcare, etc. What we’re seeing is robbery and pilfering by people who only care about one agenda. And that agenda has nothing to do with the welfare of the citizens of Louisiana. Nor does it have anything to do with our hospitals, our children’s education, or the workers of this state.

So when you turn on the local news and see people with arms folded, waiting and complaining about long lines at their Motor Vehicle offices, thank yourselves. When there is no hospital emergency system available for your loved ones, thank yourselves. When LSU does not exist anymore, God forbid, thank yourselves. When you fail to register your outrage when a contract giving away our state hospitals—with 50 blank pages—only to have the deal rejected by the federal government, thank yourselves.

My family and I plan to move to a more progressive state—to a state where citizens actually live in the current year/century and do not want to take us back to 1915, a state where people want to move forward in a way that benefits all citizens, not just the few. And no, it’s not because of my legislator, who has worked to improve the economy and to help state employees where I live. It’s because I am now becoming ashamed of our state and most of our legislators who helped get us in our current predicament.

I lived in Baton Rouge until we moved to the Central/Greenwell Springs area where I lived for more than 27 years. For the past 15 years, we have lived in Pointe Coupee Parish. And while I’d absolutely hate to leave this state (and it’s an extremely hard choice for me), I do think we’ve made our decision. Our state appears to be done, over with….unless…..our legislators decided to truly quit being Jindal’s lapdog. They need to quit being afraid to buck his system because his system has ruined and bankrupted our state. They need to stop allowing him to be a dictator in this state. He is not our God.

And when religious leaders—from north Louisiana, no less—oppose his religious freedom bill, we welcome their voices. We do not live with the Old Testament laws because with Jesus, a new testament was founded. Do we really want to go back? Are we going to go against what Jesus preached? I’m not. Are we going to allow Jindal’s religious freedom bill to become the hot topic offered only to deflect attention from the real issues, the disasters of his creation: the financial issues we now face that are the direct result of his ineptness?  Come on.

I pray so very hard that all of our legislators, men and women, will grow some courage and principles and do what is right for the whole of this state. I’m not stupid, though. I know legislators get benefits that no average citizen—or state employee—can get.  But, isn’t it time for them to sit back and ask themselves, “Do I really want to sell my soul for some Saints tickets or concert tickets or a fantastic meal at some expensive restaurant? Do I want to sell my soul? Or do I want to do what the citizens of this state want?”  “Do I want to do what Jesus would do?”

Heavy, thought-provoking questions to ask, I know. But, I know what I would do.

This is going to be one of the most historic legislative sessions in this state’s history. It is going to make or break our state. And I am afraid the state is going to break. And the poor, the sick, the elderly will be the ones to suffer.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with people prospering and living a great life. What’s wrong is people prospering and living a great life on the backs of other people.

And so I have this one simple plea for our legislators: For once, do what is right for the whole of the state.  I pray in earnest for that. My friends and I pray hard that the right things will be done. I would love to live here and pass on the culture and treasures this state has to offer to my grandchildren. But, if things continue on as they have for the last decade, we will have to choose differently.

 

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