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To fully understand the lengths to which those in the upper echelons of the Jindal administration will go to punish those—especially subordinates—who dare to cross them, you need look no further than the case the Louisiana State Police hierarchy attempted to build against one of its own.

On Feb. 6, 2010, senior trooper Chris Anderson, assisted by 11-year veteran state trooper Jason LaMarca and two other troopers, Patrick Dunn, and Tim Mannino, stopped a flatbed 18-wheeler on I-12 in Tangipahoa Parish being driven by Alejandro Soliz.

LaMarca, with Anderson’s mobile video recorder (MVR) activated and recording every word and move, patted down Soliz. Finding no weapons on the driver, LaMarca then conducted a search of the truck cab and discovered “several kilos of cocaine,” according to court records.

LaMarca pulled his taser from its holster and he and Dunn approached Soliz, ordering him to get down, according to court records and testimony provided by the State Police Commission. After Soliz, who spoke English, refused to comply with several commands of “Get down,” LaMarca attempted unsuccessfully to re-holster his taser as he continued to approach Soliz.

Transferring the taser to his right hand, he cupped his left hand behind Soliz’s head and pulled him to the ground, according to testimony by LaMarca and the other three troopers, testimony supported by the video recording.

No one was injured, no shots were fired, and there were no complaints, then or later, by Soliz of excessive force.

U.S. District Judge Eldon Fallon, however, reviewed the video and thought he saw LaMarca strike Soliz in the back of the head “with what appears to be a flashlight or similar item.” Judge Fallon added that the recording showed “three other troopers laughing at this act.”

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson (aka “Precious”), upon receiving a letter from the judge, immediately ordered an investigation into the incident—as he should have.

But what occurred next went beyond the pale of disciplinary action by Edmonson and his actions have been attributed by those familiar with the case to an act of retaliation for an earlier confrontation between LaMarca and Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy.

Edmonson notified LaMarca on Nov. 18 that he was “suspended for 12 hours without pay and allowances” as a result of his actions. The cause of his suspension was based, Edmonson said, on the following violations of Louisiana State Police Policy and Procedure:

  • The use of force policy;
  • The use of force reporting policy;
  • Conduct unbecoming an officer.

LaMarca, who had a spotless record in his 11 years, promptly filed an appeal with the State Police Commission, primarily to expunge the suspension from his record. The commission heard testimony from all four officers and reviewed the video recording of the arrest and put down of Soliz before issuing its ruling on Aug. 1, 2011.

In its ruling exonerating LaMarca, the commission noted:

  • Appellant (LaMarca) had nothing in the hand he used to “put the driver on the ground.” Likewise, we do not perceive appellant’s actions, in doing so, to be the use of excessive force. While the driver had been cooperative until the drugs were found, he became uncooperative thereafter and refused numerous orders to get on the ground.
  • While the maneuver used by appellant to take the driver to the ground may not be the one “taught” at the academy, it was effective and did not appear to be the use of “excessive” force.
  • We likewise do not perceive the other troopers to be “laughing” at appellant’s action.
  • As we do not find that appellant violated the “use of force” policy order, he likewise did not violate the “use of force reporting.”

That normally would have ended the matter. No weapons were used, no one was injured, no one complained of excessive force, and the commission found no violations by LaMarca.

But remember, LaMarca had earlier committed that unpardonable sin of arguing vehemently with Dupuy, Edmonson’s second in command.

And though Dupuy’s name never surfaces in the initial disciplinary action, the commission hearing and its subsequent decision, or court records, Edmonson was dutifully carrying the water for him and he made sure the issue was far from dead as he displayed unprecedented zeal in his attempt to punish LaMarca on behalf of his chief of staff.

Determined to exact revenge for LaMarca’s impudence, Edmonson took the matter up the line to the First Circuit Court of Appeal.

That’s right, he appealed the decision of the state commission charged with the responsibility of promoting effective personnel management practices for the Office of State Police and to protect the fundamental rights of the troopers under Edmonson’s command.

Much like the courtroom experiences of his boss Gov. Bobby Jindal, Edmonson went down in flames. At least the administration is consistent in that respect.

The First Circuit’s ruling of May 2, 2012:

  • On review of the video and testimonial evidence concerning the surrounding circumstances at the scene of the rest, we find no error in the commission’s finding that the force and manner used by trooper LaMarca to secure the suspect and “affect the arrest” was not more than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances and hence did not violate procedure.
  • On review, we find the verbiage used by the commission in concluding that the force used by LaMarca was not “excessive,” was simply synonymous with the commission’s ultimate finding that there was no violation of the “use of force” procedure order, i.e., that the use of force by trooper LaMarca was reasonably necessary under the circumstances.
  • We find the decision of the commission thoroughly and sufficiently reviewed the evidence and testimony produced at the hearing and addressed the procedure order violations lodged against trooper LaMarca in the suspension letter issued by Col. Edmonson.
  • After thorough review of the testimonial and video evidence herein…we find the decision of the commission is supported by substantial evidence.

http://statecasefiles.justia.com/documents/louisiana/first-circuit-court-of-appeal/2011ca1667-4.pdf?ts=1387486081

Well, that certainly laid the matter to rest, right?

No, not if you’ve had a confrontation with Dupuy.

Edmonson promptly applied for writs (appealed) to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

And what became of that?

The State Supreme Court simply declined to even consider the matter.

Now it’s over.

Until, that is, it’s determined by Edmonson or Dupuy that LaMarca makes another misstep.

But with the publication of this post and the decisions of the State Police Commission and the First Circuit Court of Appeal now on the record, any similar attempts in the future would come dangerously close to harassment.

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Does Scott Angelle have his eye on the 2015 governor’s race?

The Public Service Commissioner, Democrat-turned-Republican, former interim lieutenant governor, erstwhile Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and one time member of the LSU Board of Supervisors would seem to be rounding out his resumé while carefully moving up the pecking order in Louisiana politics.

The governor’s race isn’t until 2015 and Angelle isn’t up for re-election to a new six-year on the PSC from the Second District until 2018. He was first elected in 2012 to succeed Jimmy Fields who retired after 16 years.

But an Internet web page created by an outfit calling itself Friends of Scott Angelle and apparently chaired by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s favorite fundraiser Allee Bautsch certainly looks like that of a candidate considering his options for higher office as opposed to that of one running for re-election to the PSC this far out. In other words, just another political opportunist who ducked out of his DNR responsibilities at the height of the Bayou Corne sinkhole crisis.

Scott Angelle

There is some speculation that Angelle may opt to run for lieutenant governor instead of governor. He is expected to announce next month. Qualifying for this year’s elections ends a week from today (Aug. 22). If he draws no opposition for his PSC seat, then his options are wide open without jeopardizing his current position.

A lieutenant governor candidacy, with the full backing of the governor, would be a smack-down double cross of State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas) who has faithfully served as Jindal’s lap dog and now wants his treat: the lieutenant governor’s office for himself.

Bautsch, it should be noted, also worked in the unsuccessful 5th Congressional District race of State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) last year. She also served as treasurer of the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children, the foundation of Jindal’s wife that attracted considerable national media attention because of the corporate donors who seemed to receive special treatment from the Jindal administration.

Friends of Scott Angelle contains two pages devoted to Angelle and his vision that Louisiana’s best days “are ahead of us,” followed by a third page that consists of campaign contributor information. That information includes blanks for the name, address, phone numbers and credit care information for potential donors and twice emphasizes that the $5,000 campaign contribution limit applies to each individual and company and that each member of a contributor’s family and each of his or family members’ corporate entities may give the $5,000 maximum.

It also includes the telephone number and email address of Bautsch.

The verbiage of the entire message is literally dripping with overblown praise for Angelle and ends with mom and apple pie flag-waving rhetoric worthy of a schmaltzy Lifetime Network movie:

“It is important that we, friends of Scott, send out a clear message and work to keep him in a position to serve Louisiana. He is one of the few that puts people before party, puts Louisiana before Washington, and focuses on the next generation, not the next election. Our state, more than ever, needs leaders at the highest levels that (sic) have prepared themselves to help the 18th great state of our union, and its people, reach its full potential. Scott is certainly one of those with the skills, the passion and the preparation to make a difference. Let’s show Scott we support his hard work to make Louisiana great!”

So just where would an Angelle gubernatorial run leave U.S. Republican Sen. David Vitter or Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards?

First, it’s important to note that Angelle would be Jindal’s hand-picked candidate, as evidenced by Bautsch’s involvement in his campaign just as Riser was Jindal’s man in the ill-fated 5th District congressional race.

Second, it’s pretty well known there’s no love lost between Jindal and Vitter. Still, Jindal stopped far short of demanding Vitter’s resignation from the Senate following his links to the Washington, D.C. Madam and claims of similar associations with a New Orleans prostitute while waxing indignant over Congressman Vance McAllister’s kissing an aide in his Monroe office and repeatedly demanding his resignation. (McAllister, by the way, is the one who defeated Jindal’s boy Riser, which could explain the personal rancor on Jindal’s part.)

So, if Jindal throws his ever-weakening political strength behind Angelle (something candidates may dread, given his abysmal success rate in past elections), and, depending on whether or not State Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere aligns himself and the party with Jindal or Angelle, it could split the Republican vote and Edwards could stroll into the runoff.

In the event of such a scenario, either Republican candidate would be so bloodied from the inter-party fighting that Edwards, with no political baggage and possessing a calm, thoughtful demeanor, could stand as an attractive option to voters.

All that speculation of course, hinges on whether or not Angelle commits to the 2015 governor’s race or to lieutenant governor, or decides to cool his jets for eight years.

But there’s still that Friends of Scott Angelle web page…

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Thanks to the resourcefulness of C.B. Forgotston, LouisianaVoice has obtained a copy of the seven-page report on the Edmonson Amendment and it appears that State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson and trooper Louis Boquet of Houma are legally prohibited from taking advantage of a special amendment adopted on their behalf by the Louisiana Legislature.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice received an unconfirmed report concerning the origination of the amendment that if true, adds a new twist to the curious series of events leading up to passage of the amendment in the last hours of the recent legislative session.

The report, authored by Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board attorney Denise Akers and Florida attorney Robert Klausner, specifically says that Edmonson and Boquet are barred from accepting the retirement windfall because the amendment granting them the special exemption from the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) is unconstitutional on no fewer than three levels.

Klausner and Akers also expressed concern that the source of funding for the increased benefits would have been the Employee Experience Account “which is reserved as the source of future cost of living benefits (for state police retirees and their widows and children) and payments toward the unfunded accrued liability.”

Edmonson, under the amendment would have seen his retirement income increase by $55,000 a year. The amount of what Boque’s retirement increase would have been is unknown.

The report, however, stopped short of recommending that the board file legal action to have Senate Bill 294, signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal as Act 859, declared unconstitutional.

Instead, it recommended that the LSPRS “simply decline to pay any benefit under Act 859” and that the matter “would only need to be litigated if someone benefitting from the act (Edmonson or Boque) filed to enforce it.” The reported added that both men “have indicated they do not desire to enforce it. Thus, LSPRS may incur no litigation cost in this matter.”

The report said that should either man attempt to collect the increase retirement benefits by challenging the board’s refusal to pay the benefits, “it would fall to the attorney general to defend the law, rather than expending (LSPRS) resources to pursue a costly declaratory relief action.”

The report noted that the Louisiana Supreme Court, in a decision handed down only last year, “made it clear that a pension law adopted in violation of constitutional requirements is void and of no effect.” That was the ruling that struck down Jindal’s controversial state pension reform legislation.

“It is our view that pursuit of a declaratory relief or other legal action seeking to declare Act 859 invalid is unnecessary,” the report said. “By determining that it will not enforce the act, the board acts consistent with its fiduciary duty.”

The board still must vote to accept the recommendations of Klausner and Akers and with Jindal and Edmonson controlling the majority of the 11 seats on the LSPRS board, such a vote remains uncertain.

The board is scheduled to take up the matter at its next meeting, set for Sept. 4 but likely to be moved up now that the report is public.

The report also noted that the amendment was not proposed in either the House or the Senate, but added during conference committee.

SB 294 was authored by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell and dealt only with administrative procedures in cases in which law enforcement officers came under investigation. State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted the amendment during conference committee discussion of the bill but recent reports have surfaced that place Morrell, who also was one of the three senators—along with three representatives—who served on the conference committee, squarely at the center of the controversy as well.

Morrell authored the bill at the request of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) but was said to have subsequently told the FOP lobbyist that he would have to “hijack” the bill to conference committee in order to accommodate state police and Edmonson.

FOP President Darrell Basco, a Pineville police officer, said he had no personal knowledge of such events and lobbyist Joe Mapes did not return a phone call from LouisianaVoice.

Jindal, meanwhile, has remained strangely silent on the issue of his signing the bill with no apparent vetting by his legal counsel.

The Klausner report said the act was unconstitutional on three specific counts:

  • The amendment “does not meet the constitutionally required ‘one object’ requirement” which says, “The legislature shall enact no law except by a bill introduced during that session…Every bill…shall be confined tone object. Every bill shall contain a brief title indicative of its object. Action on any matter intended to have the effect of law shall be taken only in open, public meeting.” Conference committee proceedings occur in closed sessions.
  • The amendment “does not meet the germaneness requirement” of the Louisiana Constitution, which says, “No bill shall be amended in either house to make a change not germane to the bill as introduced.”
  • “No notice was provided as required by the constitution for retirement related bills and the bill itself never indicated that proper notice was given, all in violation of the Louisiana Constitution,” which says, “No proposal to effect any change in existing laws or constitutional provisions relating to any retirement system for public employees shall be introduced in the legislature unless notice of intention to introduce the proposal has been published, without cost to the state, in the official state journal on two separate days. The last day of publication shall be 60 days before introduction of the bill. The notice shall state the substance of the contemplated law or proposal, and the bill shall contain a recital that the notice has been given.”

Here is the full Klausner report:

Klausner Report on SB 294

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Editor’s note: The following is a guest column by a Baton Rouge attorney who represents plaintiffs in civil litigation and who chooses to use the nom de plume of Edward Livingston, considered one of the fathers of Louisiana law. 

By Edward Livingston

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) has issued a “fact sheet” about “Louisiana’s Judicial Climate.” http://labi.org/assets/media/documents/JudicialClimateFactSheet_Reduced.pdf

It should not surprise you that big business, and particularly the oil and gas industry, are as much in denial about changes in Louisiana’s judicial climate as they are about changes in the earth’s climate.

The juridical, or artificial, “persons” http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=109467 who constitute Corporate America hate, hate, hate the civil justice system. When you compare the three branches of government, it’s easy to see why. Through lobbying, donations and favors, they easily influence the legislative branch. As an example, note that after the worst oil spill in history, which caused billions of dollars in personal, economic, and environmental damages, the oil and gas industry was able to derail congressional proposals to raise the meager $75 million damage cap under the Oil Pollution Act. They have similar influence on the executive branch through regulatory capture. Look no further than the Federal Communications Commission, purportedly established to protect consumers, but even under a Democratic president, it is run by a former (and likely future) telecom lobbyist. Is it any wonder that the FCC is working to do away with net neutrality? And of course, our own commissioner of insurance spends our money to run ads and buy billboards accusing us all of committing insurance fraud.

But the judiciary is another kettle of fish. The civil justice system is the one area where common, everyday natural persons have a chance to stand almost as equals to corporate behemoths. Because procedural rules are designed to ensure a fair trial, because ethical rules prevent ex parte lobbying of judges, and because corporate litigants do not know the identity of nor can they attempt to influence individual jurors, it is much more difficult for them to create the lopsided playing field that they are used to in their other dealings with government entities.

This horror at the notion of being subjected to actual justice gave rise to the so-called “tort reform” industry. This industry does two things: It attempts to convince the public, and lawmakers, that the judicial system is inherently unfair, and it tries to sell the notion that the civil justice system is somehow bad for the economy. These attempts, in turn, serve two goals: They seek to poison the minds of potential jurors by creating a bias in favor of defendants in civil cases, and, more importantly, they want to change the substantive rules of law and procedure to decrease corporate liability for wrongdoing.

Tort reformers’ arguments are rife with references to “frivolous lawsuits,” but that’s just a smokescreen. They know that frivolous lawsuits are both vanishingly rare (what in the world is the incentive for a contingent fee lawyer to spend her own money pursuing a lawsuit she probably can’t win?) and rapidly dismissed, usually with sanctions http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=112283 for the lawyer who filed them. What they’re really concerned about are the lawsuits that have merit, because those are the ones that cost them serious money to repair the damage they’ve done. Whether it’s a person rendered quadriplegic in crash with an 18-wheeler being driven by a drunken driver or a worker burned beyond recognition in an industrial explosion, those are the kinds of cases that the purported “reformers” are really trying to limit.

With that background in mind, let’s turn to LABI’s description of our judicial climate. Its fact sheet focuses on three issues that it contends are harming Louisiana. First, LABI is concerned about legacy lawsuits, that is, lawsuits brought by landowners against oil and gas producers for damage to their land caused by the oil and gas production. They are worried that these lawsuits hurt the oil and gas industry, and by extension the economy, by discouraging production companies from drilling in the state, or by discouraging them from entering the state in the first place. Second, LABI is also worried about the lawsuit brought against ninety-seven oil and gas producers by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East. Again, the concern seems to be that the oil and gas industry, and thus the state’s economy, will be harmed by the mere attempt to hold these companies liable for their alleged wrongdoing. Finally, LABI is appalled that defendants cannot request jury trials unless there is more than $50,000 at issue in the case. This deprivation of access to jury trials, due to a threshold that is much greater than that in other states, is said to lead to excessive litigation. The implication is that the judges who try these small cases are giving claimants too much money.

LABI’s fact sheet is full of footnotes and citations, but that should be taken with a grain of salt. While it cites a number of public bodies for raw numbers on suit filings, trials, judges and the like, the raw meat on the effects of these numbers comes almost exclusively from professional tort reform institutions. The primary, if not exclusive, purpose of these organizations – groups like the American Tort Reform Association, American Tort Reform Federation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, its Institute for Legal Reform, and Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch – is to complain that the civil justice system hurts the economy and is unfair to corporate defendants. It would be shocking if their work product didn’t support those positions. But if you believe them, I’m sure BP would like to share with you their studies showing how inconsequential the Deepwater Horizon disaster was.

If you’ve made it this far, it probably won’t surprise you to find that LABI’s three big concerns are each, to use a technical legal term, baloney. Let’s start with legacy litigation. In these cases, landowners complain that their oil company lessees acted unreasonably and damaged their land. The underlying problem here – the fact that oil companies have polluted a lot of land in Louisiana – is hardly new (the Louisiana Supreme Court held oil companies liable for land damage as early as 1907), and it resulted from two things: weak rules, and even weaker enforcement of those rules. There’s a marvelous timeline of oil company documents dating back to the 1930s showing that the oil companies knew very well that they were breaking the law and could someday be held accountable for it. http://jonesswanson.com/slfpaecase/timeline/

But the Department of Natural Resources did not promulgate strong rules, and they didn’t even enforce the weak rules they had. The difference? Courts are now actually enforcing both the leases and the regulations, requiring the land to be cleaned up, and that’s costing oil companies a lot of money. Some oil companies are getting popped with huge damage awards to clean up the tremendous messes they made. If you’re a really big landowner in these cases (like former governor Mike Foster), you’ve got some leverage, and the producers will settle with you. If you’re a little guy, not so much.

According to the oil and gas industry, these cases are a huge problem, hampering new oil and gas exploration and putting the state’s economy at risk. Their proposed solution to the problem won’t surprise you – they’ve gone to the legislature and sought repeatedly, and successfully, to take the decision-making on cleanups out of the courts and put it back in the hands of their old pal, the Department of Natural Resources. The legislature has gone along with this, especially this last session when the big landowners (whose cases have already been settled) gave their go-ahead on it.

So, to put it in context, the oil and gas companies are basically like the college kids who trash your rental house during the semester, and then whine when you keep their deposit and otherwise seek to hold them accountable for the damage they’ve done. The difference is the legislature actually listens to these deadbeats.

Perhaps the final irony on legacy cases involves Don Briggs, the head of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA), a big-time tort reformer who for years has been telling anyone who would listen that legacy litigation was killing the oil and gas industry. That was working great for him until he actually filed a lawsuit, and he got put under oath, subject to the penalties for perjury. At that point, as one news outlet put it, “Briggs was forced to admit that he knows of no oil companies that have left or will be leaving Louisiana because of its legal climate. He also has no proof companies even consider the legal climate and was unable to cite any data to back up his long-held claims.” http://www.acadianabusiness.com/business-news-sp-416426703/oil-a-gas/16586-read-briggs-depo-here

If you’re curious about what a tort reform advocate has to say about the legal climate when they’re placed under an oath to tell the truth, you can read his entire deposition here. http://www.theind.com/extras/Official-Transcript-Briggs-Depo.pdf

LOGA’s lawsuit brings us to LABI’s second worry – the SLFPA-E suit. Sometimes, those rowdy college kids didn’t just trash the place; sometimes, on the coast, they destroyed it altogether.   LOGA filed that suit to have the levee board suit declared illegal – LOGA lost. The same operative facts apply, and this suit was opposed by largely the same cast of characters, with the notable addition of Governor Bobby Jindal and his former head of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (and now congressional candidate) Garret Graves. They both leapt to the defense of the poor, beleaguered oil industry against the terrible, greedy levee board that was trying to find some way to raise funds for a $50 billion dollar coastal restoration plan. Unfortunately, Graves has a problematic penchant for telling the truth. First, he admitted that the lawsuit isn’t frivolous at all, but that it has merit, stating, “I will be the first to admit there’s liability there.” [http://www.cleanwaterlandcoast.com/james-gill-graves-shows-lawsuit-needed-2/] Then he pulled the whole “reform” fig leaf off the operation, predicting, “I don’t see any scenario where this levee district doesn’t get gutted – or, say, ‘reformed’ – in the next legislative session.”   http://thelensnola.org/2013/08/22/levee-district-jindal-administration-remain-at-odds-over-lawsuit-a-week-after-hints-of-reconciliation/

Despite all this, the legislature did everything it could do to reform gut the levee board lawsuit; we’ll see if it was successful in giving away the state’s chance to recover billions of dollars to pay for coastal restoration.

Finally, there is that horrible $50,000 jury trial threshold. A little background, and some inside baseball: As many know, Louisiana private law is based on Roman, or civil, law, as received through France and Spain. Unlike the English common law that prevails in the other forty-nine states, Louisiana has no tradition of civil juries. As a result, Louisiana is the only state without a constitutional right to a civil jury trial; Louisiana’s constitution is the only one that requires appellate courts to review both legal and factual findings (like amounts of damages) of trial courts in civil cases; and in Louisiana the litigants, rather than the state or local governments, have to front the money to pay for a civil jury trial.

Over the years, particularly since the adoption of the Code of Civil Procedure in 1960, civil jury trials became more common. Then, in the late 80s and early 90s, a certain insurance company decided that “good hands” required it to refuse to settle any small auto cases, no matter the facts, and to force claimants with such small cases into trial by jury. This had several effects: It made those small cases less economical to litigate, since they were more expensive, and, more importantly, it clogged the courts’ trial calendars with cases, because every case had to set for jury trial. After several years of this foolishness, the district court judges convinced the legislature that jury trials should be limited to relatively large cases; the $50,000 figure that was chosen was the threshold for federal diversity jurisdiction at the time. For truly big (and even not-so-big) cases, everyone still has a statutory right to a jury trial.

So why is this a concern for LABI? Because they don’t like the availability of relatively inexpensive and rapid dispute resolution. It drastically decreases the leverage of insurers, who want to force claimants into accepting lowball settlements. More importantly, by clearing the trial court dockets of small cases, it allows truly large and significant cases to get to trial much sooner, reducing the leverage of defendants in those cases by reducing the systemic delay in resolution of the cases.

How do we know that these are LABI’s concerns, rather than a reverence for the sanctity of the right to a jury trial? Easy. They have never proposed to change the state constitution to provide for a constitutional right to civil jury trials or to prohibit appellate review of facts. If those things were done by the legislature, those rights could be used to overturn things like damage caps, which are nothing more than pre-litigation (and usually pre-accident) findings of fact by the legislature. If they really believed that jury trials were a sacrosanct method of finding facts in a civil trial, they’d be talking about those issues.

So, what is the true judicial climate in Louisiana? Well, if you’re an injured person, a landowner, or a taxpayer, for the last forty years, it’s been changing for the worse. Examples:

 

I could go on; these are just the “greatest hits” of Louisiana tort reform. Every year, tort reformers try, usually with at least some success, to chip away at the rights of citizens and governmental entities to seek redress for corporate wrongdoing. For instance, this year, since the attorney general recovered several hundred million dollars for the Medicaid program from pharmaceutical companies, Big Pharma convinced the legislature to take away his power to hire outside lawyers without the legislature’s approval. http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/ViewDocument.aspx?d=915585&n=HB799%20Act%20796

If the legislator’s will bow to Big Pharma’s will on this, what are the odds they’ll let the attorney general ever hire outside lawyers? And every year, proposals to restore some of the historic rights of Louisiana citizens fall on deaf ears at the capitol.

Louisiana is a conservative state. Its conservative voters elect fairly conservative judges, and they make up fairly conservative juries. If one of those judges or juries should run amuck, there are multi-parish appellate courts, and a state-wide supreme court, acting as backstops for Corporate America.

But that’s never enough. Corporate America still wants to take away your rights. Ironically, these corporations are the true socialists. The only thing they want privatized is profit. They want the costs and risks of production to be borne by society at large: their victims and, ultimately, the taxpayers.

 

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Tomorrow (Aug. 15) is the last day for 24 employees of the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) but the bad news doesn’t end there, LouisianaVoice has learned.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols’ glowing guest column about the condition of OGB in Jeremy Alford’s Louisiana Politics notwithstanding, some 230,000 state employees, retirees and their dependents are in for some serious sticker shock.

http://lapolitics.com/2014/08/nichols-ogb-prepared-for-changing-world-of-health-care/

Even as Nichols babbled on about providing “better service and care to its members” while at the same time employing the by now tired and time-worn Jindal tactic of blaming everyone but Jindal for rising health care costs, the Legislative Fiscal Office was dropping a bombshell in announcing dramatic increases in health care insurance premiums for state employees coupled with benefits that will be undergoing deep cuts.

OGB Report_July 2014 FOR JLCB

Blaming the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and an aging population for rising health care costs, Nichols said “financially responsible practices” are necessary to continue providing benefits. She conveniently neglected to mention that it was the Jindal administration’s decision a year ago to lower premiums as a means of lowering the state’s 75 percent match, thereby freeing up money to plug gaping holes in Jindal’s makeshift budget.

That move, of course, help decimate OGB’s reserve fund. What started out as a $540 million surplus a year ago now stands at less than half that.

“At first glance it may seem like having a fund that large is a great thing,” she wrote. “But in reality, keeping hundreds of millions unnecessarily locked up in a reserve fund was not the best use of taxpayer money.

“Considering that the state funds 75 percent of member premiums through taxpayer dollars, letting that large of a balance sit unused meant that those funds weren’t being used for other important projects,” she said.

Nichols, of course, overlooks the fact that successful insurance companies keep health reserve funds in cases of a natural disaster or major epidemic. Companies who only manage to pay claims out of premiums on the other hand, traditionally don’t survive.

Her entire 800-word piece never once mentioned that state employees and retirees would soon be asked to pay significantly higher premiums for equally significantly reduced benefits. Instead, she parsed words, saying, “Plan changes for fiscal year 2015 are estimated to lower expected claims costs by $131.8 million…”

That sounds pretty good until you read the first page of the nine-page report released Monday by Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter and Legislative Fiscal Office Section Director J. Travis McIlwain.

State employee health plan changes, according to the report, include, among other things:

  • An increase in premiums state employees and retirees pay for health coverage;
  • Significantly increase the out-of-pocket maximum for all health plan options;
  • Increasing deductibles for all health plan options;
  • Increasing co-pays 100 percent for those proposed health plans with co-pays;
  • Increasing the out-of-pocket maximum for the prescription drug benefit by $300 from $1,200 to $1,500 per year, a 20 percent increase;
  • Requiring prior authorizations for certain medical procedures;
  • Eliminating the out-of-network benefit for some health plan options;
  • Removing all vision coverage from the health plan options.

The latest premium increase of 6 percent will go into effect on Jan. 1 is on top of a 5 percent increase implemented on July 1 of this year.

Of course, the revamp of OGB premiums and benefits was the result of the infamous Alvarez & Marsal (A&M) study.

The really amazing thing about that is Jindal rushed into the OGB privatization convinced he could do no wrong and that his was the only way and that the state was going to save millions. Yet, when things started going south, he calls in the big A&M guns.

Not only that, he forked over $199,752 to A&M to learn the best way to screw state employees.

Speaking of A&M, the contract with the firm was originally for a little more than $4.2 million but was promptly amended by $794,678, bumping the amount up to a cool $5 million. The problem with that is state law allows only a one-time contract amendment of no more than 10 percent without legislative concurrence. The amendment was for 18.9 percent.

As if that were not egregious enough, the Division of Administration subsequently amended the contract by yet another $2.4 million in May—again without bothering to obtain the legally mandated concurrence from the legislature.

Nothing, it seems, is beneath this administration.

Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. LouisianaVoice said before the OGB privatization ever took place that it would be necessary to raise premiums or lower benefits.

But Jindal, wunderkind that he is, insisted his privatization plan, ripped straight from the pages of the handbook of his only private sector employer, McKinsey & Co., would be more cost efficient than having those lazy state workers process claims and that the state would save money.

And lest you forget, McKinsey advised AT&T in 1980 there was no future in cell phones.

And of course, McKinsey developed the flawless business plan for Enron.

To a degree Jindal is correct; the state will now save money—on the backs of state employees.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite), who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2015 election agrees.

“The OGB fiasco is proof positive that privatization for the sake of privatization is foolish,” he said. “A reserve balance that recently exceeded $500 million is half that now and  bleeding $16M per month due to mismanagement and budget chicanery, and the ultimate price will be paid by state retirees and employees through higher premiums, higher co-pays, higher deductibles, and higher co-insurance in exchange for fewer benefits, more forced generic drugs, and more preclearance of needed treatments and other changes that make crystal clear that the OGB beneficiaries will pay more for less.”

Bingo! And right on cue, Carpenter’s report echoed Edwards:

“The health plan and prescription drug plan policy changes…will shift more of the costs from the state to the OGB plan member,” it said.

That shift will save the state a minimum of $44.7 million for health plan changes and at least $69 million for prescription drug plan changes in fiscal year 2015, the report said.

“Along with premiums, the major costs incurred for medical services by an OGB plan member will be deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance,” it said. “The new health plan offerings will significantly reduce the cost to OGB, while the OGB members pay more for their medical services.”

Of the total OGB population, 75 percent are currently enrolled in the HMO plan which presently has no deductible for the employee but those members will, effective January 1, be subject to both a deductible and coinsurance whereas most are currently subject only to fixed co-pays.

 

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It’s the story that won’t die, no matter how the Runaway Governor (apologies to Julia Roberts) would like it to.

While Gov. Bobby Jindal may go running off to Iowa or New Hampshire or Washington, D.C., or wherever his latest odyssey takes him in his futile attempt at resuscitation of his moribund presidential aspirations while ducking his responsibilities at home, folks like political curmudgeon C.B. Forgotston and State Treasurer John Kennedy just won’t go away.

Instead, Kennedy is staying home and demanding answers to the nagging problem of the Edmonson Amendment that Jindal so obligingly signed into law as Act 859, giving State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson that $55,000 bump in retirement income.

Act 859, which began as a bland, nondescript bill by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) that addressed procedures in cases where law enforcement officers are under investigation, quietly turned into a retirement bonanza for Edmonson.

That happened when State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted language into a Conference Committee amendment to the bill that allows Edmonson and one other state trooper in Houma to revoke their decisions of several years ago to enter into the Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which gave them higher take home pay but froze their retirements at their pay level at the time of their decision.

In Edmonson’s case, his payment was frozen at 100 percent of his $79,000 a year captain’s pay but Act 859 allows him a do-over and to act as though all that never happened so that he can retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 per year colonel’s pay instead.

Other state troopers, teachers and civil service employees who made similar decisions, meanwhile, are stuck with their decisions because….well, sorry, but this is special for Col. Mike Edmonson Esq. Swank. Riff raff need not apply.

The Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board is scheduled to receive a special report by Florida attorney Robert Klausner, an acknowledged authority on public retirement plans, and local attorney Denise Akers at its Sept. 4 meeting but Kennedy isn’t waiting that long.

As State Treasurer, Kennedy holds a seat on the LSPRS board and he has repeatedly voiced his concern over the amendment which he says could put enormous strain on LSPRS if other retired state police officers file suit to obtain similar consideration as Edmonson.

He has claimed the board has a fiduciary responsibility to file suit to overturn the new law that Jindal so hastily signed.

A group of retired state troopers also has signaled its willingness to enter into litigation to get the law overturned.

Both Kennedy and the retired troopers contend the law is unconstitutional because it was not properly advertised in advance of its passage.

“Talking points” originating in State Police headquarters by Capt. Jason Starnes and sent to Edmonson, his Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, and—for whatever reason—Louisiana Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones, said the bill was properly advertised but because the bill in its original form in no way addressed retirement issues, that claim appears rather weak, especially given the fact that state police should be more skilled in producing hard evidence to back their cases.

The additional fact that the amendment never made its appearance until the last day of the session even though it had been discussed weeks before adds to the cloud of suspicion and wholesale chicanery enveloping Jindal, Riser, Edmonson, and Dupuy.

And Kennedy, who already has fired off two previous letters to LSPRS Executive Director Irwin Felps demanding a full investigation of the rogue amendment, now has written a third.

That letter, dated today (Aug. 13), while much shorter than the others, loses no time in getting right to the point: Kennedy is demanding under the state’s public records statutes (La. R.S. 44:31, et seq.) that Felps provide him a copy of the report generated by Klausner and/or Akers.

“Please immediately email the document(s) requested to me,” he wrote. “If you cannot or will not email them, please immediately inform me, and I will send a representative to your office to pick them up right away.”

Here is the link to his letter: Treasurer Kennedy Public Records Request to Irwin Felps August 13 2014

His letter sets the stage for a probable showdown between Kennedy and the rest of the board given the fact that Felps has previously denied Kennedy’s informal request for the report.

Felps said following Kennedy’s initial request, he was advised by legal counsel (most probably Akers) to release the report to the board members but not to the general public. He added that he expected Kennedy will have the report Thursday morning.

“I don’t know why the big cloak and dagger that they won’t share with the board,” Kennedy told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/08/john_kennedy_demands_state_pol.html#incart_river

“I’m a board member and I’m entitled to it. They can’t tell me I can’t see it,” Kennedy said. “This is a very important issue and it’s not just limited to state police. We have thousands of employees in the retirement system (who) didn’t get this treatment.

“I just want to see a report that I asked for and the board asked for. It is a public document.”

Kennedy should know better. LouisianaVoice has already received its comeuppance from the House and Senate, both of which have refused to comply with our request for copies of emails and text messages between the six Conference Committee members who approved the amendment and Jindal, Edmonson or any of their staff members.

Even though such discussions would have fallen under the narrowest of definitions of public business, we were told the public has no business peeking over legislators’ shoulders to see what they’re doing and to please just butt out.

LSPRS board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, told the Times-Picayune in a statement (prepared as talking points by Starnes, perhaps?) that he felt it would be “inappropriate and premature” for the board to take a position on Act 859 until it heard the attorneys’ report.

Uh, Trooper Besson, would that be more or less “inappropriate” than passing a secretive bill in the final hours of the session to benefit one person (well, two, since one other trooper fell within the strictly limited parameters of the bill’s language) while no one was looking?

Just as a reminder, it’s going to be difficult to get the board off dead center on this issue considering the board’s 11-person membership is comprised of four active troopers, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and one of Jindal’s legislative puppets, State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee (you can almost see Jindal’s lips move when he talks).

Just in case you lost count, that’s six members that Jindal and Edmonson control—and that’s a majority.

Folks, it’s looking more and more like that group of retired state troopers is going to have to make good on that threat to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the act.

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Call it coincidence, but the Baton Rouge Advocate today had an interesting lead editorial thanking State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and Gov. Bobby Jindal for assigning 100 state troopers to patrol the city of New Orleans through Labor Day in response to a Bourbon Street shooting spree on June 29 that left one dead and nine others injured. http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/9965586-123/our-views-thanks-to-state

Certainly the timing of the editorial had nothing to do with the controversy swirling around the secretive passage of an obscure Senate bill during the last day of the recent legislative session that proved financially beneficial to Edmonson.

And certainly it had nothing to do with the fact that Advocate publisher John Georges wants to keep Edmonson happy because Georges holds a majority ownership in seven firms which provide video gambling machines and other services to gambling establishments—and because Edmonson oversees gaming through the State Gaming Control Board chaired by Ronnie Jones who served as Edmonson’s confidential assistant prior to his appointment to the Gaming Control Board. He is still listed as Edmonson’s confidential assistant on the State Police web page even though Jones says he resigned from that position last August. http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/02/john_georges_gets_back_into_ga.html

Jones denies any knowledge of Georges’ video poker interests and says Edmonson is not his boss. “I wouldn’t know John Georges if he walked in the room right now and the fact that he has gaming interests doesn’t impress me,” he said, adding that Edmonson “has no control or influence over my board or its decisions.”

Jones’s denials notwithstanding, it appears we can dismiss any chance that the Advocate might delve into the murky political machinations behind the amendment especially tailored for Edmonson (though it did catch one other state trooper up in its generous net).

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley refused to open an investigation into the infamous Edmonson Amendment because he said the amendment was part of a bill that originated in the Senate. But one would expect no action from Kleckley. Otherwise, Jindal might remove his hand from his butt and Kleckley would then be rendered unable to speak—not that he’s ever said anything profound anyway.

The amendment, of course, tacked on an additional $55,000 per year to Edmonson’s retirement benefits and though Edmonson has since said he will not accept the extra income, he apparently overlooked the fact that the bill is now law, thanks to Executive Counsel Tom Enright’s stamp of approval and Jindal’s signing it as Act 859, which makes it impossible for him to arbitrarily refuse the financial windfall.

And it’s true enough that, Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) did originate in the upper chamber and we now know that the amendment was added by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) but Kleckley conveniently overlooked the fact that three members of the Conference Committee which tacked on the amendment were members of the House.

But what about Senate President John Alario, Jr. (R-Westwego)? Certainly the esteemed Senate President would never let such a furtive move stain the stellar reputation of the Louisiana upper chamber. Surely he will launch a thorough investigation of the amendment since the bill and the ensuing amendment were the works of members of the Senate.

Don’t count on it. It’s rare that an elected official will bite the hand that feeds him—or a family member.

In this case, we’re speaking of one Dionne Alario, also of Westwego, who just happens to hold the title of Administrative Program Manager 3 for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety at $56,300 per year. She was hired last November and somehow manages to pull off the unlikely logistics of supervising DPS employees in Baton Rouge while working from her home in Westwego.

Oh, did we mention that she also just happens to be Sen. John Alario’s daughter-in-law?

We attempted to contact her at the Baton Rouge headquarters through the DPS Human Resources Department but we were given a cell phone number with a 504 (New Orleans) area code.

So if you expect Alario to conduct an investigation into the Edmonson Amendment, you can fuggedaboutit. It ain’t happening. His nest has been sufficiently feathered as to guarantee there will be no questions on his part.

It’s beginning to look more and more like the ol’ Louisiana political science professor C.B. Forgotston is correct: This entire Edmonson Amendment affair is quickly being swept under a very big rug.

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hyp·o·crite

noun \ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\: a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.

hypocrite

[hip-uh-krit] /ˈhɪp ə krɪt/

noun

1. a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

2. a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

hyp·o·crite

[ híppə krìt ]

noun

Somebody feigning high principles: somebody who pretends to have admirable principles, beliefs, or feelings but behaves otherwise

No matter whose definition you use, Gov. Bobby Jindal is 100 percent hypocrite.

The candidate who promised us an open and accountable administration promptly gutted the State Ethics Board within weeks after becoming governor in 2008.

The candidate who promised a “gold standard” of transparency has repeatedly relied on the vague term “deliberative process” to shield his office from that very transparency.

The candidate who touted the value of civil service workers turned on those same state employees at the first opportunity and began throwing the rank and file workers to the curb while at the same time protecting the highly-paid appointees.

The candidate who criticized the use of one time revenue for recurring expenditures has become a master of the art.

The governor who constantly told anyone who would listen during his first term that “I have the job I want,” has spent his entire second term running for a presidency that is so far beyond his grasp as to be laughable while barely giving a second thought to the needs of those who elected him.

All those qualify him to be labeled a hypocrite but the most hypocritical came last week when he called Rep. Vance McAllister an “embarrassment” in another of his regular appearances in Iowa. http://atr.rollcall.com/vance-mcallister-bobby-jindal-embarrassment/?dcz=

How the hell can this governor sit in judgment of McAllister, who was caught on video kissing an aide in his Monroe office while at the same time remaining mute on Sen. David Vitter’s consorting with hookers?

Let’s get this out in the open right now. We don’t for one minute condone McAllister’s behavior. But a kiss is just a kiss (does Casablanca come to mind with that phrase?) and so far as anyone knows, that’s all McAllister did.

Also, just to shed a little more light on the McAllister affair, let’s not forget who outed him. Sam Hanna, Jr. is publisher of a West Monroe newspaper, the Ouachita Citizen and it was the Citizen’s web page that first broke the story, complete with the grainy black and white video.

How is that relevant? Well, for openers, Hanna had endorsed State Sen. Neil Riser, McAllister’s opponent in last year’s 5th District congressional race. Riser was Jindal’s candidate in that race, even allowing a couple of his staff members to work in Riser’s ill-fated campaign.

Then there is John King, a West Monroe businessman you probably never heard of who as a teenager set several dumpsters on fire. He has been unable to obtain a pardon for that youthful if foolish indiscretion and consequently cannot obtain a permit for a firearm in order to take his stepson hunting.

Hanna, on the other hand, was granted a pardon by Jindal six years after his fourth DWI conviction. Hanna applied for the pardon in 2010 and it was granted a year later. King is still waiting after 17 years.

Asked why the governor granted his pardon, Hanna said, “I guess because I deserved it.” http://theadvocate.com/news/neworleans/5136552-148/wiping-the-record-clean

So, as soon as Hanna releases that damning video, Jindal and his attack dog Roger Villere, state GOP chairman, pounce. Villere, apparently reading from the same script employed last week by Hypocrite-in-Chief Jindal, said McAllister had “embarrassed” the GOP and Louisiana. http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/203211-la-gop-chairman-calls-for-mcallisters-resignation

Could it be that that embarrassment stems from McAllister’s refusal to toe the party line and to call for an expansion of Medicaid in Louisiana in order to provide health care to hundreds of thousands of low income families currently not covered? Surely not. Jindal and Villere would never be so crass.

It’s all about morals and family values. But still, there’s that matter of Vitter…Rhymes with bitter, sort of like Jindal rhymes with swindle.

Well, we know a little more about Vitter, don’t we? We know even if Jindal and Villere choose to continue to ignore the elephant in the room.

His name shows up in the D.C. Madam’s list of clients. Another prostitute, this one from New Orleans, also has claimed she also had trysts with the good family values senator.

Yet he remains untouchable to the party hierarchy and as things now stand, is the odds-on favorite to become Louisiana’s next governor?

Could things possibly get any more repulsive than to have that smirking, two-faced fraud as our next governor? Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse than Jindal…

At least Edwin Edwards never pretended to be something he wasn’t. The last thing one could call Edwards is a hypocrite.

“Look, he originally made the right decision when he decided not to run for reelection,” Jindal said of McAllister in an interview with Congressional Quarterly’s Roll Call during a visit to his home away from home on Saturday.

“I said he should have stepped down at the time,” Jindal continued to whine. “I think he’s making a mistake, I think he should, I think he should’ve stuck to his original decision and not go back inside and try to run again.

“I think it’s been an embarrassment to him, the district, and the state,” he added.

Well, we believe we could cite a few embarrassments Jindal has brought upon himself and the State of Louisiana.

His telling the 2012 annual meeting of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that teachers in Louisiana have their jobs by virtue of their being able to breathe is not only an embarrassment, but an affront to every school teacher in Louisiana, including the ones with the unenviable job of having taught him as a child.

His firing of anyone holding a different opinion than his is an embarrassment.

His signing of the Edmonson Amendment, an unconstitutional bill giving State Police Superintendent a $55,000 a year increase in retirement only a year removed from his effort to gut the retirements of state civil service employees is an embarrassment.

His constant legal setbacks in the Louisiana courts are an embarrassment.

His shameless abandonment of his duties as governor in favor of chasing the ludicrous dream of become President is an embarrassment.

The comedy of errors in hiring Bruce Greenstein as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals only to see Greenstein become embroiled in the CNSI controversy is an embarrassment.

And the ongoing dispute with BESE and Superintendent of Education John White, which more resembles a name-calling schoolyard fight than a serious discussion of issues, is a true embarrassment.

Trouble is, all those are apparently only embarrassing to the state. Because Jindal has no moral compass, no real code of ethics and no sense of values, he continues on his merry way oblivious to reality and without a shred of self-awareness—or embarrassment.

Hypocrite.

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A group of retired state troopers has sent a letter to State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson pointing out inconsistencies in Edmonson’s version of events surrounding the amendment to a Senate bill that bumped his retirement income up by $55,000 per year while at the same time, calling on Edmonson to demand that the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) board take “immediate action to legally enjoin Act 859 and further seek a ruling on this unconstitutional law.”

In their letter, the retired troopers even dropped a thinly-veiled hint that they would file legal action to have the new law declared unconstitutional in the event that Edmonson and the LSPRS board do not take it upon themselves to have the new law stricken.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has obtained records which reveal that four state police officers closely affiliated with Edmonson have enjoyed rapid advancement through the ranks and have been rewarded with combined pay raises totaling more than $115,000 (an average of $28,750 each) in the 6 ½ years since Edmonson was appointed superintendent on Jan. 14, 2007, the same day Bobby Jindal was sworn in as governor.

Those increases came during a time that covered a five-year span in which merit pay increases were suspended and state civil service employees had their salaries frozen.

The four state troopers’ pay raises, it should be pointed out, were for promotions and not merit increases and do not include the $42 million appropriated this year by the legislature for pay raises for all state troopers.

Senate Bill 294, which became Act 859 when Jindal signed the bill into law, was authored by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) and dealt specifically with disciplinary procedures to be taken in cases in which law enforcement officers came under investigation. The bill was never properly advertised as a retirement bill as required by the State Constitution.

That’s because the bill in its original form did not address retirement issues but when it was referred to a conference committee of three senators and three representatives, conference committee member Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) inserted what has come to be known as the “Edmonson Amendment” because it allowed Edmonson and one other trooper to rescind their decisions to enter the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which had frozen Edmonson’s retirement at 100 percent of his captain’s pay grade of $79,000 and instead allows him to retire at 100 percent of his current colonel’s salary of $134,000.

All other troopers, teachers, and state employees who entered DROP years ago and subsequently received promotions or pay raises do not have that option available to them and still have their retirements frozen at the pay level at the time they entered DROP.

LouisianaVoice recently received a series of emails from State Police headquarters through a public records request that revealed that Capt. Jason Starnes, while questioning the motives of LouisianaVoice reporter Robert Burns in attending last month’s LSTRS board meeting, also issued a laundry list of talking points as a response to the controversy arising from the Edmonson Amendment.

Starnes was a state police sergeant in 2007 but on Feb. 3, 2009, he was promoted to lieutenant. Less than four years later, on Oct. 19, 2012, he was again promoted, this time to captain. Over that period of time, his salary has gone from $59,800 to $81,250, an increase of nearly 36 percent.

And then there is Paul Edmonson, Mike Edmonson’s brother. He has done even better than Starnes.

A state police sergeant when his brother was named superintendent, Paul Edmonson was promoted to lieutenant on July 25, 2008, just six months after his brother was appointed superintendent by Jindal. He was promoted again on Sept. 7, 2011, to captain and again just two years later, on Oct. 9, 2013, to major.

During his brother’s tenure as superintendent, Paul Edmonson has seen his salary jump from $63,500 per year to $93,000, an increase of 46 percent.

But even that pales in comparison to Edmonson’s Chief of Staff, Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy.

Dupuy was already a captain when Mike Edmonson was appointed superintendent and was promoted to major on Jan. 28, 2010—two years after Edmonson’s appointment. But less than a year later, on Jan. 10, 2011, Edmonson moved him up to Deputy Superintendent for Operations Planning and Training.

Edmonson kept Dupuy on the career fast track, promoting him again on April 9, 2012, to Assistant Superintendent and Chief of Staff.

Over that span, Dupuy’s salary went from $80,000 to $122,000, an increase of 52.5 percent.

Dupuy’s wife, Kelly Dupuy, even has gone along for the ride. A state police sergeant making $59,800 a year when Mike Edmonson was appointed superintendent, her acceleration through the ranks in a relative short time has been equally impressive. She was promoted to lieutenant on Oct. 27, 2009, just three months before her husband was promoted to major. She made captain last Oct. 25 and now earns $80,500, an overall salary increase of nearly 35 percent.

Moreover, the current positions held by Paul Edmonson and Kelly Dupuy did not exist before their respective promotions. The positions were created especially for them to be promoted into—which should go a long way in explaining why the state has nepotism regulations in place to govern such favoritism in the workplace.

Charles Dupuy, it should be noted, represents his boss on the LSPRS board and might seem predisposed to look the other way on the Edmonson Amendment issue. Others who might be expected to take a similar “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” approach to the amendment are Andrea Hubbard who represents Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols and State Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas), chairman of the Senate Retirement Committee. State Rep. Kevin Pearson is chairman of the House Retirement Committee but has expressed surprise at the content of the Edmonson Amendment. Other unknown qualities on the board are board Chairman Frank Besson, president of the Louisiana State Troopers Association, Kevin Marcel, vice chairman, and Thurman Miller of the Central State Troopers Coalition.

The retired troopers, in their letter to Edmonson said the perceived reluctance on the part of the LSPRS board to act on the amendment is “seriously eroding the public’s confidence in the integrity of the state police.”

“That is unfortunate because Louisiana state police troopers are dedicated and professional men and women who risk their lives every day in service to the citizens. They deserve better than this and we demand better on their behalf,” the letter said.

“We look to you (Edmonson) to resolve this but make no mistake, we will not allow this unconstitutional and damaging law to stand until we have availed ourselves of all options and all avenues have been pursued. We feel it does no good to the long history of honor and integrity of the Louisiana state police for us to have to resolve this instead of the legislature, the LSPRS board, or you. But know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.”

Here is the complete text of the retired troopers’ letter to Edmonson:

Colonel:

There is much attention on and discussion of anticipated action by the LSPRS regarding legislation passed during the recent (2014) session of the Louisiana Legislature. We specifically refer to Senate Bill 294, now Act 859. While there are still unanswered questions regarding when and how the amendment evolved, and who the participants were, what is clear is this bill as amended provides for you and one other Trooper to now revoke a previously irrevocable decision to enter the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). The effect of this change increases substantially your retirement benefits, and most disturbing, the funding for it is from the same fund that provides cost of living adjustments (COLA) to state police retirees, surviving spouses, and orphans.

You have been quoted in various reports as saying you “didn’t ask for the change to state law” and you “didn’t know who initiated it.” Later that same day you revised your statement to say you “did not request the change”, but your “staff” told you there was legislation available that would ‘fix not only you but other members,” (We would find out two weeks later from State Senator Neil Riser, who had mounting pressure from media investigations that he “was asked by Louisiana State Police Deputy Superintendent Charlie Dupuy to offer the amendment, which became part of a bill to address rights of law enforcement officers. It was presented to me as addressing broad retirement issues”.) If, as you and Senator Riser have publicly stated, Dupuy provided false information, what he has done is at best unethical and possibly illegal.

You have also said, “Let’s let the board review it and make sure things are the way they should be, if not, let’s correct it.” A little over a week after your initial comments you issued a statement, “…regardless of what comes back from the review by the attorneys for the retirement committee, I’m going to follow my heart and not accept it…” noting that you want to let the legislature review it next session based on any proper protocol.” Contrary to erroneous briefing points provided to you by Captain Jason Starnes, as reported in the media, this bill was not advertised as a retirement bill. It does not meet constitutional requirements; the same Constitution you have sworn to uphold, therefore things ARE NOT “as they should be.”

Every legislator that has commented on this issue has said they were unaware of what they had voted for and expressed concern and outrage that the true facts and impacts of the bill were hidden from them. Some have vowed to introduce changes to ensure in the future, this process is transparent. Additionally, several attorneys familiar with federal and state retirement laws and court rulings have agreed this is blatantly unconstitutional and suggested that the unintended consequences of this bill as it remains today could likely lead to a class action suit by all other state retirees who had the same decision as you regarding DROP, under federal equal protection guidelines.

If they should prevail, the results would be catastrophic for all state retirement systems and detrimental to the state’s credit rating. This would in turn ensure significant impact on the citizens of Louisiana with most likely drastic cuts in public services and higher education along with tax increases. In the face of all this, Colonel, it is being reported, and we have been told that the LSPRS may not be planning to conduct a meeting to hear the results of the investigation and take action.

Other reports concern us in that board members who work for or contract with the department are purportedly being pressured by your “staff” to be loyal to you at all costs. In your statements, you encouraged an investigation, and further declared you would not accept the benefits provided for in this legislation. Therefore we don’t understand why action by the board would be of concern to you or your staff unless your intent is other than you’ve stated. In fact based on your previous statements it would appear that board action to challenge and enjoin legally this unconstitutional, ill-conceived and poorly thought out law is consistent with what you have said publicly and is in the best interests of the other state police retirees and all citizens of Louisiana.

This matter and the subsequent actions surrounding this law are seriously eroding the public’s confidence in the integrity of state police. This affects not only department trust from the legislators, essential to the future success of state police, but also the trust of the public that reflects on every trooper who puts on that uniform and badge each day. That is unfortunate because Louisiana state police troopers are dedicated and professional men and women who risk their lives every day in service to the citizens. They deserve better than this and we demand better on their behalf.

Colonel Edmonson, you have said this is a distraction to our troopers. We agree and therefore call on you to openly and publicly demand the Louisiana State Police Retirement System Board take immediate action to legally enjoin Act 859 and further seek a ruling on this unconstitutional law.

If your intent is to pursue this openly next year in the legislature, this action will clear the air for that to occur in an open forum without the hint of impropriety. You know that should Act 859 remain as law, the legislature could simply not act next year, or should some change occur (even not of your own making) to require you to retire before you plan, the law as passed is binding on the LSPRS and on you. To ignore this subjects the state to liability.

We look to you to resolve this but make no mistake, we will not allow this unconstitutional and damaging law to stand until we have availed ourselves of all options and all avenues have been pursued. We feel it does no good to the long history of honor and integrity of the Louisiana state police for us to have to resolve this instead of the legislature, the LSPRS board, or you. But know this: we will support and protect the other retirees, surviving spouses and orphans as well as the citizens of this state, as we once took an oath to do, by any legal means at our disposal.

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When the Department of Health and Hospitals released its “Public-Private Partnership” financial report on nine state hospitals last month, it was pretty much assumed that the state media would accept the glowing report at face value and trumpet the Jindal administration’s brilliance in the privatization plan.

To no one’s surprise, Jindal cheerleader Scott McKay, curiously writing under the pseudonym “MacAoidh,” which he explained was the Gaelic spelling of his name, jumped out in front of the parade. Close behind were Lauren Guillot of the LSU Reveille and Chris LeBlanc of the Thibodaux Daily Comet.

http://www.lsureveille.com/news/hospital-privatization-cost-million-less-than-budget/article_aba78c98-12c6-11e4-9da3-0017a43b2370.html

http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20140724/ARTICLES/140729784

The latest to chime in is Quin Hillyer, an unsuccessful Alabama-congressional-candidate (he finished fourth in the Republican primary)-turned-columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate who somehow purports to be an expert on Louisiana politics but who continues to live in Mobile.

The DHH report attempted to show that Jindal’s privatization plan—a plan, by the way, that has yet to be approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services(CMS)—has cost the state $51.8 million less than expected during the fiscal year ended June 30.

STATE HOSPITAL FINANCIAL REPORT

But those numbers are disingenuous at best.

The first column of the DHH spreadsheet contains the amounts budgeted for each of the nine hospitals for the fiscal year that ended on June 30.

That’s simple enough to comprehend but the second column is the key. That column lists the amounts actually spent as of June 30 while the third column reports the difference between the amounts appropriated and the amounts spent. That’s where DHH came up with the aggregate savings of $51.8 million.

But what the report neglects to say is that the books on those fiscal year 2013-2014 expenditures will not be closed until later this month, so any reported costs (Column 2) will necessarily increase, thereby negatively impacting Column 3. (Column 4 simply gives the appropriations for each hospital for the current (2014-2015) fiscal year.)

By way of explanation, “Public Claims” is the traditional Medicaid payments the state made to the public hospitals. “Public UCC” is the uncompensated care, or DSH payments the state made to the LSU hospitals. “Private Claims” are the Medicaid payments made to the new private hospital partners. These are the same payments as the “Public UCC” payments, only larger and fueled by the lease payments used by the state for match, thereby cutting state funds and giving the illusion of shrinking government.

“Private UPL” stands for “upper payment limit,” which is a supplemental Medicaid payment which the state must match—which is now done from the lease payments that CMS has yet to approve. “Private UCC” is DSH payments the state is also allowed to make to private hospitals.

It is not unusual for individual hospitals to vary from their original budgets because they have the flexibility to move money around, using savings in one area to cover expenditures in others. The bottom line is what is significant.

Even with that Enron-esque method of bookkeeping, several hospitals have already overspent their budgets even before the final numbers are in, the report shows. Those include Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge ($12.2 million over budget), Interim LSU Hospital in New Orleans ($5.9 million), University Medical Center in Lafayette ($8.8 million) and W.O. Moss in Lake Charles ($1.2 million).

Others that were close to spending all of their appropriations included Chabert Medical Center in Houma and E.A. Conway in Monroe.

The total appropriations for all nine hospitals for the 2013-2014 fiscal year is $1.111 billion against $1.058 billion spent, a difference of $51.8 million, according to the report which again, does not reflect the final numbers.

The 2014-2015 appropriation for the nine facilities is $1.15 billion which means if nothing changes in expenditures for the current budget (a highly unlikely, almost impossible scenario), the state will still spend $91.5 million more on the hospitals in 2014-2015 than in the previous fiscal year.

And should the final numbers for 2013-2014 show that the hospitals spent the entire $1.111 billion appropriated, the state still will spend $39.7 million more this year than last.

Somehow, that just doesn’t support the $51.8 million “savings.”

Moreover, the report conveniently does not provide us with the means of finance so we have no concept of how much is state funding and how much is federal. No matter; the cold hard facts are that the partnerships between the state and private hospitals were supposed to save money and they clearly have not.

The 2013-2014 fiscal year was a hybrid between the old public model and the new private model in which the private hospitals lease the state hospitals and use those lease payments for matching funds that the state puts up to receive federal dollars to make “private” payments.

It is that arrangement that CMS has yet to approve because they involve largely inflated lease payments. While the arrangement may be counterintuitive, the private hospitals are more than happy to agree to the inflated lease payments because the state plans to use those payments as match and promptly draw down big federal matching dollars to then pay back to the private hospitals—if, that is, CMS approval is forthcoming.

None of this matters to Hillyer and McKay, though. Eager to thumb their noses at the skeptics and while taking a deliberate shot at “liberal” gubernatorial candidate State Rep. John Bel Edwards, Hillyer called the hospital privatization plan “good medicine,” adding that early critics “should be pulling out the salt and pepper” in preparation to “eat their earlier words.”

http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/9878018-123/quin-hillyer-jindals-privatization-was

But even more egregious on Hillyer’s part, he claims (erroneously, it should be noted) that CMS “has not sent an official ‘disallowance’ notice” on the advance lease payments when in fact those have already been disallowed outright as being illegal. That, says Edwards, will likely result in future clawbacks of $507 million that the state will owe Medicaid.

He also quoted DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert as saying negotiations with CMS have put the feds “in a position where, fairly shortly, they can approve our State Plan Amendments.”

Perhaps so, but we’ve heard that song and dance before so we’re going to withhold judgment on that optimistic report.

At least McKay (or MacAoidh if you will) had the good sense not to accept the DHH spreadsheet as the final numbers and at acknowledged a “fuller accounting” would be forthcoming. “And we’ll know next year, after the first full year of the implementation of Jindal’s idea to privatize the charity hospitals, exactly how much money is saved,” he added, making an apparent assumption there would be a savings despite the increased budget for the current fiscal year. http://thehayride.com/2014/07/surprise-the-privatized-charity-hospitals-come-in-52-million-under-budget/

But then McKay, as is his wont, became a bit melodramatic by pointing out observers “might be at a loss to summon up memories of dead bodies due to neglect as a result of the privatization. If there are oodles of corpses littering the roadsides outside of hospitals throughout Louisiana for lack of admittance, they’ve gone strangely unreported.”

We honestly don’t know where he came up with that wild scenario that he somehow implies was the claim of privatization opponents. “Nobody suffered from the leases of those hospitals,” he continued. “And the state is going to save a lot of money as a result, while likely delivering better services to the public.”

That, of course, remains to be seen. If he is right, he’s right. But it’s difficult to arrive at that conclusion when you look at the numbers on the DHH spreadsheet.

If, that is, you bothered to study the numbers closely which some obviously did not—just as the administration counted on.

(With appreciation to two regular readers who helped us interpret the numbers and their meaning.)

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