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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

It’s seldom that I disagree publicly with members of the fourth estate. Besides preferring to focus my energy on reporting on the myriad ways state government falls short of its number one priority of protecting the interests of the state and its citizens, I generally have a deep professional respect for our peers in the media.

I worked for 30-plus years in various capacities—sports reporter, news reporter, copy editor, investigative reporter and managing editor—for several newspapers all over the state, including Monroe, Shreveport, Donaldsonville, Baton Rouge and four separate stints at the Ruston Daily Leader where I began almost 50 years ago. I kept returning at a higher position mostly because of my loyalty to my mentor, Publisher Tom Kelly. I even managed to pick up a few reporting awards along the way, including three for investigative reporting.

A news reporter will never get rich working for a newspaper; the pay just isn’t that good. Those who spend their time sitting through endless hours of city council, police jury, school board and even legislative committee meetings, mind-numbing courtroom testimony and who climb out of bed in the middle of the night to cover a shooting or a fire do so for the love of the profession.

So yes, I do maintain an abiding respect for these dedicated individuals.

But when I see facts deliberately being glossed over and key points ignored in order to protect or project a favorable image of a public official who has deliberately and blatantly attempted to use his position or to manipulate the political system to his financial advantage, I cannot in good conscience keep quiet.

The Baton Rouge Advocate editorial of Friday, Sept. 19, stands out as one of the most unabashedly transparent attempts to pin a bouquet on a state official who recently condoned one of the most underhanded attempts at abusing the legislative process in recent memory.

That attempt, of course, was the amendment by State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) to Senate Bill 294 in the closing hours of the recent legislative session. The bill, authored by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) originally addressed procedures to follow in disciplinary cases for law enforcement officers but was amended to give State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson special treatment in awarding him an unconstitutional increase in retirement income of somewhere between $30,000 and $55,000 per year.

Riser added the amendment during a conference committee meeting on the bill. Riser was one of three senators and three House members on the conference committee and on the final vote for passage, House members were told, incorrectly, the bill’s passage would create no fiscal impact.

Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel Thomas Enright, Jr., whose job it is to review bills for propriety and constitutionality, gave the bill his blessings and Jindal promptly signed it into law as Act 859.

LouisianaVoice broke the initial story about how the bill allowed Edmonson to revoke his decision years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement benefits at his then-pay level of $79,000 at his rank of captain. By allowing him to renege on his decision which was supposed to be irrevocable, it allowed him to retire at a rate based on his current colonel’s salary of $134,000. Because he has 30 years of service, he receives 100 percent of his salary as his retirement. Thus, the amendment gave him an instant yearly increase in retirement of something between $30,000 and $55,000.

The amendment inadvertently just happened to include one other person, Master Trooper Louis Boquet of Houma, though he was unaware of the amendment and its implications until the public outcry erupted.

A state district judge, ruling on a lawsuit brought by State Sen. Dan Claitor, said the amendment was unconstitutional on several grounds, thereby killing Edmonson’s retirement windfall.

The four-paragraph Advocate editorial on Friday noted that the matter had been “laid to rest” and noted that such furtive bills are common in the Louisiana Legislature. http://theadvocate.com/news/opinion/10299405-123/our-views-a-lesson-for

But it was a single sentence in that editorial that set me off:

“It is to the credit of Col. Mike Edmondson (sic) and Master Sgt. Louis Boquet, of Houma, that they declined to accept the raise because of irregularities in its passage.”

What?!! Besides the misspelling of Edmonson’s name, the editorial completely (and apparently purposefully) omitted key elements of this sordid story.

  • Edmonson defended the amendment and his additional retirement on Public Radio’s Jim Engster Show;
  • He admitted on that same show that “a staff member” had approached him about the possibility of increasing his retirement benefits via the amendment and he personally okayed that staff member to proceed with the legislative maneuver;
  • Neil Riser first denied any knowledge of how the amendment originated but later confessed that it was he who inserted the language into the bill;
  • The legislative fiscal notes (which detail the potential financial impact of pending bills) were not submitted until three days after the session adjourned, evidence that the entire episode took place on the down low, hidden from public view;
  • During a hearing on the amendment by the State Police Retirement System Board, it was revealed that the board’s actuary was initially approached about the amendment “a few weeks” before the close of the session, further evidence that the move was in the works long before that fateful final day of the session;
  • At that same hearing, it was also revealed that the “staff member” who initiated efforts to pass the amendment was State Police Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, Edmonson’s chief of staff;
  • Edmonson did not reject the raise until the heat from the public and from retired state police officers became so intense that it was politically impossible for him to go through with the charade. The added threat of a lawsuit by retired state troopers and the attacks on the amendment by State Treasurer John Kennedy only served to ensure the foolhardiness of any continued attempts to claim the money;
  • The way the entire affair played out implicated everyone concerned—Jindal, Enright, Riser, Dupuy and Edmonson—in a pathetic attempt to conceal the deed from public view.

In short, Edmonson’s decision was anything but magnanimous. Quite simply, it was forced upon him by the glaring light of public scrutiny—the one thing he feared most.

This silly effort by the Advocate to make Edmonson’s decision seem noble and to make it appear to be anything other than the hands in the cookie jar scenario that it was is a disservice to its readers and an insult to their intelligence.

Perhaps the Advocate should stick to its previous hard-hitting editorials about how nice sunshine is and how lovely the Spanish moss-laden oak trees on the Capitol grounds are.

When John Georges purchased the Advocate from the Manship family, he went before the Baton Rouge Press Club where he made the utterly bizarre statement that he was focused on “not making people angry.”

I’m sorry Mr. Georges, but when you establish a policy of attempting to publish as little offending reporting as possible, that’s a cowardly decision and you’re simply not doing your job.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said, “If I had to choose between government without newspapers and newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”

Georges has obviously chosen the former.

And that decision has made the Advocate less of a newspaper, good only for crawfish boils and housebreaking a puppy.

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State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson did a sudden about-face, the Louisiana State Police Retirement System (LSPRS) Board was unanimous in its decision to allow board member and State Treasurer John Kennedy sue the board, and before the board could adjourn, State Sen. and 6th District Congressional candidate Dan Claitor filed his own lawsuit but Kennedy said he would go forward with his litigation anyway.

Just another day in the soap opera we know as Louisiana state government.

And it could only happen in Louisiana.

The LSPRS Board was meeting to wrestle with the problem of Act 859 which started out as Senate Bill 294 by State Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans), a bill ostensibly dealing with police officer disciplinary matters but which morphed into what retired state trooper Robert Landry described as an “underhanded, unethical, unconstitutional” amendment giving Edmonson an extra $55,000 per year in retirement income.

Special legal counsel Robert Klausner, a renowned pension system authority from Florida, advised the board that it had no legal standing to file suit in an attempt to have the new law declared unconstitutional but added almost parenthetically that any citizen of Louisiana could file suit.

“Could I file?” Kennedy asked. “I’m a taxpayer.”

Klausner said that Kennedy could indeed initiate litigation and if the board failed to defend it, legal expenses would be minimal and the matter could be settled once and for all as opposed to waiting to see if the legislature would repeal the act next year and if Gov. Bobby Jindal would sign such a bill.

While the board was tossing the issue back and forth and speculating whether or not Attorney General Buddy Caldwell would take it upon himself to defend such a suit should the board refuse to, Claitor left the meeting and apparently called his attorney to instruct him to file suit on behalf of Claitor.

Earlier, Claitor had spoken to the board, saying that passage of the Edmonson Amendment was not open or transparent. “It was an unconstitutional act because it was not published in advance, and was not germane to retirement issue. “I would ask that you exercise your fiduciary duty,” he said. Apologizing for having voted for the amendment because he was told that conference committee had addressed his earlier concerns about police disciplinary matters, he said, “I’m sorry to ask you to clean up this mess.”

The “mess” occurred when State Sen. Neil Riser, a member of the conference committee composed of three members each from the House and Senate, inserted the crucial language that gave Edmonson his financial windfall.

Basically, the amendment allowed Edmonson to revoke his decision years ago to enter into the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) which froze his retirement at 100 percent of his captain’s salary of $79,000. The revocation would have allowed him to instead retire at 100 percent of his $134,000 colonel’s salary.

LSPRS actuary Charles Hall told the board that the upfront cost of fully funding the benefits at their present, or discounted, value would be a $359,000 investment to cover the increased benefits for Edmonson and a Houma trooper who also happened to qualify under language of the amendment. That amount is $59,000 more than the original $300,000 estimated cost provided three days after the amendment’s passage. Kennedy pointed out that the actual cost would be in excess of a million dollars and he asked Hall to provide him with a computation of those figures.

Hall said he received a request to “call a trooper to discuss a bill” on the Friday before the Monday, June 2 adjournment of the legislature.

He said it became clear in his conversation with the state trooper that “they wanted to introduce an amendment to enhance (Edmonson’s) benefits.”

After a few routine questions, Kennedy asked Hall if he knew the name of the trooper whom he was asked to call and to whom he subsequently talked.

“Charles Dupuy,” Hall answered.

Dupuy is Edmonson’s Chief of Staff who has benefitted from a 52 percent increase, from $80,500 to $122,200, since Edmonson’s appointment as State Police Superintendent by Gov. Bobby Jindal in January of 2008. Dupuy’s wife, Kelly Dupuy, also has received increases in salary, from $65,000 to $80,600.

It was the first time that anyone has officially identified Dupuy as the source of the Edmonson Amendment.

Dupuy, a member of the LSPRS Board, was not in attendance at Thursday’s board meeting.

Riser, who first denied any involvement with introducing the amendment during the conference committee meeting in June but later admitted his complicity but said he did not realize it would benefit only two people.

Hall, however, in speaking to the board on Thursday cast doubt on that part of Riser’s story as well when he said it was believed that the amendment would affect only one person—Edmonson.

“This act has hurt the reputation of the state,” Kennedy said. “Someone pushed hard for this law. If I sue and the attorney general decides to defend it, I will begin taking depositions. I will send out subpoenas and we will find out who was behind this.”

Kennedy said he would foot the cost of the litigation which he said would be minimal provided the attorney general does not opt to defend the law.

The board, which had been seen as heavily stacked with Edmonson and Jindal loyalists, had been expected to display reluctance to go against the two. Instead, board members were unanimous in authorizing Kennedy to proceed with personal litigation in his “individual capacity.”

But even as Kennedy was making his offer, Claitor was already setting in motion his own litigation which he obviously had instructed Baton Rouge attorney Jack Whitehead to prepare and to stand by to file with the 19th JDC clerk’s office.

In fact, Whitehead even prepared a press release to accompany Claitor’s lawsuit, making it obvious that Claitor had planned the move well in advance of the board meeting.

Claitor, in his petition, asked the court to find Act 859 unconstitutional on four grounds:

  • Act 859 failed to meet the “one object” requirement of the Louisiana State Constitution;
  • The act did not meet the germaneness requirement of the state constitution;
  • No public notice was provided as required by the constitution for retirement-related legislation and the bill itself never indicated proper notice was given, also in violation of the constitution;
  • The source of funding for the increased benefit is the LSPRS “Employment Experience Account,” which is reserved as the source of future cost of living benefits and payments toward the system’s unfunded accrued liability.

To read the full text of Claitor’s litigation, click here: Press Release Letter & Petition

Baton Rouge Judge Janice Clark issued a temporary restraining order until she can hold a hearing on Sept. 16. To read her order, click here: CLAITOR VS LSP

The real kicker came when a two-page letter from Edmonson to the board was read. In that letter, Edmonson said he fully supports assertions “from legislators and others that the bill should be repealed.”

Then, addressing board Chairman Frank Besson, Edmonson said, “Despite the special counsel’s (Klausner) recommendation, I would strongly urge that as chairman, you ask the board to authorize the system attorneys to file the necessary documents to obtain a final declaratory judgment on this amendment. That judgment will provide the necessary finality to this matter.”

That represents a complete 180 from Edmonson’s earlier admission that a “staffer” had originally approached him about the prospects of the amendment’s benefitting him and his instructions to proceed.

It was a move of necessity brought on by a groundswell of sentiment against the amendment by retired state troopers which forced Edmonson to have a change of heart in an effort to save face and to avoid further embarrassment to his boss, Gov. Jindal. Because make no mistake, he wanted that money and Dupuy, no matter what anyone says to the contrary, did not take this upon himself as a solo act. It’s pretty obvious that Dupuy initiated the amendment at the direction of his boss who in turn had the blessings from the Fourth Floor and Riser was simply the instrument by which the amendment was inserted. That makes Jindal, Riser, Edmonson and Dupuy all complicit in a devious little scheme to reward Edmonson at the expense of every other state employee, including state troopers and retirees across the board.

That’s the way this governor and his band of sycophants work.

To read Edmonson’s letter, click here: EDMONSON LETTER

Kennedy, when told after the meeting adjourned of Claitor’s lawsuit, said, “That’s great. I’m glad. But I’m still moving forward with my own lawsuit. This is a bad law and it must be addressed.”

 

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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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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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Apparently lost in all the jibber jabber about Vance in his pants McAllister and the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation he and aide Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock recently administered to each other is why on earth Monroe’s Christian Life Church pastor Danny Chance inserted himself into this steamy little affair—without, we might add, having been invited to the party.

Chance, in case you’ve been on vacation in the Ukraine, took it upon himself to reveal to the world (at least that part of the world that really gives a hoot in hell) that it was McAllister’s Monroe District Office manager Leah Gordon who leaked the video of McAllister and Peacock engaged in lascivious lip locking.

Chance apparently violated a ministerial duty of confidentiality when he shared with us a purported statement by Gordon that she was taking the video to State Sen. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe) and Jonathan Johnson, former aide to retired Congressman Rodney Alexander and who worked in the campaign of McAllister’s opponent, State Sen. Neil Riser. Both men, by the way, have denied any involvement in receiving or circulating the video.

“I just feel like there is a conspiracy to bring Vance down and destroy him,” the good reverend said. “For someone on his staff to do that is wrong.”

And speaking of wrong, how about a minister violating an apparent confidence by going public with something like a confession, as it were, that an individual (Gordon) planned to forward the video to political operatives? Is that not equally egregious?

Someone recently, perhaps only half joking, suggested that Heath Peacock, erstwhile best friend of Congressman Vance McAllister and husband of McAllister’s paramour/legislative aide, might want to consider running against his former friend this fall for the Fifth District congressional seat.

That would be fun to watch, but we don’t feel it goes quite far enough. We have an idea to extend it to its logical conclusion.

How about if McAllister resigns his congressional seat (there is already pressure from that moral standard bearer, the Republican Party, that he do so), thus opening the door for Peacock’s congressional candidacy? McAllister, naturally would then run for governor next year against…..David Vitter.

Now that would be a match made in hell and could conceivably even launch a new reality show: Duck Dynasty Dilemma.

There would be no debates between the candidates, of course: only the congenial sharing of notes and frat boy exchanges of stories of romantic conquests.

To keep viewers’ interest alive during lulls in the dialogue, lieutenant governor candidate Sen. Elbert Guillory (R/D/R-Opelousas) could promote three-round chicken boxing matches. That would allow bookies to handicap both the governor’s race and sporting events simultaneously.

But the scenario gets better—or worse, depending upon your tastes—and considerably more muddled. To keep up, you may need a pen and paper and perhaps even an abacus and a few highlighters for purposes of color coding. A chart of some type might also help.

Obviously we couldn’t allow Heath Peacock to waltz into Congress unopposed as representative of the good people of Louisiana’s 5th District. He must earn his stripes. For that reason, we have tapped the Hon. Chet Traylor of Monroe as his most worthy opponent.

Remember Chet Traylor?

Way back in 1996, Trayor, then living in Winnsboro, defeated incumbent Ruston’s Joe Bleich to win a 10-year term on the Louisiana Supreme Court. While serving on the state’s high court, he would have occasion in 2000 to write the majority opinion upholding the constitutionality Louisiana’s anti-sodomy laws, thus validating a morals code for everyone to follow.

Traylor, following a divorce from his first wife, married Peggy Marie McDowell Ellington, who was previously married to Noble Ellington, II, of Winnsboro, then a state representative but since retired and subsequently appointed as second in command of the State Insurance Department at a six-figure salary.

The Ellingtons had two sons, Noble Ellington, III, and Ryan Ellington, both of Winnsboro.

The senior Ellington has been quoted as saying that Traylor was “significantly involved” in his divorce.

We may never know the details of the history between Traylor and Peggy Ellington because not long after her marriage to Traylor, she died.

Soon after her death, Traylor, the good Methodist that he is, began yet another relationship—this one with Denise Lively, estranged wife of his stepson, Ryan Ellington.

Now that’s a family man to the core.

And bringing this entire saga full-circle, we have Traylor receiving less than 10 percent of the votes in his 2010 U.S. Senate election campaign against….David Vitter.

All of which goes to prove two points:

  • Politics, especially in Louisiana, does make for strange bedfellows, and
  • If you followed all this, you have far too much time on your hands.

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It’s small wonder that Gov. Bobby Jindal wanted to get out of town quickly—he departed the state for an extended trip to Asia to recruit business and industry investment in Louisiana—given the flak he is receiving from the legislature and radio talk show hosts over his hiring of a consulting firm at a cost of $4.2 million to somehow magically find $500 million in state government savings. http://theadvocate.com/csp/mediapool/sites/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.cls?STREAMOID=sZuDzNJoJK2fudmeRm9FJpM5tm0Zxrvol3sywaAHBAlauzovnqN0Cbyo1UqyDJ6gE0$uXvBjavsllACLNr6VhLEUIm2tympBeeq1Fwi7sIigrCfKm_F3DhYfWov3omce$8CAqP1xDAFoSAgEcS6kSQ–&CONTENTTYPE=application/pdf&CONTENTDISPOSITION=Alvarez%20Marsal%20Government%20Savings%20Contract.pdfhttp://theadvocate.com/news/8045923-123/vitter-super-pac-raises-15

And that contract doesn’t even take into account Pre-Jindal recommendations by the firm that may ultimately end up costing taxpayers $1.5 billion which, of course, would more than offset any $500 million savings it might conjure up that the Legislative Fiscal Officer, the State Treasurer, the administration, the legislature and the Legislative Auditor have been unable to do, largely because of a time honored political tradition affectionately known as turf protection.

One might even ask, for example, why representatives of the consulting firm, Alvarez & Marsal, who somewhat smugly call themselves “efficiency engineers,” were wasting their time Friday at the gutted Office of Risk Management. Isn’t there already a promise of $20 million in savings on the table as a result of Jindal’s privatization of that agency four years ago? For just that one small agency, that’s 4 percent of the entire $500 million in savings Jindal is seeking through the $4 million contract. (The elusive $500 million savings, for the real political junkies, represents only 2 percent of the state budget.)

The Baton Rouge Advocate also got in on the act on Saturday with Michelle Millhollon’s excellent story that  noted that the actual contract contains no mention of a $500 million savings. http://theadvocate.com/home/8131113-125/vaunted-savings-not-included-in

That revelation which is certain to further antagonize legislators, including Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) whom Jindal will now probably try to teague for his criticism of the governor’s penchant for secrecy.

Hey guys, your contract is only for four months, so why waste your time in an agency that supposedly is on the cusp of a $20 million savings? That ain’t very efficient, if you ask us.

Legislators immediately voiced their displeasure at the contract. “There’s a lot of people who don’t like it,” said Rep. John Schroder (R-Covington), a one-time staunch Jindal ally.

Rep. Tim Burns (R-Mandeville), chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee (if he hasn’t been teagued by now), said when the dust settles any cost cutting will ultimately be the responsibility of state officials. “Even the best PowerPoint presentation isn’t going to cut government,” he said. “The trick is to make the political choices.”

The contract raises immediate questions how Jindal, now entering his seventh year in office, could justify the move in light of his many boasts of efficiencies his administration has supposedly initiated.

Ruth Johnson, who is overseeing the contract for the Division of Administration, defended the deal with the simplistic and less than satisfactory logic that “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.”

And while Jindal has indicated he wants a final set of recommendations in April, the contract runs through 2016, meaning the final cost could far exceed the $4.2 million Alvarez & Marsal is scheduled to receive for its review.

Jim Engster, host of a talk show on public radio in Baton Rouge, on Friday predicted during an interview with State Treasurer John Kennedy that Alvarez & Marsal’s final report will most likely bear an uncanny resemblance to the 400-plus-page interim report of Dec. 18, 2009, by the infamous Commission on Streamlining Government.

The hearings by that commission, you may remember, gave birth to the term teaguing, a favorite tactic employed by the Jindal administration when a state employee or legislator refuses to toe the line. A state employee named Melody Teague testified before that commission and was summarily fired the following day. Six months later her husband, Tommy Teague, was fired as head of the Office of Group Benefits when he was slow in getting on board the Jindal Privatization Express. Mrs. Teague appealed and was reinstated but her husband took employment elsewhere in a less volatile environment.

The Alvarez & and Marsal representatives have pleaded ignorant to questions of whether their report will draw heavily from the four-year-old commission report and even professed to not know of its existence.

A curious denial indeed, given that Johnson was also the ramrod over the streamlining commission during Jindal’s second year in office. Does she not share this information with the firm or was all that commission work for naught? Or part of Jindal’s infamous deliberative process? Curious also in that Alvarez & Marsal is specifically cited—by name—no fewer than six times in the report’s first 51 pages, each of which is in the context of privatizing the state’s charity hospital system. The report quoted the firm as recommending that:

  • “The governor and the legislature authorize and direct the LSU Health System to adopt the recommendations of Alvarez and Marsal for the operation of the interim Charity Hospital in New Orleans. The governor and legislature direct every other charity hospital in Louisiana to contract for a similar financial and operational assessment with a third party private sector consulting firm, such as but not necessarily Alvarez and Marsal, that specializes and has a proven track record in turnaround management, corporate restructuring and performance improvement for institutions and their stakeholders.”

That’s right. That is where the seed was apparently first planted for the planned privatization of the LSU Hospital system, even to the point of directing the LSU Board of Stuporvisors to vote to allow a Shreveport foundation run by one of the LSU stuporvisors to take over the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and E.A. Conway Medical Center in Monroe. Alvarez & Kelly performed that bit of work under a $1.7 million contract that ran for nine months in 2009, from Jan. 5 to Sept. 30 (almost $200,000 per month).

Alvarez & Marsal also received a $250,000, contract of a much shorter duration (10 days) from Jindal on April 9, 2013, to develop Jindal’s proposal to eliminate the state income taxes in favor of other tax increases. That quickie, ill-conceived plan was dead on arrival during the legislative session and Jindal quickly punted before a single legislative vote could be taken

But Alvarez & Marsal’s cozy if disastrous relationship with state government goes back further than Jindal, even. http://www.alvarezandmarsal.com/case-study-new-orleans-public-schools It’s a relationship that could become one of the most costly in state history—unless of course, the state chooses to ignore a court judgment in the same manner as it has ignored a $100 million-plus award (now in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars—with judicial interest) stemming from a 1983 class-action flood case in Tangipahoa Parish.

In fact, the state probably has no choice but to ignore the judgment as an alternative to bankrupting the state but that does little to remove the stigma attached to a horrendous decision to accept the recommendation of Alvarez and Marsal which subsequently was rewarded with a $29.1 million three-year state contract from April 4, 2006 to April 3, 2009 to “develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated disaster recovery plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.”

In December of 2005, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted Resolution 59-05 on the advice of the crack consulting firm that Jindal somehow thinks is going to be the state’s financial salvation.

That resolution, passed in the aftermath of disastrous Hurricane Katrina was specifically cited in the ruling earlier this week by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal that upheld a lower court decision the school board was wrong to fire 7,500 teachers, effective Jan. 31, 2006. The wording contained in the ruling said:

  • “In December 2005, the OPSB passed Resolution No. 59-05 upon the advice and recommendation of its state-selected and controlled financial consultants, the New York-based firm of Alvarez & Marsal. The Resolution called for the termination of all New Orleans Public School employees placed on unpaid “Disaster Leave” after Hurricane Katrina, to take effect on January 31, 2006.1 On the day that the mass terminations were scheduled to take place, Plaintiffs amended their petition to seek a temporary restraining order preventing the OPSB from terminating all of its estimated 7,500 current employees at the close of business on that day. The trial court granted the TRO and this Court and the Louisiana Supreme Court denied writs on the issue. The TRO was later converted into a preliminary injunction that restrained, enjoined and prohibited the OPSB, et al, from “terminating the employment of Plaintiffs and other New Orleans Public School employees until they are afforded the due process safeguards provided in the Orleans Parish School Board’s Reduction in Force Policy 4118.4.” Nevertheless, Plaintiffs and thousands of other employees were terminated on March 24, 2006, after form letters were mailed to the last known address of all employees of record as of August 29, 2005.”

The appellate court upheld the award of more than $1 million to seven lead plaintiffs in the case of Oliver v. Orleans Parish School Board but adjusted the lower court’s damage award, ordering the school board and the Louisiana Department of Education to pay two years of back pay and benefits and an additional year of back pay and benefits to teachers who meet certain unspecified requirements.

Immediately following Katrina, state-appointed Alvarez and Marsal set up a call center to collect post-Katrina addresses for a majority of staff members in time for the anticipated layoffs. But when the state began the hiring process for schools that had been taken over, the terminated employees were never called, prompting plaintiff attorneys to charge that the entire procedure was intentional and part of the state’s plan to take over the Orleans Parish school system.

Plaintiffs said that then-State Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard chose Alvarez & Marsal to prevail upon the school board to replace acting parish Superintendent Ora Watson with an Alvarez & Marsal consultant.

So, Watson was replaced, 7,500 teachers were fired, and the teachers sued and won, leaving the Orleans School Board and the state liable for a billion-five and the firm that started it all is hired by Jindal to find savings of an unspecified amount. What could possibly go wrong?

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“My service as vice chair of the Labor & Industrial Relations Committee in no manner alters my duties or the constraints placed upon me under the Code of Governmental Ethics.”

—State Rep. Chris Broadwater (R-Hammond), in an email letter to LouisianaVoice last year. Broadwater, former Director of the Louisiana Office of Workers Compensation (OWC), took a job in 2010 with a company that was awarded a $4.2 million contract by OWC only weeks before his resignation.

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