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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

By Robert Burns, Guest Columnist

Most of the media headlines entailing Bruce Greenstein, Gov. Jindal’s former head of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), have centered around his recent indictment for alleged false testimony during his confirmation hearing and alleged false statements made to a Louisiana grand jury convened by Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to delve into possible misconduct entailing the awarding of the state Medicaid contract to Client Network Services Incorporated (CNSI).  Less noteworthy in the news media, but a matter in which Louisiana Voice has taken a keen interest, is the civil trial taking place in Judge Tim Kelley’s courtroom entailing CNSI’s claim of wrongful termination of its contract for which it seeks millions of dollars in alleged damages.

During a hearing in early 2014, Judge Kelley repeatedly sought the status of any Federal investigation into alleged wrongdoing regarding the awarding of the contract.  Very reluctantly, David Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General, admitted that the Feds had closed their investigation but emphasized that the State of Louisiana was proceeding forward and emphasized to Judge Kelley that “The AG’s Office has encountered other instances in which the Feds closed an investigation but we continued and ultimately obtained indictments.”

The parties are now in the discovery phases of the civil trial. Attorney Lewis Unglesby, along with Michael McKay and Justin Lemaire, is representing CNSI, and some very intriguing accusations have been bantered about in court hearings. Among those accusations, conveyed at an October 28, 2014, hearing, is that Attorney General Investigator Scott Bailey   met with and potentially improperly coached CNSI whistleblower Steve Smith into changing his testimony, resulting in contradictory depositions.  It was also at that hearing that David Caldwell, in attempting to defend the visits with Smith by his office and relaying to Judge Kelley that “We didn’t do anything wrong,” emphasized, “We’re not trying to rig a civil case.”

Perhaps Caldwell may indeed not be trying to “rig a civil case” and genuinely seeks only to prosecute Greenstein for his alleged perjury; however, based on a hearing in Judge Kelley’s courtroom today (Monday, December 15, 2014), it appears equally apparent that the State of Louisiana is prepared to fight tooth and nail to prevent CNSI’s lawyers from advancing discovery in the civil trial toward the plaintiff attorneys’ goal of a trial sometime in 2015.

To that end, today’s hearing entailed the fact that CNSI’s lawyers have scheduled a deposition of Stephen Russo, legal counsel for the Department of Health and Hospitals for tomorrow (Tuesday, December 16, 2014).  The State’s attorneys, led by Justin O’Brien, sought to block the deposition on multiple fronts including attorney-client privilege.

Throughout Greenstein’s testimony before the grand jury, he repeatedly emphasized that Russo serves as the personal legal attorney for the head of the DHH and thus served as Greenstein’s personal attorney during his tenure as head of the agency.  As such, Unglesby relayed to Judge Kelley that any attorney-client privilege had unequivocally been waived through Greenstein’s grand jury testimony. Unglesby said Greenstein was present in court and would be more than happy to state to the court that he waived any attorney-client privilege. O’Brien also indicated to Judge Kelley that the intended line of questioning by Unglesby was overly broad. Unglesby, however, countered that argument by holding up a small folder and relaying his intent to be laser-focused on the pertinent discussions between Russo and Greenstein during the critical period entailing the awarding of the contract.

On two separate occasions, Unglesby made brief reference to material in Greenstein’s grand jury transcript. O’Brien objected and asked that Judge Kelley order the courtroom cleared since statements were about to be made regarding grand jury testimony. Unglesby countered by relaying that the AG’s Office had, and he emphasized that Caldwell may have “likely acted illegally” in doing so, made the grand jury transcript public. Grand jury secrecy, therefore, was no longer an issue. Judge Kelley concurred and emphasized that he’d even read the grand jury testimony accounts in the newspaper and therefore would not be clearing the courtroom.

At one point, O’Brien wanted to introduce into evidence a document that he said would demonstrate that John McLindon, Greenstein’s attorney, had provided contradictory statements.  Judge Kelley relayed he’d be happy to look at anything as long as opposing counsel had seen it first.  When O’Brien presented a copy to McLindon, he (McLindon) immediately relayed, “That was filed under seal.”   Upon hearing that, Judge Kelley relayed that, if the document was filed under seal, nobody, including him, should be looking at it.

Judge Kelley informed Unglesby that it would not be necessary to have Greenstein waive any attorney-client privilege at the day’s proceeding and ruled that the deposition could proceed as scheduled.  Judge Kelley was very specific in justifying his ruling in relaying that, in the court’s view, attorney-client privilege had certainly been waived, and he further emphasized that the intended scope of the deposition was in conformity with Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure in terms of not being overly broad nor designed to harass the deponent.

O’Brien asked Judge Kelley to stay his order pending a writ being filed with the First Circuit Court of Appeal.  Judge Kelley relayed, “I’m not staying anything.  If you take issue with my ruling, you can file that with the First Circuit, but I want to be understood on this matter.  In the court’s view, this matter is clear.  It’s straightforward.  The court views this matter as being very clear and I want it into the record that’s the court’s view.”  After O’Brien sought for Judge Kelley to reiterate that he felt it was clear (which Judge Kelley did reiterate), he pulled out a pre-drafted order and asked if Judge Kelley would sign it for the Frist Circuit to consider a stay on his ruling.  Judge Kelley relayed that, upon filing, O’Brien could bring the document back up for him to sign (even relaying he could interrupt court if necessary due to the urgency of the matter).

Assuming the First Circuit doesn’t grant a stay, it sure would be interesting to be able to sit in on tomorrow’s deposition.  The one thing that was evident today is that the State’s attorneys clearly fear Unglesby being able to question Russo about that critical timeframe and communications he had with Greenstein entailing the awarding of the contract.  Based on Greenstein’s willingness to show up at today’s hearing and relay that he’d be happy to formally waive any attorney-client privilege, it seems obvious that Greenstein and McLindon feel they will likely reap a spillover benefit from the deposition entailing Greenstein’s criminal defense.

So, even though the big headlines of the CNSI contract awarding and cancellation may entail Greenstein’s indictment, the far more intriguing aspect of that contract appears to be playing out in the CNSI civil trial in Judge Kelley’s courtroom.  Stay tuned folks, Louisiana Voice will keep readers informed as further court hearings transpire.

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The good people of Alabama need not fear the corruptive influence of former Gov. Donald Siegelman. Women and children may emerge from hiding, confident they are now safe and no longer must be protected from his treachery.

Siegelman is securely incarcerated at Oakdale’s federal lockup, the same facility that once housed another former governor—Louisiana’s very own Edwin W. Edwards—and from all accounts Sweet Home Alabama is the better for his prolonged absence.

The man, after all, took a $500,000 contribution from a member of the state board for hospital oversight, one Richard Scrushy, CEO of HealthSouth.

But wait. The half-million bucks didn’t go to Siegelman, after all. The money was contributed by Scrushy instead to help underwrite a campaign to convince the voters of Alabama to vote in favor of a state lottery, the proceeds of which would provide funds for Alabama youth to attend state colleges for free.

The referendum was controversial in that owners of the Indian casinos next door in Mississippi were somewhat skittish about Alabamans spending their gambling money at home to fund, of all things, education—not to mention that free college sounds a bit socialistic.

Suddenly, major players entered the picture—players like Karl Rove and notorious lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who would soon face his own legal problems. No matter. Abramoff led the fight, pouring money into the campaign to oppose the referendum which ultimately lost.

And what did Scrushy get in return? Siegelman reappointed him to the Certificates of Need Review Board where he had been serving without pay for the previous 12 years.

The prosecution of Siegelman has been heavily criticized by legal experts and columnists across the nation. https://madmimi.com/p/940b05?fe=1&pact=23974859063

Even the award-winning CBS news magazine 60 Minutes weighed in on the issue. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/did-ex-alabama-governor-get-a-raw-deal/

Siegelman, a Democrat with Jewish and Catholic roots, had won every state office in Alabama by 1998, including attorney general and lieutenant governor. In 2002, having already served one term as governor, he was heavily favored to win election over incumbent Gov. Bob Riley, the man who had defeated him four years earlier. But then the state’s top Republican operative, Bill Canary, contacted the nation’s top Republican operative, Rove, and the Justice Department’s investigation of Siegelman—led by Canary’s wife, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary—was launched.

With rumors swirling about alleged wrongdoing, Siegelman suddenly found himself in a tight race with Riley. On election night, Siegelman went to bed after having been declared the winner only to awake the next morning with Riley claiming victory.

Overnight, an unexpected redistribution of gubernatorial votes in Baldwin County, which includes the city of Daphne and part of Mobile Bay, reduced Siegelman’s total votes by 3,000, giving Republican Riley the governorship. Republican Attorney General Bill Pryor denied a recount of the paper ballots. No votes for any of the other offices being contested were changed. (Can you say hanging chads?)

And who was running Riley’s re-election campaign? That would be Bill Canary, husband of federal prosecutor Leura Canary. Well, no conflict of interest there.

Canary’s first efforts, carried out by assistant U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, were unsuccessful. Federal District Judge U.W. Clemon threw out the indictment for lack of evidence, saying the prosecution “was completely without legal merit” and “the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career.”

Canary was successful on her second try, however, obtaining a conviction on one of the 23 counts on which Siegelman was indicted. Presiding over that trial was Federal Judge Mark Fuller, who omitted a key legal requirement when giving the jury its instructions before it retired to deliberate: the need for an explicit promise of understanding in accepting the $500,000 from Scrushy.

Fuller, an appointee of President George W. Bush, would later have his own legal problems as well. In August of this year, he was arrested for beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/09/federal_judge_mark_fuller_a_ti.html but unlike Siegelman, was able to get the record expunged. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/don-siegelman-trial-judge-weasels-out

So what has all this to with the price of eggs in Louisiana?

Well, we just thought it would be interesting to compare the single transgression that got Siegelman a ticket to Oakdale with certain activities in Louisiana—and to ask somewhat rhetorically why no investigative agency is taking a closer look at some of the tactics of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Take, for example, the case of Richard Blossman, Jr., of Lacombe and his Central Progressive Bank.

Blossman, while CEO of Central Progressive, “gave” each of his 11 board members a $5,000 bonus. The reality is (to borrow a favorite Jindal phrase), however, none of the $5,000 bonus payments ever went to the board members, according to Raphael Goyeneche, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission. Instead, immediately after the bonuses were “announced” by Blossman, 11 individual checks of $5,000 each were sent to Jindal’s 2007 campaign in the names of the individual—and oblivious—board members.

“The defendant (Blossman) well knew the ‘bonus’ was to funnel illegal political contributions and was not a bonus, as he caused to be inscribed in the board minutes,” prosecutors said in June of 2012.

“That is a felony,” Goyeneche added.

This revelation came on the heels of word from the Louisiana Board of Ethics in May of 2012 that Jindal received $40,000 in campaign contributions from landfill company River Birch, Inc. of Metairie when the company formed six “straw man entities” to launder illegal donations to Jindal.

So, did Jindal’s campaign return the $95,000 in ill-gotten gains?

Well….no. “We accept every contribution in good faith and in accordance with the law,” said Timmy Teepell, who ran Jindal’s 2007 campaign. Asked if Blossman received anything in exchange for his contributions, Teepell sniffed, “Absolutely not. Everyone who donates to our campaign gets the same thing and that is good government.”

Wow. Perhaps Earl Long was correct when he once said, One of these days, the folks in Louisiana will get good government “and they ain’t gonna like it.”

Jindal’s campaign and his Believe in Louisiana organization also accepted $158,500 in contributions from Iowa, LA., businessman Lee Mallet, his family members and several of his companies. Jindal then appointed Mallett, a college dropout, to the LSU Board of Supervisors and also had the Department of Corrections issue a directive to state parole and probation officers to funnel offenders into Mallett’s halfway house in Lacassine.

ATS LETTER

No quid pro quo there, right?

Mallett and his son were major contributors to other Republican candidates and the National Republican Party as well.

Carl Shetler of Lake Charles also received an appointment from Jindal—to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors—after contributing $42,000 to Jindal’s campaign. Shetler, a Lake Charles car dealer, some years before had singlehandedly gotten McNeese State University placed on athletic probation by the NCAA when it was learned that he’d paid money to McNeese basketball players.

In fact, Jindal’s campaign received $1.8 million in contributions from people he has appointed to state boards and commissions, some of whom delivered their checks only days or weeks after their appointments, according to Nola.com. Virtually the entire memberships of the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (Superdome Commission) and the LSU Board of Supervisors are comprised of major contributors to Jindal political campaigns.

In 2008, Jindal accepted $30,000 from Florida attorney Scott Rothstein, his law firm and his wife. Rothstein was later disbarred after his conviction for running the largest ($1.4 billion) Ponzi scheme in Florida history.

Jindal also accepted $10,000 from Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) and later gave ACS employee Jan Cassidy, sister-in-law of Congressman Bill Cassidy, a state job with the Division of Administration.

Jindal took $11,000 from the medical trust fund of the Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (LHBPA). The LHBPA board president, Sean Alfortish, was subsequently sentenced to 46 months in prison for conspiring to rig the elections of the association and then helping himself to money controlled by the association.

The association also was accused of paying $347,000 from its medical and pension trust funds to three law firms without a contract or evidence of work performed. A state audit said LHBPA improperly raided more than $1 million from its medical trust account while funneling money into political lobbying and travel to the Cayman Islands, Aruba, Costa Rica and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The association, created by the Louisiana Legislature in 1993, is considered a non-profit public body and as such is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.

And then there is Tony Rudy.

Rudy once headed up an influence-peddling organization called the Alexander Strategy Group and through that firm, he pulled in tens of thousands of dollars in the 2004 and 2005 election cycles on behalf of Jindal from such donors as UPS, Eli Lilly, Bellsouth, R.J. Reynolds, Microsoft, Fannie Mae, Koch Industries, DuPont, AstraZeneca (a biopharmaceutical company), the National Auto Dealers Association, the Property Casualty Insurers Association, the American Bankers Association, and Amgen (biotechnology and pharmaceutical company).

Alexander Strategy Group was one of Washington’s premier lobbying operations before it was shut down in January of 2006 after its ties to DeLay and Abramoff, became known.

Rudy, a former aide to DeLay, worked for Abramoff before joining Alexander Strategy Group. Rudy’s wife also ran a political consulting firm that received $50,000 in exchange for services Rudy performed while working for DeLay. Delay was indicted in 2005 on money-laundering charges. Abramoff pleaded guilty in early January of 2006 to fraud and conspiracy charges.

One of Abramoff’s clients was the Chitimacha Indian Tribe of Louisiana that contributed at least $1,000 to Jindal who since has claimed to have given that money to charity.

Abramoff also received $32 million from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana to help promote and protect their gambling interests. The legal counsel for the Coushattas was one Jimmy Faircloth who once served as Jindal’s executive counsel and who has pulled in well over $1 million in representing Jindal in lost causes in various courts in Louisiana. Faircloth advised the tribe to sink $30 million in a formerly bankrupt Israeli technology firm for whom his brother Brandon was subsequently employed as vice president for sales.

And most recently, courtesy of Manuel Torres of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Lee Zurik of WVUE-TV in New Orleans, we have learned that Jindal has spent more than $152,000 of state campaign funds on trips that bear a suspicious resemblance to federal campaign activity. http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/11/louisiana_gov_bobby_jindals_tr.html

State Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said the state’s campaign finance law grants considerable latitude as to how money may be spent but that the law prohibits the expenditure of funds on the office of president or vice president of the U.S. and Congress, presidential electors and party offices.

“When I read these provisions together, the conclusion is that you are a candidate for a state race and the money you raise can be used only for (a state) campaign or for exercise of that office,” Allen told Torres and Zurik.

There are other activities of the Jindal administration which have little to do with campaign contributions or appointments but which are nonetheless are questionable as to their motives:

  • Efforts to enhance State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by as much as $55,000 per year. Because of our story, that unconstitutional attempt by our governor and his allies in the State Senate and the Department of Public Safety was thwarted.
  • Major pay increases given unclassified employees in the Jindal administration at the same time rank and file state employees have been denied raises for five years.
  • Generous tax incentives, exemptions and other favorable treatment given corporations that are costing the state some $3 billion per year even as repeal of the Stelly plan has cost the state $300 million per year.
  • Widespread abuses by the State Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board.
  • Bruce Greenstein’s initial refusal in testimony before a Senate committee to name the winner of a $200 million contract with the Department of Health and Hospitals and his eventual admission that the contract went to his former employer—testimony that eventually led to his indictment on nine counts of perjury.
  • Attempts by the Department of Education to enter into a data sharing agreement whereby sensitive personal information on students in the state’s public schools would be made available to a company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, head of Fox News.
  • Funding sources for Jindal’s political organization Believe in Louisiana—sources who have received major concessions and political appointments from the Jindal administration.
  • The real reason for the firing and indictment of former head of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Murphy Painter: Painter’s refusal to crater to demands from the governor’s office that favored New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaigns (Painter was subsequently acquitted of all charges and the state was forced to pay his legal expenses of some $300,000).
  • Efforts by Jindal to force retirees out of the Group Benefits health program with irresponsibly unaffordable increases in co-pays and deductibles, a story that eventually prompted hearings by the House Appropriations Committee.
  • The subsequent revelation that a document cited by DOA and the Office of Group Benefits (OGB) representative as the basis for the health benefits changes in reality said just the opposite of what was testified to.

And while all this goes on unabated in Louisiana, the former governor of Alabama, who did nothing more than accept a contribution to fund a referendum to benefit education, remains in Oakdale, victim of a prosecution with far more questions about the participants and their surreptitious activities than answers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bennett-l-gershman/bribery-cases-_b_1590284.html

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“Judge Free’s actions have harmed the integrity of and respect for the judiciary.”

—Report of the Louisiana Judiciary Commission on 18th Judicial District Court Judge Robin Free, who accepted a free flight on the private jet of a plaintiff attorney who had just won a $1.2 million settlement of a personal injury case presided over by Free. The seriousness of Free’s breach of ethics notwithstanding, the judicial commission recommended only a 30-day suspension.

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Did you ever have one of those what were you thinking moments?

We’re talking about when you do something that in hindsight simply defies all logic. You’ve seen them in stupid criminal emails and on videos.

Whenever we watch the local newscast and see a report of some incredibly stupid criminal action in which the perpetrator had to have known things wouldn’t end well, we find ourselves wishing we just sit across the table from him, just us, and ask him, “What were you thinking? How did you think this turn out?”

Usually, it’s some petty thief or someone from an uneducated background whose rash judgment overrides his ability to think things through to the obvious conclusion of terrible consequences.

Someone like the hapless bank robber in one Baton Rouge-area city several years who slipped a “This is a robbery” note in the drawer at a bank drive-through window—a bullet-proof window, no less. The teller read the note, turned it over and wrote, “I don’t see a gun” and sent the note back to the nervous driver who promptly placed his gun in the drawer and sent it in to the teller. What was he thinking?

But you wouldn’t normally associate such transgressions with a high profile individual like a district judge who took an oath to uphold the law and to protect the citizenry from the lawless, a judge who no doubt pledged to “be tough on crime” when he was running for office. Nor would you think the question would apply to the state Judiciary Commission which meted out a recommendation for a 30-day suspension for the errant judge, a mere slap on the wrist for a serious breach of judicial ethics that might well have deserved a permanent suspension.

Judge Robin Free of West Baton Rouge Parish is guilty of one of the most blatant what were you thinking? flaunting of ethics and he compounded his sin when he attempted to minimize the severity of his actions by claiming he was unfamiliar with the judicial canons governing such behavior.

And it wasn’t even Free’s first offense, which should have provoked the commission’s fury at his arrogance.

Here’s what happened. Free presided over the trial of a class action lawsuit in which a): his mother was a potential plaintiff and b): he accepted a free flight to a south Texas hunting camp—on the private jet of a plaintiff attorney only days after that attorney had won a $1.2 million settlement in Free’s court in another case.

What was he thinking? Most likely that he wouldn’t get caught.

The flight to the Casa Bonita Ranch in Goliad County south of Corpus Christi was made at the suggestion of Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton who regularly appears in matters before Free. Both men represent the 18th Judicial District, which includes West Baton Rouge Parish. Clayton supposedly was interested in purchasing the property but ultimately did not.

But here’s the rub: The ranch is owned by Texas attorney David Rumley who, it turned out, was working with Clayton on the personal injury case and judiciary commission determined the invitation came “at or near the time of settlement negotiations” in the case.

Free described the trip as “just some friends going to look at some property together and boiling crawfish and hanging out,” according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. http://theadvocate.com/news/10518947-123/judiciary-commission-recommends-30-day-suspension

Free, in an incredulous admission, said there were “a lot of things I was not aware of in the canons.”

It’s something of a stretch for someone who has probably told a defendant or two that ignorance of the law is no excuse to attempt to plead ignorance, especially for a man who has been on the bench for 17 years—since 1997—and who has had previous dust-ups with the judiciary commission.

In 1998, only a year after taking office, Free was “cautioned” by the judiciary commission after an earlier hunting lodge relationship that resulted in accusations of a biased decision. And in 2001, Free signed what is known as a deferred recommendation of discipline agreement with the commission following his failure to recuse himself from a case in which he had previously served as the prosecutor of a defendant.

Then in 2005, he again came under criticism and was given a warning by the commission to avoid appointments which might create the appearance of impropriety after he named a political ally ex parte as a temporary liquidator in a case.

In the class action case involving Free’s mother, his attorney, Steven Scheckman, called it a misunderstanding and said his client was a “fall guy” for a mapping error that had gone unnoticed in the class action for two years.

But the special counsel for the judiciary commission said an attorney for Dow Chemical, a defendant in the matter, had informed Free of the conflict in a letter to the judge. Instead of calling a status conference involving all the parties, however, Free instead improperly called the attorney’s law partner to complain—yet another breach of judicial canons.

Scheckman said Free had not known the boundaries in the class action had been changed by a prior judgment to include his mother’s address even though it was Free who signed the judgment, all of which prompted Baton Rouge Advocate columnist James Gill to observe that Scheckman’s protestations of ignorance on the part of his client were “unlikely to wash.”

http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/10544318-123/james-gill-free-ride-in

Called before the Judiciary Commission, Free took a strategy that has become all too familiar whenever any high profile individual, be it an elected official or professional athlete: he publically apologized for his bad judgment.

But a judge should not be making bad judgments. And these contrite admissions, coming as they always do after the sinner is caught, are becoming a little thin and time worn—and void of any real substance.

As Gill pointed out, the opinion put forth by the Judiciary Commission that Free should have known better because of his seniority on the bench is laughable. “The sleaze here is so obvious that no judicial experience whatsoever is required to recognize it,” he wrote.

But Gill did not limit the sleaze factor to Free; he also took the Supreme Court and the Judicial Commission to task, criticizing them for the practice of keeping judicial disciplinary matters secret until the ethics violations become so blatant as to demand public airing.

He said the Office of the Special Council recommended to the Judiciary Commission that Free be suspended for a full year but the commission reduced its recommendation to 30 days, a sentence Gill called “derisory.”

Saying Free might not have been re-elected unopposed in his last run for office had his ethical lapses been known to the public, Gill added that “Litigants have no way of knowing how many more Judge Freerides are out there” and that if Free really did not understand what he had done wrong, he is “too stupid to be a judge.”

We can certainly concur in that evaluation and for our part, we’re still waiting for a politician to apologize for some wrongdoing before he is caught. That would be a public official we could trust.

 

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As if the administration’s handling of bogus criminal accusations against former Commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter wasn’t already embarrassing enough after Painter’s acquittal ended up costing the state $474,000 in reimbursement of his legal fees and expenses, a recent civil court decision has added insult to injury.

Bobby Jindal (R-Iowa/New Hampshire/Florida/Anywhere but Louisiana) thought he could make an example of Painter over the then-ATC commissioner’s refusal to bend the rules for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, whose family and businesses have poured some $40,000 into various Jindal political campaigns.

Painter twice rejected applications by SMG (formerly Spectacor Management Group), the Mercedes-Benz Superdome management firm, for a permit to erect a large tent at Benson’s Champions Square adjacent to Benson Towers across from the Superdome. The tent was to house beer sales by Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle and approval of the permit was sought by Southern Eagle, SMG, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) board and a law firm representing SMG. Altogether, the Benson family, LSED board members, SMG, its law firm and Southern Eagle had combined to pour more than $203,000 into Jindal campaigns between 2003 and 2012.

When Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack insisted that the permit be expedited, Painter asked that he put his concerns in writing but Waguespack refused.

Not only did Jindal fire Painter when his commissioner insisted that the permit application for the Champions Square tent be complete and proper, he even had Painter indicted on criminal charges of stalking a female employee. Present at the firing ceremony were Waguespack, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, and another member of the governor’s legal staff.

The subsequent criminal prosecution of Painter fell apart and his acquittal carried a stipulation that the state pick up the tab for Painter’s legal fees and affiliated costs.

Now, a civil trial jury has determined unanimously that the female former employee, Kelli Suire, defamed Painter even though the Louisiana Office of Risk Management, most likely at the insistence of Jindal’s Division of Administration, settled Suire’s claims against the state in 2011 without Suire’s ever having been required to sit for a sworn deposition in the apparent hope the settlement would bolster the state’s case against Painter.

Oops.

Painter’s defamation suit against Suire was bifurcated, meaning it was to be tried in two parts. The first part, the part just completed, was to settle the question of actual liability. Had Suire been found not guilty of defamation, the second part to determine actual monetary damages would have been unnecessary.

Unfortunately for Jindal’s chances to avoid further embarrassment over the sloppy manner in which the Painter matter was handled, such was not the case and the damages part will be tried next.

Throughout the entire matter, Painter has made clear that he wanted his day in court.

The liability trial was heard in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana before Judge Shelly Dick and a seven-person jury. Following a three-day trial, the jury took about three hours.

Painter was represented at trial by attorney Al Robert, Jr., and Suire by Jill Craft.

The issues in the case first arose on Aug. 16, 2010, soon after Suire filed a complaint with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General (OID) alleging a myriad of allegations against Painter. The lead OIG investigator at the time, Shane Evans, now employed by the East Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office, testified that he met with Suire and that he personally chose to use the words “stalking” and “harassing” to describe the nature of Suire’s complaints in his application for a search warrant.

Painter also has a civil lawsuit pending against OIG which alleges the agency’s investigation, which began in August of 2010, was improperly conducted.

Robert said the jury’s verdict confirmed the finding of an outside investigator hired by the Louisiana Department of Revenue (DOR) under which ATC operates. The investigator determined that Painter’s actions did not violate DOR anti-harassment policy. Moreover, when questioned by the DOR investigator, Robert said, Suire “admitted that Painter did not make unwelcome sexual advances toward her and that he did not request sexual favors or engage in verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature toward her. Inexplicably, the Office of Inspector General ignored this investigation when it chose to move forward with its investigation of Mr. Painter,” he added.

“This has been a long, four-year ordeal to clear my name of the lies and untruths that Ms. Suire—and those working with her—used to damage my character and reputation,” Painter said.

In her instructions to the jury, Judge Dick said defamation requires proof of a false or defamatory statement made to a third person or persons. “A person who utters a defamatory statement is responsible for all republication that is the natural and probable consequence of the person’s statement,” she said.

Suire, in her defense, did not deny making the statements but said rather that her statements were subject to “privilege,” or inadmissible, Judge Dick said, acknowledging that Suire’s communications did in fact “occasion a conditional or qualified privilege.”

Therefore, in order for Painter to prevail, she said, he “must prove that (the) defendant abused this privilege by acting with actual malice.” Such a finding, the judge said, would require that Suire either knew the matter to be false or acted in reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

Suire currently resides in Florida.

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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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