Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

For political junkies and political reporters out there, this is just the ticket and it’s coming out party is tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 8, just in time for Louisiana’s fall elections.

Freagle, a free political social network designed to connect voters and candidates to engage the way our founders intended, will debut in Louisiana on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

LouisianaVoice anticipates it will make regular use of the site in order to keep its readers updated on political candidates.

Freagle.com will provide a personalized political platform on which voters can customize their issue and election preferences in order to cut through the noise and spin of our current political dialogue to learn who is on their ballot and where those candidates stand on the particular issues they care about.

“Freagle is designed to connect voters to the candidates on their ballot and provide a simple mechanism for learning about where they stand and what they will do if elected,” Freagle founder and CEO Niki Papazoglakis said. “It also allows candidates to easily engage with voters on the topics they care about individually without expensive micro-targeting and polling.”

Freagle is currently operating at: http://www.freagle.com/ . The full site will be live on Tuesday.

Citizens who use Freagle can easily determine who is on their ballot, in their specific precincts. The site will use the voter’s address to automatically connect them to the races on their ballots, but voters also have the ability to manually follow races in other districts. Voters are verified so there are no trolls or political operatives.

“I hope that by making it easy and convenient for voters to be informed and engaged on elections and amendments, more people will turn out to the polls this fall and feel confident that the votes they cast are for the people and topics that best reflect their personal views,” Papazoglakis said. “Ultimately, I hope that Freagle is a catalyst to re-engage voters in this representative democracy and get us back to a citizen-led government.”

Freagle’s other features will include:

  • Simple means of comparing candidates. Election forums will allow voters to conduct side-by-side comparisons of the candidates in each race on their ballot and on individual issues.
  • On-Demand candidates’ debates. Voters can pose questions to all candidates in a race who subscribe to Freagle from the Election Forum wall rather than individually through other venues like websites, Facebook or Twitter and without having to be selected or have timed responses in live forums.
  • My Ballot tool. Voters can research and make voting decisions throughout the election cycle and print their choices before going to the polls.
  • Verification. Voters are verified so there are no trolls or political operatives.

Papazoglakis said Freagle would also be a valuable tool for the news media. “The media will have a simple place to track all of the elections from a single location including who has qualified in each race, where the candidates stand on the issues, and how they are engaging with voters, “ she said. “In addition, comprehensive campaign finance reports are easily accessed from each candidate’s profile.”

Freagle will feature a custom report from the state Ethics Commission that will have significantly more information than the standard download from the Ethics website, Papazoglakis said, adding that the site will also include all campaign contributions for each candidate.

News media outlets wanting more information about Freagle should contact Papazoglakis at (225) 615-4570 or niki@freagle.com.

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That hateful, smugly, self-serving Executive Order 15-8 signed by Grovernor Jindal on Tuesday could ultimately blow up in his face, although his tenure as grovernor will be long over by the time the courts get around to ruling on his license to openly discriminate against gays.

In case you’ve been living in a cave these past few months, Jindal signed the executive order this week, in effect enacting the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act only hours after House Bill 707 by freshman Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Bossier City) was rejected in a 10-2 vote by the House Civil Law Committee.

Similar bills were passed by state legislatures in Indiana and Arkansas earlier this year.

Standing beside Jindal as he made the announcement of the executive order was Johnson but that ceremony could well be as close to a victory for the bill as the two tools of Gene Mills, Tony Perkins and Grover Norquist will get.

That’s because a challenge to a previous executive order, BJ 2012-16 (that would be the 16th executive order of year 2012) was upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge back in December and last month the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear the matter.

Janice Clark, 19th District Court Judge in Baton Rouge had approved the state’s motion to dismiss the case brought by the Louisiana Hospital Association (LHA) and the Louisiana State Medical Society against the Department of Insurance over Jindal’s executive order. The case will now be tried on its merits in state district court as a result of the higher court’s reversal.

Though far from over, observers will be watching the LHA closely case as it unfolds so as to gauge the effect it has on the governor’s powers to issue executive orders such as the one he handed down on Tuesday relative to the so-called marriage and conscience act which opponents see as little more than an effort to legally deny services by retail establishments, schools and medical facilities to gay couples.

The decision by the First Circuit, throwing the challenge to Jindal’s 2012 executive order back into state district court could impact his latest executive decision as well—long after a new governor has moved into the Capitol’s fourth floor. https://casetext.com/case/la-hosp-assn-la-state-med-socy-v-state

That 2012 order, creating Rule 26, suspended existing laws and granted far-reaching powers to Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon in the wake of Hurricane Isaac in August of 2012. The order’s justification was that Donelon could “be hindered in the proper performance of his duties and responsibilities…without the authority to suspend certain statutes in the Louisiana Insurance Code and the rules and regulations that implement the Louisiana Insurance Code including, but not limited to, cancellation, nonrenewal, reinstatement, premium payment and claim filings with regard to any and all types of insurance subject to the Louisiana Insurance Code.”

Accordingly, Jindal made the suspension of rules applicable to all insurance lines, including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), health and accident insurance, as well as property and casualty lines. Read the entire Rule 26 HERE.

LHA and the State Medical Society immediately filed their joint petition seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive and declaratory relief against the Department of Insurance, challenging the constitutionality of the rule.

Along with several other specific challenges, they claimed that the state statute does not grant the governor the authority to make “substantive, affirmative law.”

But it is the challenge to the governor’s authority to make “substantive, affirmative law” that should attract the attention of opponents of this week’s executive order.

It’s not likely that a ruling will be made on the 2012 executive order and the accompanying Rule 26 before Jindal leaves office and even it a ruling does come down, it’s likely to be appealed. But should a ruling adverse to his 2012 order, especially on the point of the governor’s ability to make law, result, it would obviously bolster the courage of opponents of the latest order creating the marriage and conscience act that specifically singles out gays on religious grounds but which could conceivably be expanded to other target groups.

No matter which direction the legal winds ultimately blow, the resulting publicity will be used by Jindal to continue to project himself onto the national stage, an invitation that has thus far eluded him.

If he wins, he will crow that justice has prevailed because his policy was on the same page with God. Should he lose, obviously, the judiciary will have come under left-wing, liberal influence.

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By Robert Burns (Special to LouisianaVoice)

On Monday, November 5, 2012, the Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) conducted a meeting at which two members, Vice President James Sims and Greg Bordelon, engaged in racist roll call responses. Because the meeting was quietly moved up by nearly three weeks, neither I nor Rev. Freddie Lee Phillips, Louisiana’s only African American auctioneer in its history, were aware of it and thus didn’t attend (our only absence in seven years).

Upon learning of the meeting, I made a public records request for an audio recording of it.  My request was ignored for almost a month, so I threatened litigation. Reluctantly, the LALB provided the recording.  Phillips, who thought I was joking about the racist responses, was justifiably outraged when he heard the tape. He wanted the Jindal Administration to hear the recording, so I supplied it to them. Meanwhile, an Advocate reporter, Ted Griggs, took an interest in the matter, and published this article on December 22, 2012. Jindal called upon the inspector general (IG) to “investigate” the matter. That “investigation” concluded with the release of this this report on February 20, 2013 in which the behavior is excused as mere “diabetes and dentures” flaring up for Sims and Bordelon merely “mocking Sims as a North Louisiana redneck.” Griggs published a follow-up story on the IG’s report soon after its release.

I was intrigued by the recording’s revelation of LALB members, especially Vice Chairman James Sims, lambasting Jindal over his freezing their per diem payments. Despite Jindal’s signing this Executive Order effective August 5, 2012, LALB members defied the order and accepted payments for the September 2012 meeting. I raised this issue privately with LALB Attorney Larry S. Bankston via email, and he responded with an email assuring me I could address my concerns at the next meeting (January 8, 2013). Meanwhile, Phillips wanted to address the roll call responses as part of the approval of the November 5, 2012 minutes. Phillips wanted verbatim roll call responses entered into the record of those minutes.

When January 8, 2013 rolled around, Bankston was emphatic that neither Phillips nor I would be permitted to speak on our respective issues as evidenced in this video.

Louisiana Revised Statute 42:14(D) mandates an opportunity for public comment on any meeting agenda item for which a vote is taken. Since the minutes of the prior meeting requires a vote for adoption, as does approval of financials (within which the illegal per diem payments constituted a line item), Phillips and I filed this open meetings law violation lawsuit pro se on March 6, 2013. In an effort to maximize his billings to his LALB client, Bankston filed back-to-back Dilatory Exception motions (a fruitless legal technique to drag out a case’s duration). The first motion, for which oral arguments were heard on July 22, 2013, resulted in Judge Hernandez granting a 30-day period to amend the lawsuit to more succinctly state a cause of action. The second motion, for which oral arguments were heard on February 3, 2014, was denied, thus forcing Bankston to file an answer to the suit over a year after it had been filed.             Because the case was a clear violation of the law, Phillips and I filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on May 12, 2014.  Oral arguments on our motion were heard by Hernandez on August 4, 2014. We argued that the case was a violation of the open meetings laws and we were therefore entitled to $100 each from the board members for denying us the right to speak on items clearly on the agenda. In a motion for summary judgment, one side (us in this instance) argues that no issues of material fact exist which can permit the case to continue to trial; therefore, judgment should be granted to the moving party as a matter of law. Upon the conclusion of oral arguments on August 4, 2014, Judge Hernandez took the matter under advisement, saying, “It will all boil down to whether the court finds there is a matter of material fact to permit the case to continue.”

Bankston filed his own Motion for Summary Judgment for the LALB for which oral arguments were set for September 15, 2014. Meanwhile, in a continued effort to maximize his legal billings, Bankston took depositions for both Phillips and myself. For Phillips, Bankston argued he suffered “no harm” from not being able to address the roll call response, to which Phillips told Hernandez, “I was unable to defend my culture, my heritage, or to confront the two board members directly on their actions.”

Bankston also argued that, because per diem payments were not a line-item on the agenda, the LALB violated nothing in terms of denying me the opportunity to speak. Never mind that per diem payments were a line item on the financials and that those very financials containing the illegal payments were being approved at that January 8, 2013 meeting. Never mind that Bankston had provided me with an email on December 23, 2012 which said that I would be permitted to address my concerns. If one isn’t permitted to discuss such an integral component of the financial statements being approved, what can the public state regarding the financials at the meeting? Bankston also posed the argument that, because I had informed Jindal’s office that the LALB was defying his executive order and Jindal’s office had demanded that the board members refund the per diem overpayments as a result, my goal had been accomplished notwithstanding the fact I was not permitted to discuss the matter at a public meeting.

Judge Hernandez again took the matter under advisement. When no ruling was issued prior to the November 4, 2014 election, I told Phillips, who resides in Hernandez’s district, that was a very bad sign. I said if Hernandez were to issue a ruling against us before the election, the contents of his ruling may cause Phillips to implore his congregation, relatives, and friends to vote for Hernandez’s opposition. Because of that, Hernandez was delaying making his ruling until after the election. If so, he was smart because he barely survived a strong challenge by Democrat Collette Greggs (53-47).

Judge Hernandez issued his ruling granting Bankston’s Motion for Summary Judgment more than 60 days after the election. In doing so, Hernandez went from openly questioning if any issue of material fact existed on Aug. 4, 2014, to permitting defendants to continue toward a trial, in effect saying plaintiffs had no basis for proceeding with trial!

Hernandez said in his ruling, “The agenda did not include the subject of per diem payments,” and he therefore ruled that the board would be required to add the line item of per diem payments to the agenda to permit discussion! So, using Hernandez’s “logic,” a board guilty of making illegal payments must vote to add a line item entailing the illegal payments in order for the public to address them! Don’t hold your breath waiting for that to occur. Hernandez’s ruling not only makes a mockery of LA R. S. 42:14(D), but his ruling makes the court culpable in attempts to keep illegal payments by board members. Moreover, the court is made to appear even more culpable than those seeking to keep the illegal payments. His ruling sends a horrible message to members of the public seeking to hold public bodies accountable.

Hernandez went on to say that, even if a violation of the open meetings law transpired on January 8, 2013, it was remedied at the March LALB meeting. The fact that a judge has to say, “even if a violation occurred,” is a point-blank statement that an issue of material fact exists in the case and therefore he was bound by law to deny Bankston’s motion and permit the matter to continue to trial.

We wanted to appeal Hernandez’s ruling as it’s doubtful any three-judge panel of the First Circuit would have upheld his ruling. State agencies, with infinite resources of taxpayer dollars, routinely appeal rulings knowing they stand no chance of being overturned.  LouisianaVoice readers may recall an article on the CNSI trial in which Judge Kelley told the state’s attorneys “there is nothing to appeal because this matter is that clear,” regarding Bruce Greenstein having waived attorney-client privilege. Nevertheless, at a cost approximating $30,000, the state appealed Kelley’s ruling, only for it to be upheld.

My attorney informed me it would cost about $9,000 to appeal Hernandez’s ruling and even if we prevailed, there was no way to recover that $9,000. Hence, we had little choice but to walk away. That’s why Judge Caldwell’s “split the baby” ruling in the Tom Aswell’s public records request lawsuit last week felt like such a victory from my vantage point. A judge finally provided some relief to the “small guy.”


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If you will take the time to read the story below the Notable Quotables post, you will be able to see for yourself why our fight with the Division of Administration (DOA) and Bobby Jindal over access to public records is far from over after three separate lawsuits (one against the Department of Education and the other two against DOA).

As the reader can see, DOA has no intentions of timely compliance with our requests—or ever, if they can get away with it. Winning one case against them outright and taking three of four in the most recent courtroom battle will only embolden Kristy Nichols to dig in her heels and continue to withhold records indefinitely.

That’s why your contributions to LouisianaVoice are so important. Unfortunately, justice is not only not free, but downright unaffordable for the average person. One can file pro se but unless he or she is familiar with legal terms and tactics, that is a foolhardy endeavor.

Please do whatever you can to help us defray the growing costs of litigation in these efforts to see to it that records to which you have every right are provided completely and on a timely basis.

You may click on the Donate Button with Credit Cards (not here, but to the right) to pay by credit card, or you mail your checks or money orders to:

Capitol News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, LA. 70727-0922


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It’s curious how a judge can look directly at a clear violation of a law, yet somehow concoct a ruling favorable to the violator and completely disregard the rights of more than 4 million citizens of Louisiana.

That, in our humble (but admittedly biased) opinion was what occurred in the Baton Rouge courtroom of 19th Judicial District Judge Mike Caldwell on Monday.

At the risk of sounding like Bobby Jindal in calling a ruling that went against him “wrong-headed,” we will at least attempt to lay out the details of the case along with the reasons for Caldwell’s ruling so you may decide for yourself if justice was done.

Our lawsuit against the Division of Administration (DOA) and Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols was based on four separate public records requests with which DOA took its sweet time in complying—and, in the case of the most egregious violation, did not comply for three full months and then only after we filed our lawsuit.

Caldwell did throw us a bone which, to our satisfaction, had a little meat on it. He held in our favor on one of the four requests, assessed $800 in fines plus court costs and (best of all) held Nichols personally liable.

So, unless there is an appeal, Nichols, and not the state, will be required to write a personal check and the money will not come out of the taxpayers’ pockets (of course the salary of DOA’s staff attorney is picked up by John Q. Public).

But back to the one that sticks in our craw and leaves us perplexed and angry at the manner in which Caldwell bent over backwards to let the state off the hook for the most flagrant violation, one that had he ruled differently, could have cost Nichols thousands more in fines.

In that case, we submitted a rather detailed request for public records on Oct. 14, 2014 relative to the state’s $500 million contract with a California outfit called MedImpact, which is contracted to administer the Office of Group Benefits’ pharmaceutical program.

At the same time, we had a legislator to make a nearly identical though somewhat less detailed request through the House Legislative Services Office (HLSO).

HLSO received an email at 3:15 p.m. on Oct 23 to the effect its records were already downloaded to a CD and would be delivered by DOA. Here is the content of that email:

“You requested the MedImpact contract, Notice of Intent to Contract, ratings, and recommendations for awarding the contract. Please note the contract contains some proprietary and/or confidential information that has been redacted under La. R.S. 44:3.1. We have scanned these records. They are too large to email, so I can bring a CD over. I heard you’re out of the office. Do you want me to drop it off for you or wait until you get back?”

The records were actually delivered to the House offices on Oct. 24, 2014.

For our part, we found it necessary to send a second request on Oct. 19 because DOA had failed to respond to our initial request as required by law. Here is that section of the law, courtesy of the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR):

  • “If not in “active use” when requested, the record must be “immediately presented.” The custodian is required to delete the confidential portion of a record and make the remainder available. If it is unreasonably burdensome or expensive for the custodian to separate the public portion of the record from the confidential portion, the custodian must provide a written statement explaining why. If the record is in “active use,” the agency must “promptly certify this in writing” and set a day and an hour within three working days from receipt of the request when the record will be available.” http://www.parlouisiana.com/citizensrightscard.cfm#exempted


Remember that part about “unreasonably burdensome and the requirement for a written statement from the custodian of the record. We will be referring back to that part because Judge Caldwell took it upon himself to determine the unreasonableness of our request even though the state never made that argument. Thus, Judge Caldwell made the state’s argument for them.

When I made my second request, I received a response on Oct. 21 estimating the records would be available “on or before October 31, 2014.” Here is a copy of that email:

  • From: Tameika Richard
  • Sent: Tuesday, October 21, 2014 12:21 PM To: ‘azspeak@cox.net’
  • Subject: PRR re: Pharmacy Benefit Management RFP

“Mr. Aswell,

Pursuant to your public records request, we are still searching for records and/or reviewing them for exemptions and privileges. Once finished with the review process, all non-exempt records will be made available to you. It is estimated the records will be available on or before October 31, 2014.

Public Records Requests

Division of Administration

State of Louisiana

Email: doapublicrecords@la.gov


We still had not received the records by the time we filed our lawsuit on Jan. 16, 2015, but almost miraculously, they were delivered to our attorney’s office on Jan. 23, precisely one week after the lawsuit was filed.

So, taking DOA’s promised delivery date of Oct. 31, 2014, and projecting it out to Jan. 23, 2015, discounting about 10 holidays and several weekends (which don’t count), DOA still should have been looking at penalties of upwards of $5,000 on just that one request.

But, Caldwell mused, our request was “broad,” making it difficult for DOA to comply in a timely manner. “I’ve had experience in other cases involving voluminous requests for information where much redaction had to be done (nothing was redacted from the records we received), so I know how difficult it can be for the state to drop everything and meet your demand,” he volunteered. Accordingly, he disallowed our request for damages—again, despite the state’s never having put forward the burdensome argument. But then, why should they when an obliging judge will do it for them?

Moreover, the $800 fine he did assess against Nichols was far less than it should have been for that one violation. The records in that case (travel records for OGB personnel) were first made on October 4, 2014, and we were told the records did not exist. We re-submitted our request in December, but the records were not made available until Feb. 18, 2015.

That fine should have been in excess of $3,000, not $800.

There are several conclusion we can draw from this:

  • Judge Caldwell completely missed—or ignored—the part where DOA promised the records “on or before October 31, 2014;”
  • His honor overrated the difficulty in producing records that already existed and were in the possession of DOA;
  • The judge has little concern for the public’s right to know what its government does, nor he have any sympathy for those who work to report those actions;
  • He simply could not bring himself to impose such a heavy fine against Nichols personally despite the clear intent of the law—so he arbitrarily set a low fine for the one request and simply denied the others.

At this point, we don’t know if the state will appeal Caldwell’s judgment. We can’t imagine Nichols rolling over so easily and writing a check for $800, plus costs and attorney fees. After all, the attorneys work for the state, not her, so what does she have to lose with an appeal?

As for us, we still must meet with our attorneys to decide how to proceed with a partial victory coupled with a stinging loss.

But the question here is just what will it take to get the courts to pay attention to what the state is doing and use the power of the bench to force compliance with the law? How long will the courts simply look the other way to the detriment of the citizenry’s right to know?

We’re told that Judge Caldwell is a good judge and a fair man but we certainly don’t feel as though we received fair treatment before him.

No, we didn’t go to law school and we don’t hold a law license. But we can read and the law is quite clear on the demands placed on governmental agencies to comply with public records laws. There is no ambiguity on that point.

And one other thing: If Kristy Nichols thinks we’re going to fold our tent and skulk away, she’s in for a rude awakening. We’re not going anywhere. There will be other requests and in cases of non-compliance, there will be more litigation.

That’s a solemn promise.



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