Back in early October, LouisianaVoice did a story about railroad safety and the firing by Union Pacific Railroad of one of its employees because he took a rail line out of service over safety issues despite being ordered not to do so.

Johnny Taylor subsequently SUED Union Pacific and the railroad offered the defense that Taylor was terminated for disrespectful conduct and that he had “significant performance issues” and a history of “insubordination and outright refusal to alter his behavior.”

It was the classic David v. Goliath case with Taylor represented by no-nonsense lawyer Art Smith, who was pitted against a bank of suited corporate lawyers whose only purpose in life was to protect the interest of Union Pacific.

(Full disclosure: Smith also is my attorney in public records and public meeting litigation and has won three of four such cases that have gone to trial. I like to joke that he is also the typical lawyer in that he goes by the traditional first initial, followed by his middle name, last name, and a Roman numeral – as in J. Arthur Smith, III. His son also is an attorney in his firm. His name is J. Arthur Smith, IV. They’re referred to by their legal team as Art-Three and Art-Four.)

If you view the Smith Law Firm office on North Street in downtown Baton Rouge from either the outside or its interior, you wouldn’t be impressed. But then, Art-Three doesn’t go in for a lot of frills. The most expensive artwork you’ll find in his office consists of an array of New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz-Fest) poster reproductions. A big outing for Art-Three is for him and his beautiful wife to peruse the latest releases at the Louisiana Book Festival in downtown Baton Rouge each fall (cancelled, unfortunately, the past two years because of COVID).

You won’t see the Smith Law Firm assaulting your senses with all those mind-numbing commercials during local newscasts (local TV news exists only to keep those ads from bumping together and lately, even that task is seemingly impossible as you’re liable to see back-to-back-to-back ads from Morris Bart, Gordon McKernan, Spencer Callahan, Peyton Murphy, and God-knows-who-else). Some of those firms that like to advertise those big awards neglect to mention that their fees (some as high as 40 percent), expert witness fees, court reporter fees and court costs come off the top of those awards even though, I believe, there is a state law now that is supposed to provide full disclosure in the ads but which is ignored for obvious reasons.

What you do see, however, is serious legal work from a capable – and dedicated – staff that, believe it or not, takes its clients’ problems personally.

And so it came to pass that Union Pacific got its comeuppance recently when Johnny Taylor and Art-Three kicked butt in U.S. District Court’s Middle District in Baton Rouge.

In the Jury Verdict Form completed by the jury, the answers to six questions were:

  • Did Plaintiff Johnny Taylor prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he engaged in protected activity under the Federal Railroad Safety Act? Yes.
  • Did Plaintiff Johnny Taylor prove by a preponderance of the evidence that his protected activity was a contributing factor to Defendant Union Pacific’s decision to terminate him? Yes.
  • Did Union Pacific prove by clear and convincing evidence that it would have terminated Plaintiff Johnny Taylor even if he had not engaged in protected activity? No.
  • Do you find that Plaintiff Johnny Taylor should be awarded back pay? Yes.
  • What sum of money, if paid now in cash, would fairly and reasonably compensate Plaintiff Johnny Taylor for the damages, if any, you have found Defendant Union Pacific caused him?
  • Past pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life: $300,000.
  • Future pain and suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life: $423,000.
  • Do you find that Plaintiff Johnny Taylor should be awarded punitive damages? No.

All in all, not too shabby a performance in David’s unheralded skirmish with Goliath.

And not a single tasteless, obnoxious, cheesy lawyer ad to be found to assault your sensibilities.

Folks of my vintage can well-remember how angry the right-wing southerners were back in the day when they took Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn out of circulation because of Twain’s liberal use of the N-word.

The self-righteous indignation suffered by the protectors of the First Amendment was palpable and the roar of protests coming from the letters to the editor in the daily newspapers was almost audible – and justifiably so. Literature is literature and even when classics contain objectionable words, they should not be censored. That was my position then and it is my position now.

(Full disclosure: I had an uncle named James B. Aswell, Jr. who was an early 1940s-‘50s author and his books were so racy for their time – one in particular, I remember, depicted a housewife doing the Lady Godiva ride through downtown Lake Charles – that a ceremonial book-burning was held in front of the courthouse in his hometown of Natchitoches.)

I also remember at Ruston High School we were not allowed to bring onto campus copies of the 1956 scandalous Grace Metalious book Peyton Place. The result was the determination of every student to sneak a copy into school to be read during recess, lunch and study hall. While I had my own copy, suffice it to say the curiosity of the female students was no less stifled – more than a few of them were sneak-readers as well.

All that hullabaloo was before we had a thing called cancel culture or something called CRT. It was just plain old censorship and by gawd, we were agin’ it. We had a right to read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn if we wanted to. Hell, we could even read Little Black Sambo and Brer Rabbit – except we couldn’t anymore.

All you white supremacist John Birchers, Oath Keepers, Big Boys, Mamas Babies, and whatever else you are calling yourselves these days – do you remember those days? Of course not. Memories are selective and to throw those events into the equation would be to shine the spotlight on your hypocritical double standard of today.

That’s because we’ve gradually made a 180-turn back to the Jim Crow ‘50s. Today, you are invoking the vague term “critical race theory” and the equally vague word “decency” as grounds for redacting history and literature.

One Louisiana legislator actually openly advocates teaching only the “good things” in American History classes in our public schools. Really? Do you seriously wish to cease informing students that this country went through a disastrous Civil War? I suppose teaching the Spanish-American War (which the U.S. instigated with no proven provocation – we still don’t know what caused the explosion and sinking of the USS Maine) is okay. But the civil rights struggle in this country, obviously, is out.

History, good, bad or indifferent, is history. Period. And it should be taught with no artificial flavoring or coloring.

But that’s not what the Repugnantcan Party wants. While accusing political opponents of the so-called cancel-culture, they have set out dictating their own version of historical censorship.

Texas students, for example, cannot be taught the facts that led to John Wayne’s portrayal of Crockett’s standoff to the death at the Alamo. Crockett, Travis, et al died as heroes. End of story. Meanwhile, Texas State Rep. MATT KRAUSE (a Repugnantcan, of course) is personally reviewing 850 books on race and gender to determine if any of them might cause “discomfort” to students. If nothing else, Krause will emerge from the experience as possibly the most well-read member of the Texas legislature.

But does that qualify him to determine what may or may not cause reader “discomfort”? Hardly.

And Texas Gov. GREG ABBOTT, who can’t even keep the lights and heat on in the winter, has taken it upon himself to direct state authorities to develop statewide “standards” against “pornography” in Texas public schools.

That’s laughable. Hey, Guv, you want to guarantee teens will flock to get something? Just tell ‘em they can’t have it and then sit back and watch. And guess what, Guv? They have computers, they have iPads, they have iPhones – with cameras. Hell they can get all the free porn their little hearts desire by simply clicking on an icon.

And you’re going to be the self-appointed porn police who tells them they can’t? Good luck with that.

It’s the same in KANSAS and VIRGINIA and probably anywhere else there is self-righteous Repugnantcan “leadership.”

All these self-styled guardians against anything offensive, lewd, controversial or otherwise objectionable should remember the immortal (or was it immoral?) words of former New Orleans Mayor Martin Behrman who, when prostitution in the fabled Storyville District was finally official “abolished” by decree, said, “You can make it illegal but you can’t make it unpopular.”

My grandfather had a term for those who possessed lengthy educational pedigrees but lacked the common sense to safely pour catsup from a bottle without endangering someone’s shirt at the next table:

An educated fool.

Such a person is Louisiana’s junior senator.

John Neely Kennedy is just that: an educated fool.

That he’s educated is well-documented but no less so than the mounting evidence that he is a pseudo-hillbilly philosophizing fool who loves nothing more than to have his platitudinous homilies aired by network television news so all the world to see that Will Rogers isn’t really dead – he just smells funny.

But when your 1950s red-baiting tactics conjure up the ghost of Tail Gunner Joe McCarthy, it has to leave one asking, in the immortal words of Frederick G. Fisher, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

That’s precisely what happened on Thursday when Kennedy, caught in a time warp, went out hunting for communists when the State of Louisiana might well have been better served with improved roads and bridges, less poverty, higher levels of education, and better job opportunities for its citizens.

But never mind all those things; they don’t garner face time on the networks. Grandstanding, obviously, does and grandstanding is what Kennedy does best. In fact, in the five years he has been in the U.S. Senate, that’s about all he has done.

It was during the confirmation hearings for President Biden’s nominee as head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) that Kennedy really mooned the world (in polite terms – in cruder terms, showed his ass).

And it’s the irony of the entire exchange (which I’ll get to presently) that really brought out the hypocrisy of Kennedy.

“You used to be a member of a group called the Young Communist, didn’t you?” Kennedy asked Saule Omarova, who is a professor at Cornell University specializing in financial regulation.

Kennedy was referring to the Leninist Communist Young Union of the Russian Federation, aka the Komsomol.

Omarova answered in the affirmative explaining that because she grew up in the Soviet Union, membership in the group was mandatory. Unimpressed (or more likely, unhearing, because senators and representatives in Washington – and Baton Rouge – would rather hear themselves than their constituents or witnesses), Kennedy pressed on:

Did she resign from the group? Did she send them a letter of resignation? No, Senator, she explained patiently, that’s now how it works. Somehow, Kennedy never got around to questioning her about her qualifications for regulating banks, which is what OCC does. Instead, he was hell-bent on rooting out communists.

Now, I’m all for properly identifying communists wherever they might be, including those who might consider launching misinformation campaigns over Internet social media platforms in order to get a favored demagogue elected president say, in 2016, but to zero in on this person while ignoring all the intel that points to the Russian interference in the 2016 election is more than a little hypocritical.

I have no sympathy for the communist philosophy of government. I’ve seen what it’s done in countries like Russia, Cuba and Venezuela and it’s not pretty. But I’ve also seen what this country has done in countries with legitimately-elected leftist regimes in an effort to overthrow those governments and that ain’t pretty, either.

I also have no sympathy for those in power who would deny any citizen the right to vote, who would deny housing, jobs, or education to someone because of their skin pigment, or who would refuse to increase the minimum wage even as corporate CEOs’ remuneration has increased astronomically.

I question the values of a system that would allow someone who gets caught with a joint to spend a lifetime behind bars while a white kid from a wealthy family is allowed to go free after RAPING  four (count ‘em, four) girls. (Try to be honest in answering the question of what would have been the result if the boy had been black?)

I have a real problem with a judge (in Tennessee) who expeditiously (and falsely) creates new law out of whole cloth just so she can SENTENCE black children to prison.

But John Neely Kennedy, so long as it gets him on TV, has no problem with castigating someone who, while living under a tyrannical government, was forced to adhere to its oppressive rules by “joining” an organization of the state. Never mind that that same person managed to escape that life for what she thought was freedom in this country – only to be “outed” by camera whore.

I guess it comes back to the Bible verse John 8:7, which says, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

But Kennedy, like his idol, would apparently rather just hold the Bible up for a photo-op than actually read what it says.

He is, after all, just an educated fool.

“The right says the schools are indoctrinating the kids to think like the left. I cannot tell you how wrong they are. If we had that power to influence children in such a way, we’d use it to influence them to do their homework and to study.”

–A Livingston Parish educator.

I’m not sure what Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta’s angle is, but you can bet the farm there is one and Louisiana electric power customers stand to take the hit.

I’ve written about Skrmetta’s BUSINESS TIES  to Jason Hewitt, whose “energy efficiency company” was awarded a $17.3 million contract by the PSC.

LouisianaVoice also did a story about Skrmetta BUSINESS PARTNER Scott McQuaig who was hired as a PSC legal counsel but when his license to practice law was suspended indefinitely, the PSC simply hired him as a “consultant.”

It was revealed here that Skrmetta failed to mention his INVOLVEMENT in a Mississippi casino. All state officials are required to divulge such information on their financial disclosure statements

Likewise, he neglected to disclose an AGREEMENT he entered int with Boomtown Casino to attempt to bring a casino to Harvey.

Now, we have Skrmetta, who represents all or part of 11 PARISHES in southeastern Louisiana, offering up a motion (thankfully, tabled until the PSC’s December meeting) that proposes that the PSC “provide written notice of withdrawal from membership to MISO.”

MISO is the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, a nonprofit association that manages the power grid for 15 states and Manitoba Province in Canada. It oversees the uninterrupted provision of electricity to 42 million people. Louisiana has been a member of MISO since 2013.

So now, Skrmetta apparently wants Louisiana to follow Texas in subjecting Louisiana to massive power outages in the middle of winter – perhaps so Sen. John Kennedy, like Ted Cruz, can take a vacation in Cancun when the lights go out.

Texas is not a member of any cooperative power grid, relying instead on the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), and went through widespread OUTAGES in the middle of the coldest winter in 72 years, leaving more than 5 million Texans shivering in the dark for six days, leaving the state only minutes away from months-long power outages.

Membership in the MISO grid provides many to Louisiana, including the ability to borrow electricity from other states during times of emergencies, said SIMON MAHAN, executive director of the Southern Renewable Energy Association. Part of the reason for the power blackout in Texas was because much of Texas is not connected to an interstate power grid, he said.

Membership also allows power companies to broker electricity to and from other states at wholesale prices, which creates competition in areas such as Louisiana that are serviced by only a few power companies, he said. A 2020 analysis conducted by Entergy revealed that Louisiana’s MISO membership saved customers an about $63 million last year and $698 million from 2014 to 2020.

Skrmetta apparently has an issue with MISO’s growing reliance on wind turbines. He indicated he feared taxpayers would be called upon to finance the transmission of power, which he said will cost $130 billion to bring to homes and businesses.

Mahan disputed Skrmetta’s claim, but qualified his denial by admitting that MISO could conceivably change its policy and begin charging southern customers for its projects up north.

But withdrawing from MISO is not an option and should be rejected out of hand by the PSC.

I seldom advocate mass calling projects because unless an issue is particularly controversial, it rarely generates the desired results in terms of participation. Add to that the fact that the PSC is one of those agencies that get little attention from the public, and you have the perfect recipe for a public body’s ability to operate in obscurity.

But this is a critical issue and if you are reading this, you really need to contact your PSC member and give him (all five are male) an earful.

To do so, go back to this link: http://www.lpsc.louisiana.gov/DistrictMapPage.aspx and click on your member’s name in the lower left part of the page. That will take you to your member’s page and you can go to the gray shaded box to the right to click onto his office’s email.

Get involved!

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