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Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III, has been named president of a new political action committee (PAC) founded in an attempt to stem the growing trend of economic, religious, gender, racial and healthcare discrimination against American employees.

Stand Up for Workers (SU4W) “was established by people who care about the basic rights of the American worker. We seek to protect the right to a fair and livable wage and benefits; to receive fair and humane treatment in the workplace, including work with dignity; and to have full access to justice, including the right to trial by jury,” according to its web page.

A little background is in order here.

The formation of the new PAC is realistically challenged with overcoming nearly a 50-year head start by big business and business-backed Republican elected officials who, indebted to corporate PACs, have given their tacit approval to the more subtle means of employee discrimination. At the same time, open endorsement has been given the so-called Powell Memorandum of 1971 by then-corporate attorney Lewis Powell, Jr., who shortly after writing his memo, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Nixon.

The MEMORANDUM, written specifically for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was entitled “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” and served as a master plan for conservative business interests to retake America from the so-called New Deal era. It was supposed to have been confidential, but was discovered an published by columnist Jack Anderson following Powell’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Powell, who had served as corporate attorney and director on the board of Phillip Morris until his appointment to the Supreme Court, was an unabashed champion of the tobacco industry during his term on the court as well as an opponent of reforms to the automobile industry prompted by Ralph Nader’s expose’ Unsafe at Any Speed, which revealed the auto industry’s higher priority on profits than on safety. Powell called Nader the chief antagonist of American business.

The memo, which foreshadowed several of the Powell court’s opinions served as the blueprint for the rise of the American conservative movement and the formation of a spate of right-wing think tanks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and lobbying organizations and also inspired the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to become more active in the political arena.

Conversely, as the chamber’s and other conservative organization’s influence gained strength in Washington, the political clout of organized labor weakened, further silencing the voice of American workers.

Following is the full press release announcing the formation of SU4W, as well as a link to the organization’s web page:

 

A group of worker advocates from across the nation has announced founding of a specialized political action committee, “Stand Up for Workers” (SU4W), dedicated specifically to the needs and concerns of American workers.  https://standupforworkers.org/    SU4W is a hybrid PAC, comprising both a traditional PAC and a super PAC.

“Despite recent promises of improvements in work life conditions for working Americans, the plight of middle and lower income workers has, if anything, become more dire,” said Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur “Art” Smith, III, President of SU4W.

Mr. Smith is a 47 year veteran employee-side litigator in Louisiana. He has litigated numerous trials and appeals in labor and employment on behalf of both employees and unions. He is a fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers, and has served in numerous positions with the Louisiana Association for Justice, including membership on the Board of Governors, and chair of both its employment and civil rights committees.

SU4W Vice President James Kaster, a Minneapolis, MN attorney, is an experienced trial lawyer who concentrates on representing plaintiffs in employment cases. He is one of only a few plaintiffs’ lawyers who is a member of both the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and the American College of Trial Lawyers, a group limited to one percent of America’s trial attorneys.  Mr. Kaster has also been a frequent lecturer at continuing legal education seminars and has been active in bar activities, including serving as President of the National Employment Lawyers Association.

“Until now there has been no group specifically dedicated to supporting political candidates committed to sponsoring and voting for legislation aimed at concrete measures that will produce better conditions for the American workers whose labor has formed the backbone of our country’s prosperity,” Mr. Smith said. SU4W will support candidates for all federal offices and will engage in other activities in support of working Americans, such as providing accurate information about candidates, proposed legislation and policies.

Most lower- and middle-income American workers have seen stagnant wages for decades, while executive and professional income has risen astronomically, Smith noted. Efforts to better the lives of workers through measures such as affordable health insurance have been consistently attacked and undermined by the current administration in Washington.

SU4W focuses on three goals:

  • more equitable pay for workers;
  • fair and humane treatment in the workplace, and
  • full access to justice, including trial by jury. Trial rights have been substantially eroded by the advent of arbitration agreements extracted from workers through the threat of not being hired.

SU4W will solicit applications for support from candidates, and will engage in a careful vetting process to ensure that the candidates selected satisfy a clear set of criteria showing they will include support for workers among their top priorities.  SU4W will study recent election returns to identify districts where pro-worker candidates will have the best chance of success.

The need for advocacy on behalf of workers extends beyond the issues of income and access to affordable health care, Smith noted. Incidents of degrading treatment at work, including racial, religious and sexual discrimination, are on the rise, and many employers have failed to prevent  abuse or act against it.

Founding members of SU4W are from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.  Among its leadership are some of the country’s most prominent attorneys whose legal practices are committed to enforcing employee rights.

For more information about SU4W, to make a donation, or find out how to apply for support, visit the website at https://standupforworkers.org/

Did physical therapist Philippe Veeters have a guardian angel watching over him, protecting him from an aggressive investigation by Baton Rouge authorities after he was accused of inappropriate touching of female patients and inappropriate comments about their bodies?

Veeters, you may recall from LouisianaVoice’s story last month, was first arrested last February on the basis of complaints from several female patients but the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s office didn’t get around to submitted a bill of information against him until Nov. 1.

See that story HERE.

Veeters, it turns out, besides operating his own facility, Dutch Physical Therapy, also has an affiliation with The Spine Diagnostic Promotional, LLC.

Louisiana Secretary of State corporate records indicate that The Spine Diagnostic Promotional has two officers—Veeters and Dr. J. Michael Burdine.

The association with Burdine is significant in that until recently, Burdine was President of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners.

To be clear, the State Board of Medical Examiners has no direct authority over physical therapists who are licensed and regulated by the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board.

But both the State Board of Medical Examiners and the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board operate under the umbrella of the Louisiana Department of Health. That, and the business relationship between Veeters and Burdine creates at least a perception by one woman who has complained about Veeters of too much coziness between the two boards.

The two boards even shared a common legal counsel until attorney George Papale was TERMINATED by the physical therapy board following complaints about the board’s handling of….sexual misconduct cases involving physical therapists.

 

Business: THE SPINE DIAGNOSTIC PROMOTIONAL, L.L.C.
Charter Number: 35730933K
Registration Date: 6/28/2004

 

Domicile Address
  5408 FLANDERS DR.
  BATON ROUGE, LA 70808

 

Status: Active
File Date: 6/28/2004
Last Report Filed: 7/5/2018
Type: Limited Liability Company

 

Agent: J. MICHAEL BURDINE
Address 1: 5408 FLANDERS DR.
City, State, Zip: BATON ROUGE, LA 70808
Appointment Date: 6/28/2004

 

Officer: J. MICHAEL BURDINE, M.D.
Title: Member
Address 1: 5408 FLANDERS DR.
City, State, Zip: BATON ROUGE, LA 70808

 

Officer: PHILIPPE VEETERS
Title: Member
Address 1: 10343 SIEGEN LN.
City, State, Zip: BATON ROUGE, LA 70810

 

Here is the biographical information on Dr. Burdine prior to his leaving the Board of Medical Examiners:

Board Members

J Michael Burdine, MD – President

Dr. Burdine grew up in Lafayette, LA attending high school at Acadiana High and received his bachelor of science at LSU in Baton Rouge.  He attended medical school at LSU New Orleans graduating in 1983.  He completed his internship at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and after, worked emergency medicine for four years in the Acadiana area.  He attended the University of Arkansas in Little Rock studying Anesthesiology and moved to the University of Cincinnati to complete his fellowship in Pain Management.  He worked in Oklahoma City providing outpatient regional anesthesia and pain management for eleven years before returning to Baton Rouge in 2002 to practice pain management exclusively.

Since returning to Baton Rouge Dr. Burdine has been an active member in the Louisiana State Medical Society, the President of the Capitol Area Medical Society, and the President of the Louisiana Society of Interventional Pain Physicians.  He was an Executive Board Member of the Arthritis Association of Louisiana and was its volunteer of the year in 2006.  He serves on the Louisiana Medicare Carrier Advisory Committee; is an Executive Board Member of the Louisiana Society of Anesthesiologists; and the LSIPP Delegate to the Calcasieu Prescription Drug Task Force.

In 2008 he was voted Medtronic’s Patient Access Advocacy Hero and has twice been a CRC of America Top 100 Physicians in Pain Management.

Dr. Burdine is Board Certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and holds added Certification in Pain Management in 1996 and 2006 by the ABMS.  He is a member of multiple National and State wide physician organizations.  He is currently in full time private practice at the Spine Diagnostic and Pain Treatment Center of which he is the founder in Baton Rouge, LA.

 

It seems I owe Steve Pylant an apology.

I left him out of my book Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

Please know it was an oversight and was never an intentional slight of the former three-term Franklin Parish sheriff and current lame duck state representative.

Please consider this my feeble attempt to atone for that glaring omission.

After all, his voting record in the House was consistently that of a staunch law-and-order, lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key hard-liner.

Except, of course, when he decided to come to the rescue of four former meth felons caught with weapons in neighboring Catahoula Parish.

In case you may not remember that story I wrote last January, you can read it HERE.

But my reason for bringing him up again is not only to express my contrition for omitting him from the book.

My reason this time concerns a couple of incidents just a couple of months ago which might leave the mistaken impression that Pylant is still the high sheriff—or thinks he is.

Pylant apparently feels he has the right to attempt to enter private property and question occupants without a warrant or even a badge.

In fact, he seems to feel he can even brandish a weapon and force two women driving alone at 10 p.m. to pull over on a darkened Franklin Parish roadway.

April Franks says she and her friend, Amber Conley, were stopped by Pylant and a man named Steve Drane, 50, of Gilbert on the night of Oct. 16. “It was a dark road,” said Franks, who said she believed Pylant, who was waving a gun, was drunk. “[He] grabbed the door window and slammed his pistol against it, telling us we could not leave.”

Drane was one of four convicted felons for whom Pylant secured a $90,000 property bond to spring them from jail in Catahoula Parish in December 2018. Another of those arrested for hunting on private property in Tensas Parish on that occasion was Michael Linder, whose brother, Bryan Linder, was—and still is—an employee of the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Department.

Each of the four men had prior drug convictions as well as other assorted convictions spread among them and each was armed at the time of the arrests even though convicted felons are prohibited by law from possessing firearms.

None of which deterred Pylant from stepping in to conduct his own traffic stop despite lacking the proper credentials to do so.

“He had no right to pull us over,” Franks said. “He and Steve Drane were sitting in a curve 200 yard from where we pulled out – right past the boat landing they had been watching us from for two hours. He was in the middle of the road waving his hands in the air and was holding a pistol. We had no choice but to stop. Amber, my friend, was driving and thought they must need help …. that was not the case at all. In the video I sent you he (Pylant) is saying he didn’t ‘point the pistol as us I had it in the air.’  He was visibly and audibly drunk that night.”

Franks said she subsequently called the police department and “told them some man stopped us with a pistol and was drunk and they told me that there was already an officer out there to talk to him.

“A few days later, I went to get a copy of the police report and (Deputy) Bryan Linder (brother of Michael Linder) took me to his office, acted like he was looking for it and then told me that he didn’t have one, that he doesn’t require his officers to write up every little call and if I didn’t like his response, I could go across the hall to (Sheriff) Kevin Cobb’s office and talk to him.”

No record of a report of a man waving a gun and pulling motorists over in the middle of the night? Seriously? That begs the question of just what would a person have to do to generate an incident report? Once, when I was running police beat for the Baton Rouge State-Times, I saw an incident report of a “deceased chicken.”

Cobb, of course, was Pylant’s chief deputy before succeeding his former boss as sheriff.

The traffic stop by an unauthorized individual brandishing a weapon (drunk or sober) would be bad enough but just minutes later, Pylant and Drane appeared alongside a houseboat on the Tensas River owned by Frank’s friend Amos “Gene” Kenney of Gilbert.

Pylant, claiming he smelled meth cooking. Kenney responded that he was running trot lines and was cooking only beans on his boat.

Pylant then referred to another boat in the river, indicating the smell was coming from that direction. “It may be,” Kenney said, “but that ain’t my boat. This is my boat here and I’m cooking a pot of beans.”

Pylant insisted on searching the boat but Kenney demanded to see a search a warrant, which, of course, neither he nor sheriff’s deputy Brandon Boxx, who eventually showed up on the scene, happened to have on them. When Franks alluded to Pylant’s pointing a pistol at her car earlier, he denied it, saying, he was holding the pistol “in the air.”

At one point, Pylant said to Franks, “I’m gon’ tell you, baby, you piss on somebody’s foot…” Without completing what almost certainly was a profound thought, he switched gears, telling “Baby”, “I been in law enforcement for 30 years. I was sheriff here a long time.”

Pylant, harking back to his glory days as sheriff of Franklin Parish, boasted, “I was sheriff here a long time. I been retired eight years. I been in the state legislature.” Claiming he knew what meth smells like, he said, “I took the first meth lab down in northeast Louisiana in 1996 and I know what it smells like.”

Then he said, “I’m interested in seeing what we gonna find on that houseboat out there ‘cause I done seen y’all go back and forth out there twice.”

“We were on a trot line,” Franks protested.

“Naw, you wasn’t on no damn trot line,” Pylant said. “Somebody’s probably still in the houseboat.”

“I hope so,” Franks said. “Then there won’t be any question.”

“Well I heard y’all get out and get on it and ever’thang,” Pylant said.

After more back and forth accusations and denials, Franks said, “Well, I’m not going to argue with you…”

“There ain’t no need,” Pylant said, sounding like a true southern redneck sheriff that he seemed to think he still was. “It’s a damn shame,” he said, “a damn shame.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Rep. Pylant.

The folks in House District 20 must be so very proud.

And folks dare wonder why our legislature is so dysfunctional?

For your viewing enjoyment:

If you’re like me, you tend to tune out all those annoying “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” TV ads which can be nearly as annoying and brain-numbing as the political ads leading up to the recent gubernatorial election.

That’s why I refrained from posting any such demeaning ads for my latest book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption. (That, and the fact that I don’t have any such special offers for “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday.”)

But if you have someone on your Christmas list who (a) is a political junkie and (b) loves to read, then by all means, I would suggest you consider this book as an ideal stocking-stuffer.

For that matter, you could just go ahead and order one for everyone on your Christmas list and avoid the crowds at the mall while getting that pesky shopping out of the way early. (How’s that for pandering?)

Want to alert a friend with a word to the wise about what could happen to him in an unfriendly parish if he gets out of line? Give him this book.

Want to send a subtle message to an officer or deputy who got a little heavy-handed in the way he treated you during a traffic stop? The book’s a great way to do that—so long as you do so anonymously.

Seriously, I’m gratified that the book is receiving favorable reviews on Amazon, where you can purchase it for $35. But you can save $5 by clicking on the image of the book in the right hand column and ordering it from Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs or by clicking on the yellow DONATE button (also in the right hand column) and ordering directly from me. Either way, the price is $30.

(Full disclosure: I have no affiliation with Cavalier House Books other than my friendship with the owners, John and Michelle Cavalier. John originally built this web page—at no charge to me—and I insisted that he place an ad on this page. It’s the only advertising that I accept and I don’t charge for it. It’s just my way of supporting local bookstores.)

Pre-trial intervention (PTI) programs, in theory at least, are designed to give those charged with a first offense—such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), for example—to keep the conviction off their record by participating in a program of community service or a series of classroom sessions, usually extended over a period of several weeks.

The purpose of the programs, again in theory, is that not every person charged with an offense should be subjected to criminal prosecution and that there are those who can be prevented from becoming repeat offenders through proper intervention.

The problem with Louisiana’s PTI programs is that there is no uniform application or oversight, allowing local district attorneys complete autonomy in how the programs are administered.

Instead of serving their intended purpose, many local PTI programs have morphed into cash cows and as such, lend themselves to widespread abuses at the expense of other programs such as indigent defender boards and local law enforcement.

In May 2018, former Baton Rouge Advocate (now Associated Press) reporter Jim Mustian wrote an excellent story that illustrated that very point. His entire story may be seen HERE.

Mustian showed that from 2012 to 2017, two parishes in particular had taken advantage of the program to create a lucrative source of income for prosecutors while a third did even better during the years from 2012 to 2017.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier saw income for his office increase threefold, from $556,000 in 2012 to $1.65 million in 2016. Jefferson Parish did even better with its income from PTI programs increasing four times, from $335,000 to $1.37 million during the same period.

But Rapides Parish DA Phillip Terrell has turned the practice into an art form, boosting his PTI revenue by a factor of seven, from $302,000 in 2012 to a mind-blowing $2.2 million in 2017.

Still, that influx of new dollars didn’t keep Terrell from requesting more than $2.5 million in parish funds for his office in 2018 despite a looming budgetary shortfall of $427,000 for the parish.

That was enough to attract the attention of online publication Politico, which normally devotes its attention to stories of national and international significance than to the budgetary problems of a parish situated in the middle of Louisiana. Politico’s story can been read in its entirety HERE.

Rapides Parish Treasurer Bruce Kelly wondered why the DA’s office was suddenly asking for more funds than at any time in his 30 years in the parish treasurer’s office knowing, as he did, that the DA had a new fleet of vehicles with leather seats.

He soon learned why.

Pre-trial diversion, otherwise known as pre-trial intervention, or PTI.

The DA’s income from court fines had dropped by nearly half, from $900,000 to $500,000 over the past three years. That corresponded with a similar drop in traffic tickets issued—from 12,000 per year to 7,000.

At the same time, however, Terrell’s office had significantly increased its PTI program, allowing offenders to pay money to the DA in exchange for charges being dropped and their cases dismissed, thus keeping their tickets or arrests off their records as though they never happened.

Offenders were charged dismissal fees ranging from $250 for traffic tickets, $500 for misdemeanors and as high as $1,500 for felonies.

And Terrell’s office, Kelly learned, was keeping that money for itself—money that should have gone into the parish’s general fund to be shared with indigent defender offices and the sheriff’s office.

Believing Terrell was depriving the parish of fine money to which it was entitled, Kelly and the parish leadership filed suit against Terrell’s office in an effort to get the court to force the DA to share its PTI revenue.

Terrell responded that he could make as much as he wanted through PTI because…well, because the law didn’t say otherwise.

And he was right in the assertion that there were no statewide standards to the implementation and operation of PTI programs and thus, no restrictions as to his ability to exploit the program.

To make his case, he brought in a hired gun in the person of Hugo Holland, a prosecutor who normally works only as a prosecutor in criminal cases and who appears to be on the payroll of several parish district attorneys simultaneously, from Caddo Parish in north Louisiana to Calcasieu Parish in the state’s southwestern extreme.

The battle between Terrell and Rapides Parish Police Jury took on true Trumpian overtones when Holland threatened the police jury members with investigations into their own use of funds if they did not agree to drop their fight with his client. When that tactic failed, Terrell filed a countersuit arguing that he did not owe any money to the parish and calling the police jury’s lawsuit “politically-driven.”

It’s easy to see why Terrell is so possessive of his sudden stream of income—and why similar battle lines could be drawn between prosecutors and parish governing bodies as more and more DAs are made aware of the untapped revenue windfalls currently available to them.

It’s also pretty easy to predict an intense lobbying campaign by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA) to protect PTI programs from regulation should some state lawmaker have the temerity to introduce legislation to rein in such a lucrative enterprise.

I’m willing to bet even money that Arkansas would have a better chance of beating LSU today than any such bill would have of making it out of committee.

 

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