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Leave it to Attorney General Jeff Landry to come down on the wrong side of a case involving a question about constitutional law.

The Attorney General’s office, under the dictates of the state’s 1974 Constitutional, is barred from prosecuting illegal activity (other than child porn and a few drug cases) unless specifically asked to do so by the local district attorney. Instead, while attorneys general of other states actively pursue criminal prosecution, the Louisiana AG for the most part is relegated to defending state agencies, even when those same agencies may be neck deep in illegal or unethical activity.

Then Attorney General William Guste fought the encroachment on his prosecutorial powers but the state’s district attorneys, equally determined to protect their fiefdoms, were simply too strong. In the end, the AG was gutted of its authority to intervene in local criminal matters.

So it was that on Thursday (Aug. 25), Landry, after the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney recused himself from the case, wound up on the short end of a ruling by Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal that a search warrant signed by State District Court Randall Bethancourt and executed by Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter was unconstitutional at both the state and federal level.

http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/lafourche-terrebonne/court-rules-search-warrant-in-terrebonne-sheriff-case-unconstitutional/308367610

LouisianaVoice requested a copy of the SEARCH WARRANT but was initially referred by the clerk of court’s office to the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Department’s Chief of Detectives who told us, “The only way you’re gonna get that is with a subpoena.”

Not so fast, Barney. The Louisiana Public Records Law clearly says otherwise.

So it was back to the clerk as we explained that the warrant and affidavit were public record and on file in the clerk’s office. Incredibly, despite the illegal warrant having already made national news, the clerk employee professed to not knowing what we were asking for. finally, after more back and forth, she “found” it and said the five-page document would be sent when she received a $5 check ($1 per page). The check was sent only to be returned with the message that personal checks were not accepted by her office (she neglected to inform us of that minor detail before). So then we sent  money order and by sheer coincidence, we received the warrant on Thursday—the same day as the First Circuit’s ruling. That couldn’t have worked out better. Like they say, Sheriff, karma is a b—h.

But even more incredible was that upon reading the warrant, we learned that Larpenter also had served search warrants on Facebook and AT&T in an effort to go after his nemesis. That’s right. You read it here first. Presumably, Bethancourt signed those search warrants as well.

The entire basis of the warrants was a 1968 state anti-defamation law. A local blogger, it turns out had said bad things on the Internet blog Exposedat about the sheriff and the cozy business and familial relations that seem to abound in Terrebonne Parish (never mind that the stories had more than a grain of truth).

The only problem was—and something Judge Bethancourt should have known, assuming he is capable of reading a law book—the law was declared unconstitutional in 1981.

Rather than advise his new client (Judge Bethancourt and the high sheriff) of this, however, Landry allowed the matter to become case law (thankfully for the media) rather than quietly dropping the matter while working out an out-of-court monetary settlement with the victim whose computers and cell phones were seized in the illegal raid.

Instead, the sheriff’s office has now exposed itself to far greater legal liability for the August 2 raid deputies carried out on the home of Houma Police Officer Wayne Anderson during which they seized computers and cell phones, alleging that Anderson, the blog’s suspected author, committed criminal defamation against the parish’s new insurance agent, Tony Alford. Anderson has denied that he is the blog’s author.

We first addressed this Gestapo-type raid on Aug. 8:

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/08/08/blog-in-terrebonne-parish-making-officials-nervous-sheriff-conducts-raid-based-on-law-ruled-unconstitutional-in-1981/

Making matters even worse, Larpenter pulled off the near impossible feat of making Donald Trump appear to be the voice of reason and restraint with his comments about a Loyola University law professor’s assessment of the warrant at the time it was carried out.

Professor Dane Ciolino said on Aug. 3 that the Exposedat blogger’s comments about public affairs was protected speech under the 1st Amendment and that the raid was likely unconstitutional.

Not so, said a defiant Larpenter on a local television talk show, insisting that the criminal defamation law was not unconstitutional. He took a shot at Ciolino when he said, “Now, if this so-called professor they got out of whatever college he’s from, and you know, I hate to criticize anybody, but apparently he didn’t look at the West criminal code book to find out there is a statute in Louisiana you can go by criminally.”

That’s Loyola, Sheriff, the same “college” from which Huey Long obtained his law degree. It has pretty good creds, which is more than can be said for you. Where is your law degree from?

Our advice, unsolicited as it is, may well fall on deaf ears but Sheriff Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt need to realize they are not the law, but merely public servants with whom citizens have entrusted the responsibility of carrying out the law. There’s a huge difference. HUGE!

When public servants attempt to become public masters, when instead of enforcing laws, they starting making laws to serve a personal agenda, we have started down a slippery—and dangerous—slope.

And when an ego-driven sheriff and a sitting judge can disregard the law by serving search warrants on an individual and two major U.S. corporations for no other purpose than to stifle the First Amendment right of free speech, things have gotten more than a little dicey.

And it’s no better when the state’s attorney general attempts to defend that position.

And these are men who, in all likelihood, proudly—and loudly—support the Second Amendment.

Sorry, boys, but you aren’t allowed to cherry-pick which laws are guaranteed by the Constitution. Supporting one right while simultaneously defying another makes each of you nothing more than hypocritical tin horn despots.

First, please allow me to express my deepest appreciation to those of you who have been so generous with your monetary and in-kind contributions. I have had offers of housing, computers, and even the free use of a vehicle, the latter which I ever-so-gratefully accepted (my wife’s car was destroyed and I’m pretty sure the insurance won’t begin to replace it; My truck, while having the seats and carpeting ruined, is drivable and GEICO will provide a rental while it is being repaired).

Also, to clear up a discrepancy spotted by reader “Robert,” my first post about the flood said I did not have flood insurance. I later learned from my mortgage lender, LaCap Federal Credit Union, that I did have a “forced-buy” flood policy in the amount of the $40,000 loan I had taken out for home improvements. Because it was a fairly recent loan, the insurance covered just that with practically nothing left to pay for repairs and replacement of destroyed furniture, food, linens and appliances (we salvaged enough clothing to get by without having to buy much of those and because we’re staying at a daughter’s home, we’re okay shelter-wise).

We are still in need of help (like every other victim of this awful event) and we would be more than appreciative of any help you could afford.

Having said that, I would also say that the American spirit of self-help and old-fashioned entrepreneurialship is alive and well.

In addition to seeking immediate financial assistance, I am also asking that flood victims in any area affected by this month’s flooding forward your stories and photographs to me for inclusion in a planned book about the devastation spread across South Louisiana. The proposed book will be published by Cavalier House Booksellers, owned by John and Michelle Cavalier. I am particularly interested in stories of dramatic rescues of those trapped by the water which seemed (in my case, at least) to have come from nowhere and everywhere at once.

Fifty percent of all profits from the book will go to flood relief.

I want stories about the heroic efforts of the Cajun Navy, the Louisiana National Guard, tireless law enforcement officials from all affected parishes, business and faith-based volunteers (about whom there are insufficient words of praise) governmental officials from small town mayors to the governor and, yes, Trump and Obama.

I also would like stories about any frustrations encountered with any officials, from turf wars to bureaucratic red tape encountered.

In short, any story you have, no matter how insignificant you think it may be, should be submitted.

And, of course, please send photos, photos, PHOTOS.

I will edit the submissions, combining or deleting facts where appropriate and select the ones for inclusion in the book. If your story and/or photo(s) are chosen, you will be given full credit in the book. Also, should your story and/or photo(s) be included, you will, of course, receive a free signed copy of the book.

There is no limit as to the length of your story. If it’s too long, we can always shorten but we cannot add to your personal story, so don’t be shy about telling every detail. And don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. We can edit your copy. by

You may make contributions by clicking on the  donate button at the upper right or by mailing your check to:

Capital News Service/LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

To submit your story/photo(s), you may mail to the same address or email toL

tom.aswell@yahoo.com

 

Just a reminder to our readers that LouisianaVoice, like 90% of Denham Springs residents, took a tremendous hit from the devastating flood last week. We lost our home for months, perhaps for a year. We’re fortunate to have daughters living nearby and we’ve moved in with our youngest and while it’s crowded, it is a roof over our heads and a warm bed at night.

And while we do have flood insurance, it won’t come close to covering our losses of thousand of dollara. As most know, auto insurance won’t replace our vehicle lost in the flood.

Please try to find it in your hearts to contribute to LouisianaVoice by credit card by clicking on the yellow Donate button on the right or mail your contribution to:

Capital News Service/Louisiana Voice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

Thank You.

 

LouisianaVoice has been severely wounded but we’re temporarily operating from my daughter’s in Watson, about seven miles north of my destroyed home in Denham Springs. Following a leisurely breakfast Saturday morning, we looked out the front door to see water from the Amite River (a mile from my house) coming across the street.

That was all the warning we got after feeling confident the night before that we were in no peril. We scrambled to throw some clothing into garbage bags, gathered our medications and put our dogs on leashes as the water poured into the home where we had been living the past 22 years.

Shortly after, a flotilla from the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Department (that’s West Baton Rouge, as in across two rivers—the Amite and the Mississippi—and two parishes to the west of us) arrived as we struggled to raise heavy furniture. The deputy who came to our door told us it was useless because the water was going to go much higher than where we were trying to raise it. He helped be complete the task anyway—something he didn’t have to do, but did anyway out of compassion for our plight which was growing more desperate by the minute.

He helped carry our bags of clothing and our small dog and I bodily carried our Chow-Golden Retriever mix through the filthy, swirling water that was by now deeper than the tops of my white shrimp boots (a required part of the uniform if you live in South Louisiana). Needless to say the weight of two boots filled with brown river water made jumping onto tho flotilla impossible so a pair of deputies bodily lifted me aboard even as an untimely cramp in my right calf prohibited me from being of much help to my own rescue.

Once aboard, another smaller boat pulled alongside carrying a family with a special needs teenage boy. His wheelchair was lifted onto the flotilla and his father, who lived behind our home on an adjacent street, lifted his helpless, diapered atrophied son and placed him gingerly onto his wheelchair. It was as I watched that boy, unable to even raise his head that I came to the realization that even though I was losing my home, both vehicles, my record collection, my books and my computer, our losses were insignificant.

As we made our way to higher ground in the middle of the Denham Springs Antique District, I looked northward up Range Avenue (LA. 16, the main north-south thoroughfare in Denham Springs, all I could see was a river of water—a river that was now far wider than Old Man River himself.

We passed Centerville Street and my deputy friend (regretfully, I failed to get his name) said, “When we came past this street awhile ago, there was a coffin floating in the water. It floated up that way (as he pointed eastward) but we don’t know where it went.” Coffins popping to the surface, it seems, is a common occurrence during flooding.

The flotilla was too large to make all the way to solid ground, so we had to disembark in shallow water and walk to to the storefronts of the antique shops, some of which already had shattered windows. Soon, another boat appeared bringing abandoned—and frightened—cats and small dogs that had been rescued by volunteers. I still can’t understand anyone abandoning a pet—even after we were turned form one shelter by an apologetic volunteer because of its no-pet policy.

We walked back to the Antique District leading our dogs and lugging the bags of clothing that were growing heavier with each step. We were in constant contact with all three of our daughters who, despite Betty’s admirable calm, were near hysterics. They were only seven miles away but they may as well have been a continent away. There was nothing between us but dark, rushing water that had already claimed two lives—one of whom was in a pickup that was swept off the road even as a local TV news crew filmed the tragedy, helpless to render assistance.

“What’re we going to do if no one comes to take us out?” Betty asked as two Louisiana National Guard trucks passed us taking evacuees to yet another shelter we were told did not accept pets.

“There’re benches on the sidewalk,” I said. “Since we’re now homeless, I guess we can sleep like homeless people.” I only half-joking.

“What if the water keeps rising?” she asked, pointing out it had already advanced about 30 feet up the street since we landed.

I looked around quickly and pointed to a fire escape that ascended up the rear of a store to the second floor.

That’ll work,” was all she said.

As fate would have it, it wasn’t necessary. Deborah LeDay, a teacher who taught with my oldest daughter lives in a part of Danham Springs which, to that point was high and dry. Calls were made and Ms. LeDay dispatched her friend, Johnny Musso to retrieve us. Driving an Infiniti sedan through deep water that at times I could’ve sworn was waist deep, he pulled off the improbable, if not the impossible and an hour later we were in dry clothes and watching TV news accounts of the flood.

As usual, when the chips are down AT&T drops the ball. For the third consecutive emergency in this area, AT&T subscribers (like me and two of my daughters) lost service for more than 24 hours. As I write this, I still have no service. Jennifer has Verizon and never lost service. Only when we arrived at her home could we contact family members and friends in other parts of the country and let them know we were okay. Another evacuee taken in by Ms. LeDay, a friend of each of my daughters, has Sprint and only by using her phone could we arrange our second rescue.

By noon Sunday, daughter Amy, husband Chris and the twins arrived to pick us up. No reflection on Leah and Jennifer, but I don’t think I have ever been happier to see one of my kids. We are now safe and secure in Jennifer’s home which, incidentally, will also be our home for some time to come. (Note to self: when things return to normal, switch carriers.)

Oak Point Grocery in Watson, by the way, contacted Live Oak United Methodist Church across the highway, which was serving as a shelter for evacuees. Oak Point owners had a message: because the store was going to flood anyway, why don’t LOUMC volunteers come over and clean out the store’s shelves so evacuees can be fed? That, folks, is the true spirit of Christianity.

Also, to West Baton Rough Sheriff Cazes and his deputies, to the Louisiana National Guard, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, the many churches and volunteers, Louisiana State Troopers, and to Gov. John Bel Edwards, who gave of his time serving evacuees in shelter food lines, a simple thank you is just not enough….but THANK YOU anyway.

We had planned our next fundraiser in October, but events now dictate otherwise.

We desperately need help now. We have lost clothing, appliances, computers, files, records, books, jewelry, vehicles and our home. We had no flood insurance because we we were on high ground that had never before taken on water.

Please help us raise needed thousands of dollars. If you can find it in your hearts to help, you may either click on the yellow “Donate” button to the right or mail checks to:

Capital News Service-LouisianaVoice

P.O. Box 922

Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727

A little more than five years ago, we launched LouisianaVoice in an attempt to bring political corruption in Louisiana into sharper focus. Two years ago, The Washington Post named Bob Mann’s Something Like the Truth and LouisianaVoice as two of the top 100 political blogs in the nation.

While we were quite proud to have been recognized by such a prestigious publication as the Post, that pride was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that we could never have achieved such a designation had political corruption not permeated all levels of government in Louisiana— from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Charles to Monroe.

Now we learn that researchers Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, have been conducting a “one-of-a-kind” corruption survey over the past two years.

“The survey is designed to construct perception-based measures of different forms of corruption in American states,” Dincer wrote us recently. “We surveyed more than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across (each state).

“…We were able to construct measures of illegal and legal corruption for each (branch of) government in 50 states,” Dincer said, adding that the results of the survey “quickly drew extensive and positive attention from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, FiveThirtyEight, and a number of regional newspaper and broadcast stations.”

The results of that 2015 study were published by Illinois State University and the researchers are now in the process of conducting an updated survey. https://about.illinoisstate.edu/odincer/Pages/CorruptionSurvey2015.aspx

So just what is legal corruption as opposed to illegal corruption? Isn’t corruption just corruption without the adjectives? Dincer explained the difference. “We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

Legal corruption, on the other hand, is defined as political gains in the form of campaign contributions to or endorsements of a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups by “explicit or implicit understanding.”

“According to several surveys, a large majority of Americans, both liberals and conservatives, think that donations to super PACs, for example, by corporations, unions, and individuals corrupt the government,” the researchers’ report said.

The 2014 report indicated that the leading states for moderately to very common illegal corruption in the executive branch of government were Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah. States identified as “very common” in illegal corruption in the legislative branch included Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Legal corruption was found in many more states. Kentucky and New Jersey were identified as states where legal corruption in the executive branch was “extremely common,” while those where it was “very common” included Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York and Texas.

Legal corruption in the legislative branch was far more discouraging on a nationwide basis. States where legal corruption in the legislative branch was “extremely common” included Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

States where legislative branch legal corruption was called “very common” included Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

When all factors were taken into consideration, the states leading in overall illegal corruption were Arizona, California, Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island and Texas.

Setting the bar for overall legal corruption were Kentucky, Illinois, Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, Alabama, New Mexico, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

States that showed up as most corrupt in both legal and illegal corruption were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

So, where did Louisiana rank in all these studies?

“Surprisingly enough, we received no responses from Louisiana, which is historically one of the more corrupt states in America,” the report said. http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/measuring-illegal-and-legal-corruption-american-states-some-results-safra

We knew there had to be a logical explanation. There just had to be.

Which brings us to the current survey.

“We are conducting the third wave of the survey this year and we would like you to take part in a short (5 minute) survey that will gauge your perception of government corruption in Louisiana,” Dincer wrote. “We will again be contacting as many news reporters/journalists as possible in this endeavor to ensure that our results are as reliable as possible. The responses are entirely anonymous and cannot be related to specific participants or institutions.”

So, to all political reporters—and that includes local government beat reporters and political bloggers—in Louisiana who may be reading this, here is the link to their survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KYNN5FC

Now that the legislative session is over and there is no gubernatorial election on the near horizon, there’s no reason for you not to participate.

Be completely truthful, candid and forthright and we can return Louisiana to its rightful spot at the top of the rankings.

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