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.
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. (We originally published a copy of the warrant but removed the link when informed the publishing of home addresses of law enforcement officers is prohibited under state law.)
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:
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.