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Archive for January, 2018

You have to give credit to Lake Charles attorney Ron Richard: he certainly knows how to milk a case for all it’s worth in order to keep the meter running.

It apparently wasn’t enough that his four SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry were tossed by the presiding judge.

And no matter that a recall petition was initiated against Perry and that POSTCARDS were mailed to Welsh residents that DEPICTED Perry and fellow board of aldermen member Andrea King as “terrorists.”

And never mind that Mayor Carolyn Louviere desires to shut down a bar that just happens to be adjacent to a business owned by her son.

Now Richard, his four LAWSUITS against Perry—filed by him on behalf of the mayor, her son, her daughter, and Police Chief Marcus Crochet—having failed the smell test of 31st Judicial District Court Judge Steve Gunnel, who not only dismissed the four lawsuits aimed at silencing Perry’s criticism of Louviere’s administration but also awarded ATTORNEY FEES of $16,000 to Perry, is now challenging another RECALL PETITION, this one against his client, her honor the mayor.

So, it seems to boil down to the apparent belief that a recall against an alderman who seeks answers to budgetary questions is fine and dandy but to suggest a recall against the mayor who draws up that city budget constitutes a technical foul.

It’s all a sordid little mess punctuated by what appear to be excessive expenses of the police department, ($818,000 for nine months, form June 2016 through February 2017—for a town of 3,200 living, breathing souls), 18 police cars (again, for a town of 3,200), removal of Perry from the town’s Facebook page, and a mayor’s son (one of the four plaintiffs in lawsuits against Perry) who has a less than stellar past of his own.

Basically, with all that is going on there, it doesn’t really appear to be a town where most people would care to call home these days. That’s no dig on all the decent, minding-their-own-business residents living there, but a sorry commentary on the town’s leadership—if one wishes to be overly generous in calling it that.

Meanwhile, Richard manages to keep the meter running as the legal fees continue to mount for Madam Mayor. Of course, it has to be the client’s decision to retain him to pursue these objectives. He’s just a lawyer who ostensibly takes direction from his client. But often times, a client’s decision on a course of action is predicated upon the attorney’s advice, so in trying to determine who is actually calling the shots, we may just have the age-old chicken or egg question.

Still, it’s enough to make one wonder who is paying those legal bills: the client or the city?

Perhaps that’s another question for Mr. Perry to ask.

If he can get an answer, that is.

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

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Corruption.

As the March 12 opening day of the critical 2018 regular session approaches, and with the looming possibility of the call of a special session to address fiscal Armageddon, it’s an important word for Louisiana citizens to remember.

Corruption.

In a state where administrators, legislators, and judges all seem to be in it for personal enrichment, it’s a word that has become synonymous with political office—from small town mayors, city councils and police chiefs to the highest levels of state government.

Corruption.

Like a cancer, corruption metastasizes until it adversely affects every aspect of our lives: education, economics, environment, health, and not least, trust in our elected officials.

Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, recently collaborated to conduct their fourth Corruption in America Survey, an undertaking first initiated in 2014 and repeated annually.

Since 2016, the survey has been hosted by the newly-founded Institute for Corruption Studies, an independent research institute within the Illinois State University’s Department of Economics.

More than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across 50 states participated in the survey. Reporters from every state except North Dakota and New Hampshire participated.

Click HERE to read the complete results.

To no one’s surprise, Louisiana ranks among the worst states in terms of executive, judicial, and legislative sleaze—in both legal and illegal corruption.

What, exactly, it meant by legal and illegal corruption? After all, corruption is corruption, is it not?

Well, yes and no. Illegal corruption was defined by Dincer and Johnston 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.”

How Gauche. Everyone knows that in Louisiana the preferred method is legal corruption, which the two researchers defined as “the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.”

For evidence of that, one need look no further than the LouisianaVoice STORY of Aug. 28, 2016, to see how Bobby Jindal, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and a gaggle of legislators fell all over themselves in protecting the big oil and gas companies from their responsibilities to clean up after themselves. Here is a more detailed look at .

Who better to serve as director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority than former State Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish, the top recipient of OIL AND GAS CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS?

And Bobby Jindal handed out appointments to the most influential boards and commissions to his biggest campaign contributors like candy on a Halloween night and even upgraded a major highway in South Louisiana to benefit a company run by another large contributor.

Dincer and Johnston said that official legal corruption is moderately to very common in both the executive and legislative branches of government in a “significant” number of states, “including the usual suspects such as Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York,” but that “Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana are perceived to be the most corrupt states” in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Illegal Corruption

Only 13 states were found to have moderately common to very common illegal corruption in their executive branches. Louisiana was one of those 13.

Only four states had illegal judicial corruption deemed to be moderately common (Alabama and Louisiana) or very common (Arkansas and Kentucky). Dincer and Johnston wrote that even a finding of only slightly common in illegal judicial corruption “is still worrying since it is the judicial branch of the government that is expected to try government officials charged with corruption.”

“State legislators are perceived to be more corrupt than the members of the executive branches in a number of states,” the researchers said.

To illustrate that, the survey found just six states with legislative illegal corruption that was very common (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana) or extremely common (Oklahoma and Pennsylvania).

Legislators were found by LouisianaVoice to have leased luxury vehicles for family members, purchased season tickets to college and professional athletic sports teams, hired family members as campaign staff, paid personal income taxes and state ethics fines—all with campaign funds and all of which were illegal.

One legislator even profited by conveniently investing in Microsoft just as his committee was pushing through approval of one of the company’s software programs at the same time other states were taking similar action. The simultaneous approvals gave Microsoft stock a significant boost.

Legal Corruption

“Legal corruption is perceived to be more common than illegal corruption in all branches of government,” the report said, with Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin scoring highest in legal corruption “in all branches of government.”

Those same three states, along with Arkansas, topped the list in legal corruption in the judicial branch where legal sleaze “is perceived to be ‘very common,’” it said, noting that in all four states, judges are elected as opposed to states where judges are chosen on merit and in which judicial corruption is not as common.

“…We expect our courts to rise above the day-to-day pressures and expectations of politics,” the report said. “That they apparently do not raises serious questions about the ways judges are elected in many states, how their campaigns are financed, and whether conflicts of interest arise as those who contribute to judicial campaigns are allowed to appear before those same judges as cases are tried.”

Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin were joined by Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, and New York as states where legal executive corruption was found to be either “very common” or “extremely common.”

Legal legislative corruption was found to be “extremely common” in 12 states: Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas.

Aggregate Corruption

Across the board, in terms of legal and illegal corruption in all three branches of government, few states do it better than Louisiana, results of the survey reveal, with the state ranking in the upper tier of corruption in all six listings.

That finding prompted the authors of the report to say that corruption in state government “is not just a matter of contemporary personalities and events, but is rather a result of deeper and more lasting characteristics and influences.

Nowhere, it would seem, is that truer than in Louisiana. Following is just a partial list of Louisiana public officials who have come face-to-face with corruption charges of varying degrees:

 

Louisiana Executive Corruption

Sherman Bernard: The first Louisiana Insurance Commissioners to be convicted, he served 41 months for extortion and conspiracy.

Doug Green: The second State Insurance Commissioner to go to jail, he was convicted on three counts of money laundering, 27 counts of mail fraud, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jim Brown: The third consecutive Louisiana Insurance Commissioner served six months for lying to the FBI.

Richard Leche: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting kickbacks on the purchase of 233 state trucks.

Edwin Edwards: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison after his conviction of extortion in connection with the awarding of state riverboat casino licenses.

Charles Roemer: Commissioner of Administration under Gov. Edwin Edwards, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to violate federal racketeering laws, violating the statute and engaging in wire and mail fraud as a result of the FBI’s Brilab operation which also resulted in the conviction of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. Roemer served 15 months in federal prison.

Jack Gremillion: Louisiana Attorney General of whom it was once said by Gov. Earl K. Long, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book,” was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to a federal grand jury about his interest in a failed loan and thrift company.

Gil Dozier: Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner, initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for extortion and racketeering but had eight years added after presiding federal judge learned Dozier had attempted to tamper with a juror and to hire a hit man for an unidentified target.

George D’Artois: Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner was implicated in the 1976 murder of Shreveport advertising executive Jim Leslie but he died in surgery before he could be tried.

Cyrus “Bobby” Tardo: former Sheriff of Lafourche Parish sentenced to 29 years, five months after pleading guilty in 1989 to solicitation for murder, conspiracy, possessing an unregistered destructive device and using an explosive to damage a sheriff’s car. His victim? His successor and the man who defeated him for reelection as sheriff, Duffy Breaux.

Duffy Breaux: Lafourche Parish Sheriff sentenced to four years, nine months in prison for conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice in 1995.

Eugene Holland: The first of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to be convicted of a federal crime, sentenced to 16 months in prison for the theft of public funds to cover his utility bills and to pay for renovations to his house and barn. Pleaded guilty in 1996.

Chaney Philips: The second of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to serve prison time after his conviction on nine counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, engaging in illegal monetary transactions, theft involving a federally-funded program, money laundering, and perjury—all related to his time not as sheriff but as parish assessor before being elected sheriff. Sentenced to seven years.

Ronald “Gun” Ficklin: Third consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriff to be convicted of federal criminal charges. Sentenced to five years, three months for trafficking cars with altered vehicle identification numbers, altering VINs, mail fraud, helping convicted felon possess a fun. Pleaded guilty in 2007.

Jiff Hingle: Plaquemines Parish Sheriff pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and bribery, sentenced to 46 months in prison.

Bodie Little: Winn Parish Sheriff convicted in 2012 of drug trafficking, sentenced to 13 years, four months in prison.

Royce Toney: Ouachita Parish Sheriff, pleaded guilty in 2012 to hacking a deputy’s email and phone records and then trying to cover up his snooping. Sentenced to four years’ probation.

Walter Reed: St. Tammany Parish District Attorney (22nd JDC) sentenced to four years in prison in April 2017 for conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements on tax returns. Sentence on hold during appeals process.

Harry Morel, Jr.: St. Charles Parish District Attorney (29th JDC) pleaded guilty in April 2016 to obstruction of justice in FBI inquiry into whether he used his position to solicit sex from women seeking official help. Sentenced to three years in prison.

Aaron Broussard: Former Jefferson Parish President pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiring to accept bribes from a parish contractor. Sentenced to 46 months in prison. While parish officials other than district attorneys and sheriffs are not generally listed here, Broussard is because of his high national profile following Hurricane Katrina.

Ray Nagin: New Orleans Mayor convicted in 2014, sentenced to 10 years in prison for bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, tax evasion for illegal dealings with city vendors. As with the case of Broussard above, mayors not normally included in this list because of the sheer volume. But because of his high profile following Katrina and as mayor of state’s largest city, it was decided to include him.

 

Louisiana Legislative Corruption

Larry Bankston: Former chairman of the Senate Judiciary B. Committee that handled gambling legislation was convicted in 1997 on two counts of interstate communications in the aid of racketeering involving alleged bribes from a Slidell video poker truck stop owner. Sentenced to 41 months in prison. Re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar by State Supreme Court. Currently suing State Attorney General for the cancellation of his contract to represent a state agency.

Gaston Gerald: State Senator convicted in 1979 of extorting $25,000 from a contractor. Sentenced to five years in prison. Re-elected while in prison and put a prison acquaintance on Senate payroll as an aide before he was expelled from the Senate in 1981.

Sebastian “Buster” Guzzardo: State Representative among more than 20 persons, including the leader of the New Orleans Marcello crime family and three reputed New York mobsters, convicted in the Worldwide Gaming investigation. Conviction was for conducting an illegal gambling business and for aiding a mob-controlled video poker company. Sentenced in 1996 to three months in prison.

Girod Jackson, III: State Representative who pleaded guilty in 2013 to tax evasion and tax fraud in connection with his business dealings with the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority. Sentenced to three months in prison, nine months of home detention despite recommendations of 12 to 18 months imprisonment.

William Jefferson: 18-year veteran of U.S. House of Representatives convinced in 2009 on 11 of 16 felony counts for taking bribes in connection with a Nigeria business deal. Seven of the 11 counts on which he was convicted were overturned on appeal. Sentenced to five years, five months after appeals. In 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson interrupted rescue operations by using a Louisiana National Guard detachment to recover personal effects from his home. (His sister, Orleans Parish Assessor, also sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting to funneling $1 million in public funds to her family’s bogus charities.)

Charles Jones: State Senator from Monroe, convicted in 2010 of filing false tax returns and for tax evasion, sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution. Was re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar on Monday (Jan. 29, 2017).

Harry “Soup” Kember: State Representative was sentenced to five years in prison after his 1986 conviction of mail fraud for pocketing part of a $150,000 state grant he secured for a constituent’s company.

Derrick Shepherd: State Senator sentenced to three years in prison in 2010 after admitting that he laundered money for a corrupt bond broker, netting $65,000 for the scheme.

Rick Tonry: Served only four months as a U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District after pleading guilty in 1977 to receiving illegal campaign contributions, promising favors in return for contributions and for buying votes in the 1976 Democratic primary.

 

Louisiana Judicial Corruption

Ronald Bodenhimer: The 24th Judicial District Judge was among four judges to be caught up in the FBI Wrinkled Robe investigation of Jefferson Parish Courthouse corruption and one of two to receive jail time. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to planting drugs on a critic of his New Orleans East marina, for bond splitting, and for attempting to fix a child custody case on behalf of Popeyes Chicken Founder Al Copeland.

Wayne Cresap: The 34th JDC Judge for St. Bernard Parish was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to accepting more than $70,000 in bribes and for letting inmates out of jail without paying their bonds.

Alan Green: Another of the four Judges of the 24th JDC in Jefferson Parish. Sentenced to 51 months in prison after his 2005 conviction of a $10,000 mail fraud scheme to take bribes from a bail bonds company.

William Roe: The 25th JDC Judge for Plaquemines Parish was sentenced in 2010 to three months in prison for unauthorized use of movables for pocketing more than $6,000 in reimbursements for legal seminars that he attended as judge. The money should have been deposited in a public account instead.

Thomas Porteous, Jr.: Only the eighth federal judge to be removed from office by impeachment in the Republic’s history, he was convicted in 2010 by the U.S. Senate on four articles charging him with receiving cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors, and deliberately misled Senators during his confirmation hearings. As if to underscore the gravity of the charges, all 96 senators present voted guilty on the first article which addressed charges during his time as a state court judge and his failure to recuse himself from matters involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of granting favors for cash.

There are scores of other examples, including city and parish elected officials, local police chiefs, and even a legislator who resigned rather than be expelled for spousal abuse. And former Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain retired in 2016 under an ethics cloud even though he was official cleared of ethics charges. His son, Nate Cain and Nate’s former wife, Tonia, were indicted in August 2017 on 18 federal fraud charges over purchases he was said to have made with state credit cards during his tenure as warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport.

Additionally, LouisianaVoice over the past three years documented numerous instances of abuse of power and outright corruption from troop commanders all the way up to the upper command of Louisiana State Police.

There were dozens more not listed and sadly, there will continue to be corruption in all three branches of state government so long as the people of this state continue to look away and ignore the widespread malfeasance and outright skullduggery.

And by ignoring the problem, we are necessarily condoning it.

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Under the Latin term Respondeat Superior (Let the master answer), an individual would not be held personally liable in a civil proceeding if (a) he (or she) was acting within the scope and duties of his employment or if the action was taken on advice of counsel.

An example of that would be if a state employee withheld records from a reporter on advice of the agency’s attorney but it was subsequently determined in court that the records were actually public and should have been made available upon request. It would be the agency, not the employee, who would be liable in such a case.

A newspaper reporter would be protected from libel damages if he had written something he believed to be factual and it was vetted by editors and published only to be found to be inaccurate and damaging to the subject’s reputation or career. In that case, the newspaper or TV station (or, more accurately, the medium’s liability insurance policy) would pay.

So, it is more than a little curious that Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) paid to defend Attorney Supervisor Weldon Hill—and paid the settlement—in Bethany Gauthreaux’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Hill, a STORY first reported by LouisianaVoice earlier this month.

And why, when the news media requested names of cases involving sexual harassment, was this case omitted. Nowhere in the Baton Rouge Advocate STORY is the Gauthreaux case listed. Was this an honest mistake—or was it by design?

Not only did LDH pay the $40,000 settlement, but the agency also paid more than $76,300 in legal fees to the Baton Rouge law firm of Keogh Cox and Wilson ($69,828), the Louisiana Attorney General’s office ($1,258), Court Reporters of Louisiana ($2,183), Walgreen’s ($27), the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court ($2,611), North Oaks Medical Center ($250), and for photocopies ($186).

And how did that particular law firm wind up with the contract to defend Hill and LDH? The very fact that the LDH Deputy General Counsel, under whom Gauthreaux worked, was Kim Sullivan should have disqualified the firm.

Attorney Chad Sullivan is Kim Sullivan’s husband and he works for Keogh Cox and Wilson, a fact that the firm should have disclosed. By virtue of supervising plaintiff Gauthreaux, Kim Sullivan was a potential co-defendant—and witness—in a case defended by her husband’s law firm. (Click HERE and move your cursor to the first photo on the third row—the first one with a beard. That’s Chad Sullivan.)

Including the $40,000 settlement, the TOTAL COST to LDH was just north of $116,300 to defend an employee who, it would seem certain, was not acting within the scope and duties of his employment. And it would appear he was certainly not acting on advice of legal counsel (though he is himself an attorney) when he was said to have asked highly personal questions about breast feeding her newborn infant, pressed his body against hers as she monitored her computer screen, and placed his hand on hers atop the computer mouse.

And moving her and two other women from their eighth-floor offices to the fifth floor—Gauthreaux to a converted supply room with no phone—would seem something of a gray area insofar as the Respondeat Superior doctrine would apply as would the statement attributed to Hill that he felt women “have nothing to say,” and his timing women employees’ bathroom breaks.

So, now the state is out more than $116,000 because of the actions of Hill, his supervisor, LDH Executive Counsel Stephen Russo, General Counsel Kimberly Humble, and others up the food chain—and because of the inaction of LDH’s Human Resources Office, which should have taken appropriate steps as soon as it was aware of the harassment, but curiously did not.

And just where was LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee while all this was going on? After all, someone anonymously (for obvious reasons, given the climate at LDH) placed a copy of Gauthreaux’s lawsuit on the windshield of Dr. Gee’s vehicle.

To get those answers, LouisianaVoice emailed Dr. Gee on Jan. 19, posing three simple questions:

  • What action do you plan to take regarding the sexual harassment lawsuit settlement against your legal department, specifically, Mr. Weldon Hill?
  • Why did Mr. Hill’s supervisor(s) and/or DHH HR not initiate some kind of remedial or disciplinary action?
  • Why did you not take some type of remedial or disciplinary action when you first found a copy of the Ms. Gauthreaux’s lawsuit on your vehicle windshield?

Dr. Gee never responded even though LouisianaVoice received a return receipt indicating that she did open that email.

So, a follow-up email was sent to Dr. Gee on Jan. 23:

Dr. Gee, I don’t mean to pester you, but I would remind you that to ignore my questions below would not serve your or LDH’s best interests. It almost seems as if you are trying to conceal information. Many a public servant has learned the hard way that eluding questions and refusing to face issues head-on usually backfires in the end. This litigation was a serious matter that deserves your serious attention. I will not bother to ask you again but should you choose to continue to ignore this issue, I will have no choice but to so state in my follow-up articles.

The same three questions were attached to the bottom of that email and a return receipt indicated she opened that email as well.

But she still has yet to respond.

Meanwhile, Hill and Russo continue at their jobs which pay them $100,000 and $138,500, respectively, while Gauthreaux was forced to quit her $42,500-per-year attorney position. And the word is that Hill is planning to quietly retire.

Not only should Dr. Gee answer the three questions LouisianaVoice put to her, but these as well:

  • Why did the state pay Hill’s attorney fees and the settlement without demanding some payment from him?
  • Why was he not summarily fired once the details of his actions were known?
  • Why was Russo and LDH’s HR Department not held accountable?
  • And finally, just what is the purpose of the mandated sexual harassment classes for state employees if those in supervisory positions are going to simply look the other way and not themselves be held accountable?

We’re waiting.

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Jimmy Buffett sang about clichés and we hear them every day:

  1. Life’s not fair. We learn that quickly in our lives.
  2. Those who make the gold make the rules: a subsection of Number 1.
  3. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Well, not necessarily.

Here’s another one: Get over it. That’s what those with the gold would tell us.

What’s the point of all this?

Well, for starters, the average salary for state classified (Civil Service) employees in Louisiana was $44,737 per year in 2017. After four years of virtually no growth, the 2017 average salary represented a 6.3 percent increase over the four years of 2010 through 2013 (2.1 percent per year), when the averages were, in order, $42,187, $42,208, $41,864, and $42,140.

If you followed those figures closely, you saw that the average salary for classified employees actually decreased by $47 from 2010 to 2013.

Contrast that with the average salary for unclassified (appointive) employees. Those average salaries increased by $1,565 (2.5 percent) from $61,861 in 2010 to $63,426 in 2013 and were $65,357 in 2017, a difference of $20,620 over their classified counterparts.

Okay, it’s somewhat understandable that unclassified employees would make 46 percent more than their counterparts. They are, for the most part, in managerial positions, after all.

For the most part. But it’s important to keep in mind that these appointees are there only as long as the governor. Generally, a new administration brings in its own personnel to replace those of the previous governor.

Unclassified employees are generally along for the ride and they’re basically temporary employees who come into an agency knowing little of its workings or its personnel. Others are just political hacks who were awarded jobs for supporting the right candidate. The classified, or civil service employees, the ones who do the actual work of keeping the state running, are career employees there for the long haul.

Article X, Paragraph 9 of the Louisiana State Constitution lays out some specific prohibitions for classified employees:

Prohibitions Against Political Activities:

(A)”No…employee in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity; make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate; or take active part in the management of the affairs of a political party, faction, candidate, or any political campaign…”

(C) “As used in this Part, ‘political activity’ means an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or to support a particular political party in an election.”

These restrictions were put in place to protect classified employees from pressure from political bosses to ante up campaign contributions or to campaign for a particular candidate. But they also placed limits on other outside activity.

But, no matter how closely you study the Constitution, Civil Service, or Ethics Commission rules, you will not see any reference to activity restrictions on unclassified employees

So, why are the rules that govern ethics and conflicts of interest for classified employees different than for unclassified employees? Why is there an uneven playing field?

Take, for example, the case of Andrew Tuozzolo. He’s the Chief of Staff for Rebekah Gee, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH).

Tuozzolo, who was hired on Feb. 1, 2016, and who earns $105,000 per year, is the manager of WIN PARTNERS, LLC, of New Orleans, a political consulting firm.

By its very name and function, Win Partners necessarily involves its manager in political activity such as supporting candidates, soliciting contributions and taking part in the management of affairs for political candidates.

And it’s perfectly legal—because he’s unclassified.

Incorporation papers for Win Partners were filed with the Secretary of State on Aug. 18, 2010, and the firm began receiving fees almost immediately. Since Sept. 1, 2010, only two weeks after it was incorporated, Win Partners, and to a much lesser extent, Tuozzolo personally, have combined to receive $1.95 million in fees from candidates and political action committees.

Some of those candidates included State Reps. Walt Leger, Austin Badon; State Sens. Karen Carter Peterson, Butch Gautreaux, and Jean Paul Morrell; New Orleans City Council members Joseph Giarrusso and Helena Moreno, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and at least one statewide candidate (Buddy Caldwell).

Since his hire by Gee on Feb. 1, 2016, Win Partners has slowed somewhat in activity but that can be attributed mainly to the fact that the only major elections were for New Orleans municipal offices.

Since beginning his employment with LDH, Win Partners has collected $36,900 in fees for working in the campaigns of Moreno, Giarrusso, and Leger.

Without even taking into consideration the question of when he would have time to devote to a political consulting company, the work itself is enough of a conflict of interest to get a classified employee fired.

And then there’s the matter of Dr. Harold D. Brandt who, from April 7, 2016 to Sept. 2, 2017, served as the Medical Vendor Administrator for LDH. Brand’s salary was $156.25 per hour which, based on a 40-hour week, comes to $6,250 per week, or $312,500 for a 50-week year, allowing a couple of weeks for vacation.

Begin Date End Date Agency Job Title Biweekly Pay Rate
9/2/17 Present Resignation
4/7/16 9/1/17 LDH-Medical Vendor Admin Physician IV $156.25/hour (4/7/16 to 9/1/17)

 

The only problem with Brandt’s serving as the Medical Vendor Administrator for LDH is that he also is on the STAFF of Baton Rouge Clinic.

Since April 7, 2016, Dr. Brandt’s date of employment, Baton Rouge Clinic has received more than $83,000 in PAYMENTS from LDH.

If, as the LDH Medical Vendor Administrator, Dr. Brandt’s duties included approval of vendor payments to Baton Rouge Clinic, that would place him in a position of a potential ethics violation, unclassified or no, but only if he owned greater than a 25 percent share of Baton Rouge Clinic.

The wording of the ethics laws says if an employee owns greater than 25 percent of a business, that enterprise is prohibited from doing business with the employee’s agency. Dr. Brandt likely does not hold a 25 percent interest in Baton Rouge Clinic but he certainly has a financial stake in its serving as a vendor for the state.

That 25 percent interest certainly didn’t come into play with one classified employee a few years back. A state vendor sent her, unsolicited, a baked ham for Christmas. It was delivered to her office unbeknownst to her. She was fined $250 by the Ethics Commission.

That’s because classified employees are prohibited from accepting anything of value (other than a meal, to be eaten at the time it is given) from vendors.

But unclassified employees running a political consulting firm on the side or monitoring payments to a clinic where he is employed apparently are okay.

So, there’s no point in even discussing legislators who purchase season tickets for LSU and Saints football and Pelicans games, leasing luxury cars, or who even pay personal income taxes from campaign funds—all prohibited on paper but certainly not enforced.

Is a level playing field really too much to ask?

At the end of the day, ethics violators are as thick as thieves but it’s just the low hanging fruit that the Ethics Commission, the OIG and the Attorney General’s offices go after—like a kid in a candy store. The tough cases they avoid like the plague. If they would only think outside the box, there’re plenty of fish in the sea for them to go after if they’d just take the tiger by the tail.

(How many clichés did you count in that last paragraph?)

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The late comedian Andy Griffith began his classic bit entitled What it was, was Football with this line:

“It was back last October, I believe it was…”

Well, it was back last December—Dec. 5, 2017, to be precise—that I speculated in my LouisianaVoice POST about the “premature” release of that Louisiana State Police (LSP) audit so critical of former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson that ol’ Mike most probably leaked that “premature” audit copy himself in order to set up a claim that his defense, in case of ensuring criminal charges, had been tainted.

Back on Dec. 5, I wrote: “A premature release of the audit before Edmonson had a chance to respond could conceivably prejudice the case against Edmonson. Accordingly, Edmonson (or more likely someone acting anonymously on his behalf) slipped a copy of the audit to The Advocate/WWL.”

The ploy may have worked had it not been for WWL-TV posting the auditor’s cover letter to Edmonson. That pretty much put the ball in Edmonson’s court in terms of identifying the leaker. That’s because there were only two copies of the audit draft. One went to LSP and one to Edmonson. Only the one that went to Edmonson contained the auditor’s cover letter. And when WWL abruptly removed the video from its web page when I called attention to it, that pretty much confirmed my theory.

Well, wouldn’t you know Mikey done went and done zackly I said he’d do.

Thanks in no small part to the resourcefulness of Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian, we now know that Mike won’t be submitting his response to the audit. That response, was initially due back on Jan. 15 and I did a post about his missing the deadline. Even then, it was pretty much a certainty there would be no response from Edmonson. It’s difficult, after all, to defend the indefensible.

But now he’s made it official through his legal counsel, Harry Rosenberg. Mustian had a STORY today that quoted Rosenberg as telling state auditors that his client was finding it impossible to “engage in a meaningful preliminary conference” with the auditor’s office “due to the premature release of the ‘draft’ audit.” SEE ROSENBERG LETTER AT END OF AUDIT

Now, folks, I’m not blessed with the ability to see into the future but this wasn’t a hard call to make. WWL’s posting of that cover letter—and its sudden disappearance from the station’s online story—along with Mike’s early protestations made his strategy oh, so very easy to decipher.

And, oh yes, that FBI INVESTIGATION also announced by Mustian on Tuesday is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing probe of his role as Louisiana’s top cop. The feds are interviewing LSP helicopter pilots and looking at flight logs. They’re making a list and checking it twice and Mike has to be feeling the heat.

So, with the news of the FBI investigation and Mike’s declining to provide his response to the audit can mean only one thing: Rosenberg, no stranger to criminal matters given his experience as a former U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Eastern District from 1990-1993, has undoubtedly admonished his client to sit down and shut up.

That’s what lawyers do. They tell clients to zip it because they’re the smartest people in the room and they think everyone should listen to them. Except in this case, he’s probably right—if you believe the hokum that Rosenberg dropped into his letter to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. Edmonson, according to Rosenberg, was nothing less than a saint who was a “consistent calming presence” during hurricanes, shootings, and floods” and that San Diego motor trip by four troopers was all their fault and none of Edmonson’s. In short, we should probably lay rose petals in his path.

There is one unanswered question about Rosenberg’s letter to the auditor, however.

He copied one other person with the letter: State Sen. Mike WALSWORTH of West Monroe.

Walsworth is a member of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, but he’s not chairman or vice-chair and he’s not from Edmonson’s senatorial district, so why would he do that?

It’s enough to make one wonder if Walsworth’s name might be on those LSP flight logs and copying him with the letter was a way of giving him a heads-up. Just sayin’.

State Sen. NEIL RISER must be fuming that he didn’t get a copy of the Rosenberg letter.

In retrospect, maybe it’s unfortunate that Riser’s attempt to bump Edmonson’s retirement up by about $100,000 per year was unsuccessful. He may need the money to pay his attorney.

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