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Archive for February, 2020

“Democracy is the most fragile thing on earth, for what does it rest upon? You and me, and the fact that we agree to maintain it. The moment either of us says we will not, that’s the end of it. It doesn’t rest on anything but us; it doesn’t rest on armed force, the moment it does, it isn’t democracy.”

—Allen Drury, author of best-seller Advise and Consent.

 

“I just want to do it. I’m the president. Can’t I do it?”

—Donald Trump, on learning it was the role of Congress, not the president, to impose tariffs on foreign goods.

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“I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage, making fools out of themselves, and they say, ‘If we ever have a president like this…’ When they look at the statements made by the people standing behind those podiums, I think that has a huge effect.”

—Donald Trump, attempting to explain that the Dow’s loss of 1,032 points on Monday and another 870 on Tuesday was the result of the Democratic debate in Charleston, S.C. [The only problem with that theory is that the Charleston debate occurred Tuesday night, several hours after the markets had closed.]

 

“It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump. Now, I have to tell you the truth about coronavirus. … Yeah, I’m dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks.”

—Congressional Medal of Freedom winner Rush Limbaugh, the medical expert who dropped out of college after only one year, explaining how the coronavirus is nothing more than a sinister plot against the Trump presidency.

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Last July I published my book Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

Now, it looks as though a book about district attorneys and judges might well be in order.

Somehow, it seems the ones we elect to protect us and to administer justice evenly and fairly are running amok with no regard for the law, ethics, propriety, or for the citizens they are elected to serve.

This is by no means a blanket condemnation of all DAs or judges but the behavior of the few is beginning to take its toll on the public image of the many and there needs to be a cleansing.

DAs have gone to jail, they have initiated frivolous disputes with judges, they bring in hired guns from elsewhere to do jobs they should be doing [if they and their staffs aren’t qualified to perform their jobs, they should get out and leave the work to those who can] and some even are said to use their offices as leverage to obtain property and businesses from defendants in exchange for a dismissal or reduction of pending charges.

Louisiana judges have been accused of:

  • Hiring his GIRLFRIEND to review medical records for his office;
  • Presiding over his girlfriend’s DWI case;
  • Molesting TEENAGE GIRLS;
  • Texting RACIST REMARKS in a jealous dispute with a sheriff’s deputy with whom she was having an affair (the judge submitted her resignation today);
  • Engaging in SEXUAL MISCONDUCT which led to his resignation;
  • Interfering in a female friend’s APPEAL which resulted in his suspension from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal and which has thrown the 2nd Circuit’s overturn of a $20 million award into turmoil.
  • Accepting kickbacks which resulted in the impeachment and REMOVAL from the federal bench.
  • Accepting bribes from bail a bail bondsman which resulted in his conviction, along with 13 others convicted in the FBI’s OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE

There are others, of course. But add to that the unique idea that a Baton Rouge attorney who has been SUSPENDED FROM PRACTICE for a year is a candidate for a vacant city.

Donald Dobbins says the law requires only that he hold a law license to qualify for judicial office but not to be a judge because judges cannot practice law. He qualified exactly three weeks before he was suspended by the State Supreme Court for failure “to provide competent representation to clients” and that he “neglected legal matters, failed to communicate with clients, failed to refund unearned fees and unused costs, failed to properly supervise his non-lawyer start, resulting inf false affidavits being filed in the court record, failed to reduce a contingency fee agreement to writing, forged client signatures on settlement checks and failed to place disputed funds in his trust account.” He says he has no intention to withdraw.

One Supreme Court justice called the one-year suspension “overly lenient,” saying he preferred “no less than a three-year actual suspension, if not disbarment.”

And then there are the judges in Terrebonne and St. Tammany parishes who took it upon themselves to issue warrants that were in direct violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of expression.

In the Terrebonne case, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter prevailed upon an obliging JUDGE RANDAL BETHANCOURT to issue a search warrant so he could raid the home of a blogger who hurt Larpenter’s feelings. That ended up costing the sheriff’s office about $250,000 in a federal lawsuit stemming from the illegal raid.

That was in August 2016. Three years later, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith arrested a former deputy who sent an email to the family of a murdered woman in which he was critical of the sheriff’s office for not making an arrest in the 2017 murder of Nanette Krentel.

The warrant was signed by DISTRICT JUDGE RAYMOND CHILDRESS District Judge Raymond Childress. After the local district attorney recused himself and referred the case to the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, the AG’s office promptly washed its hands of the entire affair after noting that the Louisiana Supreme Court had held that criminal defamation (the justification for the warrant) was unconstitutional insofar as statements made in reference to public figures engaged in public affairs.

No story about law enforcement and the judicial system would be complete without a story from Iberia Parish where Louis Ackel turned the word sheriff into a term of fear and dread.

Bo Duhé, 16th JDC District Attorney, crossed swords with Judge Lori Landry by accusing her of making accusatory remarks to the effect that the DA’s office “deliberately incarcerate African Americans more severely and at a higher rate than others” and that the DAs office knew or should have known about misconduct at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office that eventually led to the convictions of several deputies in a civil rights case.

Her remarks prompted Duhé to seek her honor’s removal from more than 300 criminal cases throughout out the 16th JDC which includes the parishes of Iberia, St. Martin, and St. Mary.

Duhé, of course, claimed that Judge Landry’s remarks were unfounded. He further argued that Landry, the 16th JDC’s first African-American judge, was “biased and prejudiced” against his office to such an extent that “she cannot be fair or impartial.”

After considerable posturing disguised as testimony in court subsequent hearings, Duhé and Landry kissed and made nice, declaring that they were recommitted to working together and the DA’s office rather unceremoniously dismissed the recusal motions.

Just another day in Louisiana’s hallowed halls of justice.

[You may order Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption ($30) by clicking on the yellow DONATE button in the column to the upper right of this post or by sending a check to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, LA. 70727.]

 

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“Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist  and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart —you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians  are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.”

—Donald Trump, apparently off his meds, in a July 2016 campaign speech in South Carolina.

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First, it was the issue of homeowner insurance deductibles. Time was, a homeowner could opt for deductibles of $500, $1,000, or just about any other amount s/he chose and that deductible would apply across the board for damages.

But then the insurance companies, already flush with cash, decided it would be better for their shareholders if the deductible for “named storms” would be a tad higher—like 10 percent of the home’s appraised value. Hence, a home appraised at $150,000 (about the median appraisal) would be smacked with a $15,000 deductible for damage from a “named storm.”

And, bear in mind, that is wind damage only. Flood damage is an entirely different issue and those premiums are projected to soar out of sight and out of affordability for many homeowners.

And where was our Department of Insurance when Allstate, State Farm, Progressive, et al, came up with this beautiful scheme?

Strangely silent.

And where was our Department of Insurance when Allstate and State Farm battled with stressed-out homeowners over whether damage was from rising or falling water, forcing many homeowners to either settle in for years-long battles or to settle for pennies on the dollar?

Strangely silent.

And in 2018, when the Louisiana Legislature approved a resolution directing the Department of Insurance to “establish a task force to conduct a comprehensive study of the commercial bail bond industry as a whole and make recommendations for proposed legislation and policy changes to more effectively serve the residents of Louisiana,” what was the result?

A public records request to the Department of Insurance earlier this month produced this response from John Tobler, deputy commissioner of Public Affairs:

“Two meetings were held by our staff, taskforce members, members of the public and other bail bond industry stakeholders on September 27, 2018 and November 15, 2018. Additionally, no recommendations were made by the group for forwarding to the Legislature.”

So, in response to a unanimous resolution from both the House and Senate, the Department of Insurance was, for all practical purposes, strangely silent.

So now, Baton Rouge Advocate Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Ballard informs us that Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon is “okay” with the fact that insurers may pop widows with higher rates for automobile insurance for no other reason than the fact they are now single.

“The truth is that single women pay higher premiums than married women because of actuarial data that’s used in every of the 50 states,” Ballard quotes Donelon as saying. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager, a single woman or if you’re a widow or if you’re a divorcee.”

Then he added, “I don’t know if that is true on the male side.”

Where is an insurance commissioner who will fight for his constituency?

To read the full text of Ballard’s story, click HERE.

I have tried—without success—to understand how Mrs. Smith is somehow a greater risk on our streets and highways now that her husband is no longer with us. She is the same person she was a week before his death. Mrs. Jones, who just got a divorce, might be an angry driver, depending on the reasons for the marriage failure, but I just don’t buy the theory that she’s a greater menace as a driver now than she was last year. Lest I be accused of gender bias, My position for widowers and divorced males is the same.

At least three bills have been pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session that would address the problem of rate discrimination against widows and divorcees. It remains to be seen if any of those bills will make their way to the governor’s desk.

Donelon’s acquiescence to the dictates of the insurance industry is not difficult to understand. While he’s elected by voters to represent the interests of the citizens of Louisiana, his political campaigns have been financed in large part by contributions from INSURANCE INDUSTRY INTERESTS.

And therein lies the problem.

I’ve said it before and I would reiterate that no public regulator should be allowed to accept contributions from the industry he or she regulates.

The attorney general accepts the bulk of his contributions from attorneys. That applies not only to Jeff Landry, the current AG, but to a long string of predecessors, as well.

Then there are judges—from local municipal judges all the way up to the Louisiana Supreme Court—who receive the majority of their campaign contributions from—you guessed it—lawyers, lawyers of all stripes: corporate, tax, trial, defense and family counselors. The only exceptions are federal judges, who are appointed.

What’s the solution? Normally, one might suggest making judges, the attorney general and insurance commissioner appointive positions. But one must remember, we’re in Louisiana and that seems to necessarily mean that appointees will be campaign contributors as well. Their donations will instead be directed further up the food chain, i.e. the governor.

And governors traditionally pay scant attention to qualifications when doling out appointments to boards and commissions and even some agency and departmental heads.

So, why would attorneys general, judges, and insurance commissioners be any different?

Meanwhile, the citizens of Louisiana continue to be under-represented by the Louisiana Department of Insurance.

 

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