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Archive for March, 2021

LouisianaVoice is 10 years old!

We started out way back when with a long story about all the perks legislators receive – including those select few who get to rent apartments in the state-owned Pentagon Barracks across the street from the State Capitol at bargain basement rates.

We were unable, of course, to give you a discreet peek behind the walls of those apartments to learn what occurs in all those after-hours parties but we were able to give you a bird’s eye view of how legislators collect per diem payments for days when neither the House or Senate is in session – like weekends.

We were there when they tried to sneak that illegal retirement pay raise for State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson back in 2014 and that one story spawned dozens of follow-up stories about abuses in the Louisiana State Police administration that eventually forced Edmonson into retirement (minus that aborted pay raise).

We’ve pointed out the blatant HYPOCRISY in the manner in which the LSU Athletic Department is run, comparing the coddling of jocks and coaches with the hair-trigger firings of people like dental school faculty member Dr. Randall Schaffer, biomedical researcher Steven Hatfield, coastal scientist Ivor van Heerden, associate professor Teresa Buchanan, and Drs. Roxanne Townsend and Fred Cerise.

Recently, LouisianaVoice pointed out the decade-long ruse by Congress in pretending to be on the side of victims of a quirk in the SOCIAL SECURITY regulations that could be fixed so very easily – if those in Congress were only serious about the lip service they pay to efforts to change the law.

LouisianaVoice has given extensive coverage to legal and humanitarian problems experienced by a private prison company headquartered in Ruston, Louisiana.

We were the very first to call out a couple of SHERIFFS in St. Tammany and Terrebonne parishes who tried to invoke a law declared unconstitutional in 1964 in order to punish critics of the two sheriffs. Those two incidents have prompted a bill in this year’s legislature to finally expunge the voided statute from the Louisiana lawbooks.

We devoted so many stories to former Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Haik (including a video of deputies turning vicious dogs loose on helpless prisoners in a holding area) that we eventually lost track but did note that during his 12 years in office, Ackal was paying out an average of $10,000 per month in settlements and judgments.

In fact, our coverage of wayward sheriffs actually grew into a book entitled Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption which in turn is evolving into a sequel: America’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

All this is to say we did this the first seven years free. We don’t accept advertising (except for Cavalier House Books whose owner, John Cavalier, built our web page) and we don’t charge a subscription fee. But there are, unfortunately, bills to pay. We have to pay for copies of records, gasoline (travel has become more frequent and more distant in recent years as we expand our coverage statewide), and not least of all, legal fees.

We recently were called on to pony up nearly $5,000 in legal fees – for a single investigation. It wasn’t litigation; it was just legal research into a major project we’re still working on.

And when public agencies refuse to comply with the state’s public records law, we sue. Suing costs money in terms of court costs and (if we should lose – and we did lose one), attorney fees.

With that in mind, LouisianaVoice holds two fundraisers each year – April and October. Last April, in the face of growing unemployment as a result of the pandemic, we deferred. Since then, I’ve asked that readers contribute only if they feel comfortable in doing so.

I’m not like the televangelist who insists that viewers contribute regardless of their financial situation – that any gift will be rewarded by the Almighty. I can’t con people that way. I simply ask you to give what you can – but only if you can.

You may contribute by credit card by clicking on the yellow DONATE button in the column to the right of this post. It will take you to my PayPal page and you may enter your credit card information there. (It’s not necessary that you have a PayPal account to contribute in this manner.) Go to the icon to the right of this post. If you prefer, you may simply send a check to LouisianaVoice, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, Louisiana 70727.

For those contributing $125 or more, you may select your choice of a signed copy of one of my two most recent books: Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption, or Bordello on the Bayou (a novel based on a true story of a Baton Rouge madam who catered to Louisiana’s politically powerful). Be sure to state your preference and to provide your mailing address.

As always, your support of our efforts is appreciated more than you know.

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Remember those “extreme makeover” shows that aired on ABC-TV a couple of decades ago?

The original show featured people undergoing plastic surgery, hair and wardrobe changes that changed their whole identities. That show morphed into more tripe like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition.

The last of those shows was aired in July 2007 but now we have the new version: Extreme Makeover: Political Edition.

The first subject for this new show is Louisiana State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson and if the show is successful, she might emerge as an elected official no one will recognize.

It’s really quite amazing what influence political expedience can play in motivating candidates to undergo such radical transformations.

The woods – and the Louisiana Legislature – are full of one-time Democrats who, with a finger raised to the shifting political winds now present themselves to constituents as God-fearing Republicans. Sitting at the top of that garbage heap is none other than John Kerry-Democrat-turned-Trump-Republican John Neely Kennedy, Louisiana’s junior U.S. Senator.

But this isn’t about Kennedy or legislators who would, at the drop of a hat, vote for similar voter-suppression laws as those passed by their Georgian counterparts.

It’s about the former chairperson of the Louisiana Democratic Party who is trying to paint herself as a Green New Deal-type of progressive Democrat when everything about her screams deceit, misdirection and obfuscation.

In fact, she did a real number on one of the architects of the Green New Deal, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in 2016 while serving as chairperson of the Louisiana Democratic Party. She attacked Sanders for running a campaign in the South that had attracted large numbers of new voters, suggesting that his efforts sought to minimize Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s primary wins in southern states.

In 2015, she met with gubernatorial candidate John Bel Edwards, reportedly in an effort to get him to drop out of the race in favor a moderate Republican. That doesn’t say much for party loyalty from the head of the state Democratic Party. That would be like Lindsey Graham or Kennedy turning their backs on Trump.

That’s not the kind of action one might normally expect from a Green New Deal progressive.

Neither would a Green New Deal progressive be expected to hold lucrative contracts tied to big energy companies through her full-time, six-figure job with a multinational law firm. But since 2014, she has worked for Dentons Law Firm

Dentons obviously believes that big is better. In 2013, it merged with the Chinese law firm Dacheng to become the world’s fifth-largest law firm in terms of revenue ($2.9 billion) and the largest by number of lawyers.

Dentons gave $25,000 to the Louisiana Democratic Party’s political action committee between 2013 and 2018 (during Carter Peterson’s tenure as party chairperson), state campaign finance records show.

Carter Peterson joined the firm in 2014. Her campaign finance reports which reveal the bare minimum of information show only that her salary is “more than $100,000” for each year since 2014.

Meanwhile, Dentons is contracted to the New Orleans City Council as a consultant on energy matters.

Carter Peterson’s organization, Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD) even got involved when another of its leaders, Oliver Thomas, who would later plead guilty to federal bribery charges, assumed the chairmanship of the city council’s powerful Utility Committee.

Shortly after Thomas took over the Utility Committee, Carter Peterson announced she had formed a business that would begin advising the council on regulating Entergy. Her association with Dentons began soon after that.

Now, after trailing fellow State Sen. Troy Carter by 13 percentage points in the March 20 primary, she has picked up the endorsement of third-place finisher, GARY CHAMBERS JR. of Baton Rouge, who pulled 21 percent of the vote, just two percentage points behind Carter Peterson. It’s not entirely clear how she convinced Chambers, a true New Green Deal progressive, that she is of a similar stripe but no one would be surprised that should she win, a nice job in her congressional office could be Chambers’ reward.

Securing his endorsement should have taken considerable convincing, given the source of much of her campaign support through the years: GEO Corp., a leading operator of private prisons in the US; The Louisiana Sheriff’s and Deputies PAC ($3600), AT&T ($3500), Atmos Energy ($500), Central Louisiana Electric Co. (CLECO) ($500), and ENPAC, the political action committee of Entergy ($4500).

Other contributors to Carter Peterson campaigns include the Louisiana Bankers Association, pharmaceutical interests, a couple of high-dollar law firms with multiple state contracts and Clinton Vince, her boss at Dentons.

And while Carter Peterson was accepting campaign contributions from the likes of Atmos Energy, AT&T, CLECO and political endorsements from such benefactors as Entergy Corp.’s Political Action Committee (ENPAC), she continues in her attempts to convince us she’s a green new dealer.

It’s like the old Huey Long campaign story he used to tell to get both Protestant and Catholic votes. He told crowds he would get up early on Sunday morning, hitch up the family horse to a buggy and take his Catholic grandparents to Mass. He would then return home and fetch his Protestant grandparents and take them to church. When asked by an associate if his story was true, Huey snorted, “Hell, boy, we didn’t even own a horse.”

But those associations haven’t deterred Carter Peterson from flaunting her endorsement from the Sierra Club.

“Half measures won’t cut it when it comes to confronting the environmental injustices making our families sick in #LA02 (Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District), especially those in Cancer Alley,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s fundamentally wrong that families have to choose between their health and putting food on the table.

“That’s why I’m proud to have the support of [the] Sierra Club as we fight to ensure clean air and water for every family, hold polluters accountable, and build a clean energy economy that puts our communities first.”

Carter Peterson has another twitter post that touts “unapologetic progressive champions – like @TeamKCP – that aren’t afraid to fight for working people.

“For too long too many workers and families have felt locked out of opportunities to thrive – not just get by,” she said. “People deserve to be able to thrive. We can’t wait anymore for our leaders to tiptoe around change. We can’t afford that any longer.”

Instead of branding herself as a Green New Dealer, perhaps Carter Peterson could gain some measure of credibility if she would just establish her own Chameleon Party. At least she wouldn’t surprise anyone when she underwent another political makeover.

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In case there’s still someone on the planet who may be surprised or disappointed at the manner in which LSU handled the allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of school football players or its former head coach, I’ve got a hot investment tip on some dandy Studebaker Motors stock for you.

LSU spent “up to $100,000” to get the law firm Husch Blackwell to conduct its an investigation and issue a 260-something-page report that could’ve been much more concise and considerably less expensive – and far more informative – had LSU officials simply turned inward to examine the school’s history of crisis management.

It’s long been a fact of life that academic infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate shamefully while more opulent and costly athletic facilities continue to sprout on the other side of the campus.

And yes, we’ve seen the reports that boast of the $66 million in subsidies the athletic department has provided academics since 2012 but most of us were unaware that athletic director Scott Woodard terminated that largesse, according to a recent STORY in the Baton Rouge Advocate, observing that it was a “poor way to run a university” and that the athletic department could put the money to better use.

Part of that “better use” was the athletic department’s decision to sink $28 million into the renovation of its football operations building, thanks to the generosity of the Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) which paid for the work with donations to the foundation.

Included was a new “nutrition center” for student-athletes, a bone of contention between Michael Martin, LSU’s chancellor from 2008-2012, and then-head coach Les Miles. Martin said he felt that jocks “ought to eat with other students.”

That same Advocate story noted that the LSU athletic department is often held up as an example of a program that is rare in college sports in that it generates its own money and has no need for student fees or taxpayer subsidies to subsist, that in fact, the athletic department turned an overall profit of nearly $5 million from $160 million in revenue in 2019.

What that story did not say, however, is what the athletic program’s financial picture would look like without the TAF. Take head coach Ed Orgeron’s salary alone. He gets a compensation package worth $7 million a year but if you examine the budget for LSU, you will find that only $500,000 is allocated for his salary.

Where do you suppose the rest of that $7 million comes from?

But I’m getting off-subject.  We’re supposed to be discussing how LSU dropped the ball in its investigation of sexual harassment complaints. (And by “dropped the ball,” of course, I mean how LSU attempted to sweep it all under the rug the way it always does when problems arise).

Former 23rd JDC District Attorney Tony Falterman, a non-nonsense type of guy who was appointed to the LSU Board of Supervisors by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco but not reappointed in 2012 by her successor, Bobby Jindal, raised the legitimate question of whether or not Jindal was aware of the charges against Les Miles.

After all, Falterman observed, three of Jindal’s appointees – Hank Danos, Robert “Bobby” Yarborough and Stanley Jacobs – were informed and probably should have made the governor aware. Those three and their family members combined to contribute $120,000 to Jindal campaigns, campaign finance records show.

“Was he aware of it?” Falterman said of Jindal. “I’m wondering if he was aware of what was going on and if not, why didn’t they make him aware?”

It remains curious as to why LSU’s law firm, Taylor Porter, only delivered its Miles investigation report to those three members of the Board of Supervisors. It’s a 16-member board and other than those select three members, the only ones to see the report were then-athletic director Joe Alleva, former LSU general counsel and Taylor Porter attorney Shelby McKenzie and LSU senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar.

Segar, the low person in that circle’s pecking order, was subsequently suspended without pay for 21 days. Also suspended was executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry, who was banished for 30 days. Both are required to attend training on sexual misconduct, domestic violence and more.

And that’s the way it always happens: the most expendable, those lower in the food chain, are always the sacrificial lambs at the outset. Take any crisis, any scandal, and you’ll see the pyramid eroding from the bottom as those at the top scramble for damage control and begin to employ CYA maneuvers. It happened with Watergate, it happened at Baylor, it happened at Penn State, it happens every single time, without exception, and it’s happening right now at LSU.

Of course, as the scandal, like a metastatic cancer grows, so does its damage. Miles and his boss, the University of Kansas athletic director, are gone (though Miles did walk away with a $2 million separation package) and F. King Alexander, who tried to finesse his way through the LSU minefield, is likewise history at Oregon State University. Others will also fall victim to their own attempts to skate through this.

If, as they say, what’s past is prologue (William Shakespeare’s actual meaning notwithstanding), perhaps it would be fitting to revisit some other embarrassing moments in recent LSU history:

  • Coastal scientist IVOR van HEERDEN who claimed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not driven pilings deep enough which allowed levees to fail during Hurricane Katrina, was fired – mainly because LSU feared the loss of grant money from the corps. It turned out that van Heerden was 100 percent correct in his assessment of the Corps and it wound up costing LSU $435,000 to settle with is former coastal researcher – after spending another $1 million defending his lawsuit.
  • Remember STEVEN HATFIELD? He was hired by LSU’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training in July 2002 and put on administrative leave less than a month later. Why? Because U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI head Robert Mueller considered him a “person of interest” in the mailing of a series of anthrax-laced letters. He was innocent but that matter little to LSU chancellor Mark Emmert who fired the scientist. Making matters worse, LSU then fired Hatfield’s supervisor, the head of the research center where he worked. This time it was the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT that settled the lawsuit – for $2.825 million in cash and an annuity that pays Hatfield $150,000 a year for 20 years.
  • A story that LouisianaVoice broke was that of the epic failure of the dental implants developed at the LSU School of Dentistry. Undaunted by revelations of the faulty design of the implants, the dentistry school promptly fired whistleblower DR. RANDALL SCHAFFER who warned of the implants’ “100 percent failure rate.” Those failures, which were leading to suicides in some cases, eventually involved 675 patients combined as a class for discovery purposes, leaving the state exposed to about $1 billion in liability. For his diligence, LSU rewarded him by having his license revoked and his career ruined.
  • And who can forget the manner in which DRS. ROXANNE TOWNSEND AND FRED CERISE were sent packing? The Bobby Jindal administration just couldn’t stand a bit of candor from professionals in the field of medicine when they decided to meddle into the affairs of the LSU Medical Center so the logical solution was to get rid of them in much the same say Donald Trump would dismiss experts in intelligence a few years later.
  • The LSU Board of Supervisors saw no problem with allowing one of its MEMBERS, Dr. John F. George, Jr., to become President and CEO of Biomedical Research Foundation which would be taking over the operation of two LSU hospitals or that Biomedical Research Foundation leased research labs to the LSU System for millions of dollars. Of course, John F. George, Jr., MD, vice chairman of Biomedical Research Foundation was also a major contributor to Bobby Jindal.
  • One of the main characters in this soap opera, F. KING ALEXANDER, was brought in as the new LSU president back in 2013 despite red flags raised by LOUISIANA VOICE.

Finally, in the irony of all ironies, after LSU football players were protected from charges of sexual assault, and after an LSU football coach was protected from being fired for sexual harassment, one obscure associate professor, DR. TERESA BUCHANAN, was given the axe in July 2015 for the sin of uttering a couple of four-letter words in her classroom.

But, don’t you see? That’s just the way it is at a school like LSU where football is king.

There are priorities, after all.

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A member of the Retired State Employees Association (RSEA), recently received an interesting letter from U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise that served as a bitter reminder of how Congress continues to give lip service to working on behalf of constituents while in truth, they have no interest in certain programs that could benefit thousands of voters back home. The Scalise letter was forwarded to Frank Jobert of the Office of Group Benefits specialist for RSEA and LouisianaVoice eventually obtained a copy.

The Scalise letter was in response to RSEA member’s own letter to Scalise regarding something called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), programs that affect retired government employees of Louisiana and 25 other states. More about those programs in a bit.

Scalise’s letter opens with the pseudo-solicitous – and unimaginative – acknowledgement common to most elected officials: “It is an honor to represent the First Congressional District of Louisiana and your thoughts and concerns are important to me.” What a crock.

He then goes immediately into explaining WEP and GPO. WEP, he said, “reduces the earned Social Security benefits of an individual who also receives a public pension from a job not covered under Social Security.”

He’s correct about that, all right. If an individual – like yours truly, for example – works for several years in the private sector before taking a state job in a civil service capacity, his Social Security benefits are offset, or reduced, because he’s drawing a state retirement that does not contribute to the Social Security program.

That is patently unfair because the individual did, in fact, pay into Social Security during all those years in the private sector. It was his investment in the program that guaranteed him a retirement income but now he is not entitled to draw his full benefits he would otherwise be entitled to. In my particular case, the offset is (fortunately for me) minimal because I worked for so many years in the private sector that I had nearly all the quarters (three-month sectors of a working year) to qualify for full benefits. But for many, that offset can be a tough pill to swallow because the retiree will realize only a small fraction of what he should be entitled to receive, based on his contributions during his private sector working years.

Scalise continued: “This provision lowers the amount that a retiree receives through Social Security.” Yep, that’s what I just explained.

But then Scalise goes into the GPO, which he said “also affects those government employees with spouses who work in the private sector and pay into the Social Security system.”

This, perhaps, is the most unfair provision of all – and it’s a damned sneaky one. A teacher whose spouse earns a six-figure income is impacted by this provision in a most negative manner. That spouse will have paid a hefty amount into Social Security by his/her retirement age – likely well into six figures (and double that when allowing for the employer’s equal contribution). But guess what? Should that spouse die, the surviving school teacher will receive not a single dime of the spouse’s contributions. Nothing. Nil. Zilch. Zip. Nada.

Only because the surviving spouse is a public school teacher who is a member of a teacher retirement system that does not participate in Social Security. Never mind that the dead spouse may have paid tens of thousands of dollars into Social Security. No survivor benefits for you, no sir, no ma’am.

There are 15 states, Louisiana included, that are impacted by this ridiculous GPO provision.

So, what happens to the contributions of the spouse and his/her employer all those years? The guvmint just keeps it. To reiterate, because the deceased worker’s spouse was a public school teacher, that teacher is not entitled to a cent of the spouse’s survivor benefits.

That is patently unfair and it’s something Congress should have fixed years ago.

Scalise said in his letter to Jobert that he’s trying. Yeah, right. “I completely agree with you that the WEP and GPO are unfair and should be repealed,” he sniffed. “As a Member of the Louisiana State Legislature, I co-authored a resolution calling on Congress to address these issues that affect so many Louisiana families.” Of course, a legislative “resolution” carries no weight of law and besides, state legislators are pretty impotent when it comes to telling Congress what to do, so Scalise’s “resolution” was a fairly weak attempt at a solution.

But wait. “In Congress, I have continued to support measures that address these concerns,” he wrote. “You will be pleased to know that I am cosponsor of HR. 82, the Social Security Fairness Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Illinois). This legislation would repeal both the WEP and GPO. Please know I will continue to advocate for repealing unfair provisions like the WEP and GPO while serving in Congress.”

Well, that’s a relief. At last, they’re doing something.

But not so fast here. It seems this is a resolution they’ve been kicking around for a number of years up there inside the Beltway – with little to nothing to show for it.

Let’s take a closer look at the co-sponsors of HR 82. The resolution, authored by a Republican, has 111 CO-SPONSORS to date, including all four Louisiana Republicans – Scalise, Clay Higgins, Garret Graves and Mike Johnson. Among those 111 co-sponsors of the Republican-authored resolution are 77 Democrats, meaning the bill appears to have widespread bipartisan support. The resolution will likely pick up a couple hundred more co-sponsors before the session ends, but don’t look for a vote.

And that’s exactly the way they like it.

This isn’t the resolution’s first rodeo.

It’s reared its head every year since at least 2008 and still it languishes.

Why?

Because Congress has absolutely no intention of passing this resolution, no intention of bringing it to a full House vote.

How do I know that? Simple math. In 2008, HR 82 had an eye-popping 352 CO-SPONSORS out of 435 representatives. That’s 81 percent of the total House membership. It takes a simple majority, or 218 votes, to pass a resolution and 292 (a two-thirds majority) votes to override a possible presidential veto. If every co-sponsor voted in favor of the resolution, it would not only sail through, but would be a veto-proof bill. In fact, with that kind of bipartisan support, no sane president would dare veto it.

That time, the author was a Democrat, Rep. Howard Berman of California, which would indicate the bill had true bipartisan support. Of the 352 co-sponsors back then, 215 were Democrats (just three co-sponsors short of a majority) and 137 were Republicans. Each of Louisiana’s then-eight-member delegation, consisting of five Republicans and three Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors. They were Democrats Charles Melancon, William Jefferson and Donald Cazayoux, and Republicans Scalise, Richard Baker, Bobby Jindal, Rodney Alexander and Charles Boustany.

So, why wasn’t the resolution, with such broad support, obviously enough to get it passed with ease, brought to a vote?

There’s an old joke about bacon and eggs where the punch line has the pig saying to the chicken, “For you, it’s just a contribution, but for me it’s a commitment.” In congressional parlance, a resolution is the egg; bringing it to a vote is a commitment.

In other words, don’t hold your breath for Congress to share the bacon with you.

The sad truth of the matter is the WEP and GPO are nothing less than legislative subterfuge – taxation of working Americans, a tax that Congress has no intention, indeed, has never had any intention, of reforming or repealing.

And this tactic can be blamed exclusively on neither the Republicans nor the Democrats in Congress; it’s just plain old garden-variety, screw-the-taxpayer politics that’s played so well by both parties in D.C. under the guise of representation.

It’s a pretty cruel joke and it’s on us.

And when Scalise, Johnson, Higgins and Graves run for reelection, they’ll likely remind us of how they fought for the repeal of the WEP and GPO provisions of Social Security for the benefit of public employees and teachers.

When we talk about scams, the one most ignored is the one being run up in Washington. It certainly beats those car warranty and student loan reduction calls you keep getting.

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Even as a federal appeals court judge is calling for repeal of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark New York Times v. Sullivan decision, a Louisiana legislator and acknowledged Donald Trump supporter has PRE-FILED HOUSE BILL 23 for the 2021 legislative session that would officially repeal a provision in Louisiana law that allows criminal prosecution for defamation but which was ruled unconstitutional 57 years ago.

Rep. Charles Owen, Ph.D., of DeRidder, told LouisianaVoice that criminal prosecution for defamation had already been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and his bill would simply make that part of the defamation law official.

“I am 100 percent in support of the First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom of the press,” he said. “My bill does nothing to disturb any other provision of the defamation law, including New York Times v. Sullivan.”

One person who already learned an expensive lesson of the unconstitutionality of criminal punishment for defamation is former Terrebonne Parish Sheriff JERRY LARPENTER. Larpenter got a judge who was obviously oblivious to the law to sign a search warrant that allowed Larpenter to raid the home of a local blogger who had the temerity to criticize the sheriff on his blog. All the blogger’s computers, as well as those of his children, were seized in the raid and the blogger was arrested.

A federal judge quickly overturned the search warrant, the raid and the arrest while scolding the local judge about his ignorance of the law and the blogger sued Larpenter, eventually settling for about $250,000.

The same thing occurred later in St. Tammany Parish when Sheriff Randy Smith ARRESTED a former deputy, Jerry Rogers, for criminal defamation for comments he had made in an email to the family of a local murder victim that was critical of the languishing investigation of the sheriff’s office. (that murder remains no nearer to being solved than when it occurred in July 2017, more than three and one-half years ago.)

Louisiana’s Criminal Defamation statute was ruled unconstitutional as it applied to speech concerning public officials more than half-a-century ago by the U.S. Supreme Court, Rogers noted in his subsequent FEDERAL LAWSUIT against Smith that is currently pending in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District.

Louisiana’s criminal defamation law dates back nearly 200 years, to 1825, when LOUISIANA STATE REP. EDWARD LIVINGSTON (U.S. Secretary of State from 1831-1833, and former law partner of Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton while living in New York) included it in his proposed penal code for the State of Louisiana.

But in 1960, the New York Times published a full-page ad by Martin Luther King Jr. supporters that was harshly critical of police in Montgomery, Alabama, for their brutal treatment of civil rights marchers. The ad contained several minor errors and Montgomery Police Commissioner L.B. Sullivan sued The Times in a local court for defamation. The case made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court which, in 1964, ruled that a plaintiff in a libel suit must prove that incorrect statements were made with “actual malice,” meaning that the defendant either knew the statement was false or recklessly disregarded whether or not it was true.

That is the decision that has come under recent attack from FEDERAL JUDGE LAURENCE SLIBERMAN, a Ronald Reagan appointee. His scathing dissent was contained in a libel in which he said the requirement to show “actual malice” in order to recover damages from a news organization for libel was a “policy-driven” result that justices simply invented out of whole cloth.

His dissent was eerily similar to that of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of two years ago in which he called for the Supreme Court to revisit the 1964 decision.

Silberman, D.C. Senior Judge, described both the New York Times and the Washington Post as “virtually Democratic Party broadsheets, adding that “Nearly all television – network and cable – is a Democratic Party trumpet.”

He somehow managed to ignore Fox News, One America News Network, Newsmax, Rush Limbaugh, Info Wars, The American Conservative, Breitbart News, the Epoch Times, the Federalist, WorldNetDaily, and a few dozen other right-wing organizations that offer their own versions of the truth in his diatribe.

The year 1964 was a busy one for liability law for the U.S. Supreme Court. Besides its ruling in New York Times v. Sullivan, it also took on a libel case involving flamboyant New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison who would capture international headlines a few years later when he became enmeshed in the infamous Clay Shaw prosecution in connection with the JFK assassination.

But in 1962, Garrison had responded to criticism of a huge backlog of cases in his office by placing the blame on the inefficiency and laziness of eight state judges, adding that the judges were hampering his efforts to enforce vice laws.

The judges had Garrison arrested, charging him under the 140-year-old criminal defamation law that up to then had been largely ignore and seldom invoked. Garrison was convicted under the statute and his case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled in the same year as the more publicized New York Times case that criminal defamation was unconstitutional.

And that’s where things remained until those sheriffs in Terrebonne and St. Tammany got their drawers in a wad over public criticism.

Now Owen, retired from the U.S. Air Force, has returned to Louisiana and gotten himself elected to the legislature. And one of his first acts is HB 23 which seeks to remove the references to criminal defamation from the lawbooks.

It’s a good bill and one that is long overdue and who knows? It might actually curtail foolish attempts by future sheriffs to use the unconstitutional law as a club to beat down criticism, aka freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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