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Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office, as required by law, issued its Report on Fiscal Deficiencies, Inefficiencies, Fraud, or Other Significant Issues Disclosed in Governmental Auditors for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2019 last October.

And now, six months down the road, it’s a pretty good bet that no more than a handful of legislators, at best, have even glanced at the five-page REPORT that nine state agencies and one local agency for 17 deficiencies or irregularities totaling more than $245.7 million. Some of the deficiencies reported go back as far as 2008.

In fact, the smart money says that no more than a half-dozen of the 28 House members and 19 Senators who comprise the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget have even picked up a copy of the report.

After all, there are campaign funds to be raised and lobbyists to be kept happy and one must have priorities.

And these are the ones who are charged with watching the purse strings on the state budget:

Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget (JLCB)

HOUSE
Henry, Cameron                           Chairman                          
Abraham, Mark                           Member                          
Abramson, Neil C.                           Member                          
Amedée, Beryl                           Member                          
Armes, James K.                           Member                          
Bacala, Tony                           Member                          
Bagley, Larry                           Member                          
Berthelot, John A.                           Member                          
Billiot, Robert E.                           Member                          
Carter, Gary                           Member                          
Chaney, Charles R.                           Member                          
Edmonds, Rick                           Member                          
Falconer, Reid                           Member                          
Foil, Franklin J.                           Member                          
Harris, Lance                           Member                          
Hodges, Valarie                           Member                          
Leger, Walt III                           Member                          
McFarland, Jack                           Member                          
Miguez, Blake                           Member                          
Miller, Dustin                           Member                          
Pylant, Steve E.                           Member                          
Richard, Jerome                           Member                          
Simon, Scott M.                           Member                          
Smith, Patricia Haynes                           Member                          
Zeringue, Jerome                           Member                          
Jackson, Katrina R.                           Interim Member                          
Stokes, Julie                           Interim Member                          
Barras, Taylor F.                           Ex Officio                          

 

SENATE
LaFleur, Eric                           Vice Chair                          
Allain, R. L. Bret                           Member                          
Appel, Conrad                           Member                          
Barrow, Regina                           Member                          
Bishop, Wesley T.                           Member                          
Donahue, Jack                           Member                          
Fannin, James R.                           Member                          
Hewitt, Sharon                           Member                          
Johns, Ronnie                           Member                          
Martiny, Daniel R.                           Member                          
Morrell, Jean-Paul J.                           Member                          
Tarver, Gregory                           Member                          
White, Mack “Bodi”                           Member                          
Chabert, Norbèrt N. “Norby”                           Interim Member                          
Morrish, Dan W. “Blade”                           Interim Member                          
Thompson, Francis C.                           Interim Member                          
Walsworth, Michael A.                            Interim Member                          
Alario, John                            Ex Officio                          
Long, Gerald                           Ex Officio                    

 

I base my opinion on the premise that had any of them read the report, they would—or should—be raising holy hell over such things as:

  • For the sixth consecutive report, the Department of Environmental Quality has not fully implemented effective monitoring procedures over the Waste Tire Management Program (WTMP) to ensure that waste tire date used to calculate subsidized payments to waste tire processors is reasonable. “We first reported weaknesses in controls over payments to WTMP processors in our engagement that covered fiscal years 2008 and 2009,” the report says. For the period from July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2017, DEQ paid out $99.4 million in subsidies to six waste tire processors.

Other major deficiencies cited included:

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Hazard Mitigation):

  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs HUD settlement statements, appraisals, elevation certificates, duplication of benefits verification, engineer plans inspection photographs or other documentation: $1.8 million;
  • Contracts and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $1.47 million.

Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (Public Assistance):

  • Completed work not within the scope of an approved project: $2.3 million;
  • Expense reimbursements not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs, inventory records or other documentation: $40.1 million;
  • Contract and purchases did not comply with applicable federal and state procurement requirements: $11.95 million;
  • Work reflected in the expense reimbursements did not comply with applicable FEMA regulations: $9.4 million;
  • GOHSEP’s cost estimating tool and/or expense review form either omitted or contained duplicate and/or incorrectly categorized expenses: $956,000.

Attorney General:

  • The AG did not deposit money into the Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2016 in accordance with state law: $713,000.

Louisiana Department of Health:

  • LDH did not deposit money into its Fraud Fund between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in accordance with state law: $2.8 million;
  • LDH incorrectly deposited money into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 that should have been deposited into the Nursing Home Residents’ Trust Fund: $323,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2017 for salaries that do not appear to meet the intended purpose of the Fraud Fund: $477,000;
  • LDH spent money from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal 2012 on software that could not be implemented due to system compatibility issues: $643,000.

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (Oil Spill):

  • Amounts requested/invoiced not supported by invoices, receipts, lease agreements, contracts, labor policies, time records, equipment logs

It’s somewhat puzzling when people like Reps. Cameron Henry (R-Metairie) and Taylor Barras (R-New Iberia) try to fight the governor’s budgetary proposals at every opportunity (including his attempt to increase teachers’ pay) but you never hear a peep out of them about a paltry $245 million.

And Henry just happens to be chairman of the JLCB and Barras just happens to be Speaker of the House.

As our late friend, C.B. Forgotston was fond of saying, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

 

 

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Until judges begin holding public officials personally liable—and making it hurt—for their continued disregard of Louisiana’s public records law, there’s simply little incentive to get them to change their habit of attempt to conceal information that could prove embarrassing or even incriminating.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is on record via his own press release, as saying he was committed “to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” recently attempted to deny access to public records to an Indiana woman on the shaky argument that as a non-citizen of Louisiana, she was not entitled to the records—never mind the fact he had already turned over 6000 pages of records to her and never mind that the state’s open meetings and public records laws go hand in hand to the public’s right to know what public officials are up to.

Apparently, she was starting to make him a bit uncomfortable so he cut her off and she FILED SUIT in an attempt to get the information she sought.

On Thursday, State District Judge William Morvant, thoroughly pissed at both sides over the numerous—and voluminous—filings in connection with an otherwise cut and dried matter, delivered a smack-down to Landry by refusing to dismiss Scarlett Martin’s suit.

Martin is seeking records concerning Landry’s perceived coziness with the oil and bas industry, including his travel, vehicle purchases, speaking fees and contracts, prompting Landry’s public information officer Ruth Wisher to say, “We can only hope it is not a political witch hunt (wonder where she got that term?) distracting from the important work of our office.”

Funny, but the state’s Public Records Act makes no mention of any requirement of state citizenship as a requisite for obtaining records nor does it cite motives, including “political witch hunts” as reasons to deny access to public information. Even funnier that such a lame line of reasoning would be advanced by the office of the state’s attorney general, presumably the premier legal authority to whom public agencies go for counsel.

Melinda Deslatte, In an Associated Press STORY, said Morvant in making his ruling, said he would not impose overly severe penalties on Landry for the lengthy time it took his office to turn over the records requested by Martin.

Instead, he said, he would only hit Landry’s office with attorney’s fees, fees that Martin’s attorney, Chris Whittington, estimated in the neighborhood of $25,000. And that doesn’t even include the cost of the state’s attorney fees for defending the indefensible.

And there’s the fly in the ointment.

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:35(E)(1) says the following.

If the court finds that the custodian arbitrarily or capriciously withheld the requested record, it may award the requester any actual damages proven by him to have resulted from the actions of the custodian. It may also award the requester civil penalties not to exceed $100 per day, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays, for each such day of such failure to give notification (emphasis mine).

Additionally, LRS 44:35(E)(2) says:

The custodian shall be personally liable for the payment of any such damages and shall be held liable in solido with the public body for the payment of the requester’s attorney’s fees and other costs of litigation, except where the custodian has withheld or denied production of the requested record or records on advice of legal counsel representing the public body in which the office of such custodian is located. In the event the custodian retains private legal counsel for his defense in connection with the request for records, the court may award attorney’s fees to the custodian (emphasis mine).

In this case, Landry was the legal counsel and the custodian of the records. Accordingly, he should have been held personally liable and hit with a penalty of $100 per day—except for the fact that Judge Morvant decided to go easy on him.

The ruling prompted a Lafayette reader to say, “Ironically, this is the same issue (ignoring public records requests) that brought… Lafayette City Marshal (Brian) Pope down. And similar favoritism was shown to Marshal Pope until media pressure was brought to bear on the issue. The judge of record, Judge Jules Edwards, showed considerable favoritism to the marshal as DA Keith Stutes. The elite protect the elite.”

And those attorney fees? Whether Morvant does award $25,000 or something less, rest assured that Landry won’t be paying it. Instead, you, Mr. and Mrs. Louisiana Taxpayer, will be the ones picking up the tab for that Landry’s little misapplication of a law any sixth-grader should be able to understand. You have already paid Landry’s attorneys and now you’ll pay the other side’s, as well.

Landry? He’s not out one red cent.

And until these judges, pissed or not, start holding public officials personally accountable for their blatant disregard of state law, nothing is going to change. The next official who finds public records requests hitting a little too close to home will try the same tactics of delay and deny, knowing that if he is sued and loses, the state’s taxpayers, not him or her, will pay the piper.

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Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

A variation of that adage might be, “If your intentions are pure, you don’t have to worry about consistency.”

Jeff Landry might want to remember both statements.

But, on the other hand, sometimes it’s good entertainment to watch a politician more concerned with advancing his own career than the interests of his constituents get boxed in by his own words and actions.

Case in point: A self-serving press release from the attorney general on Nov. 19 which addressed a ruling by a state judge which said the Vermilion Parish School Board violated Louisiana’s Open Meeting Law for forcefully removing a teacher who was critical of the superintendent’s pay raise.

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry pontificated, “and I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law.” (emphasis mine)

Well, Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law and the Public Records Law just happen to go hand in hand, but you’d never know that from the lawsuit pending in State District Court in Baton Rouge scheduled for trial next Thursday.

Landry is a defendant in a LAWSUIT filed by an Indiana woman who is seeking admittedly voluminous records relating to correspondence between Landry’s office and various oil and gas interests in the state as well as records of his travel to conferences, speaking engagements, lodging and meals.

Here is a copy of her request for the records and her lawsuit.

Landry’s public information officer Ruth Wisher said, “We can only hope it is not a political witch hunt distracting from the important work of our office.”

And even though he has already turned over more than 6000 PAGES of documents, the woman, Scarlett Martin of Indianapolis, has sued Landry because she says he has failed to fully comply with her request and that he is holding back additional records.

Now Landry has offered up a rather unique defense by CLAIMING that Louisiana’s public records law applies only to citizens of the gret stet of Looziana.

That doesn’t exactly square with Opinion 17-0044 of last May 18 in which he wrote in an opinion pursuant to a legislator’s request, “The public’s right to public records is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Louisiana Constitution. ‘No person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents…”

(Note there is no mention of any restriction of that right to Louisiana citizens. And also note how he conveniently ties public meetings and public records together in a nice little bow for us.)

In the next paragraph of that opinion, he says, “Any person of the age of majority may inspect, copy, or reproduce, any public record” and “any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record.”

That sounds a tad definitive for a man who is now trying his best to protect certain records from disclosure.

Kinda makes one wonder what he’s trying to hide.

Oh, and in response to Ms. Wisher’s little comment about hoping the request isn’t some kind of “witch hunt” (wonder where she picked that phrase up from?), state law also expressly says, “The purpose for the document request is immaterial, and an agency or record custodian may not inquire as to the reason…”

Moreover, in further addressing Landry’s water-thin residency claim of exception, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Title Research Corp. v. Rausch (450 So.2d933,937 (1984) opined:

The legislature, by the public records statutes, sought to guarantee, in the most expansive and unrestricted way possible, the right of the public to inspect and reproduce those records which the laws deem to be public. There was no intent on the part of the legislatures to qualify, in any way, the right of access. [Citations omitted]. As with the constitutional provision, the statute should be construed liberally, and any doubt must be resolved in favor of the right of access.

Section 31 provides that any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record, except as otherwise provided. A person over 18 has the right to inspect and copy or get a copy of a public record that is not exempt from examination, and the custodian has the burden of proving that the record is not subject to inspection. The person may apply in person to the custodian of the public body, to inspect, to copy or to reproduce a public record; however, in Elliot v. District Attorney of Baton Rouge, (1995) 664 So.2d. 122, the court opined that a person could make a request by letter. (emphasis mine)

Mr. Landry is going to have a helluva time getting around all that and he just might have to write a pretty big check (state check, of course, not personal) in penalties assessed by the court.

Editor’s Note: A conscientious attempt was made by LouisianaVoice to access that attorney general’s opinion cited in this story. Previously, the attorney general’s web page had a menu that users could use to access opinions on any subject. That menu no longer exists.

We did, however find in the Media Room, a menu labeled “More Resources” which provided:

biography  of Jeff Landry;

An introduction to Jeff Landry;

portrait of Jeff Landry;

candid portrait of Jeff Landry;

capitol photo of Jeff Landry;

Another capitol photo of Jeff Landry.

I’m certain he gladly provide those for Ms. Martin.

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Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Scott Angelle appear to have made media buys during their respective 2015 campaigns through a political consulting firm affiliated with a shell company said to be at the center of an alleged illegal coordination scheme with the NRA, according to an investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Read the full story HERE.

Donald Trump’s campaign funneled money to ad buyers which in turn set up illegal coordination between the campaign and the NRA by routing funds through a secretive shell company for the 2016 campaign and has continued to use the same individuals working for the same firms for his 2020 campaign. The payments were made through Harris Sikes Media, LLC, a company that appears to exist only on paper but which shares a mailing address with several other companies.

Three of the companies—National Media Research, OnMessage, and Harris Sikes—list their address as 817 Slaters Lane in Alexandria, Virginia. Three others—American Media & Advocacy Group, Red Eagle Media Group, and Purple Strategies, LLC, give their address as 815 Slaters Lane in Alexandria.

Funny thing is, there is no such street as Slaters Lane in Alexandria, Virginia.

And one of those companies, OnMessage, is headed up by none other than Bobby Jindal’s very own political guru, Timmy Teepell of Baton Rouge.

National Media, American Media & Advocacy Group (AMAG), and Red Eagle Media Group are all facing allegations of illegal coordination of campaign funds because besides sharing identical or similar addresses, they also share staff and resources.

The analysis of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) records by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) found that Trump campaign ad disclosure forms on file with stations across the country have continued to include signatures and names of individuals working for National Media, despite no mention of National Media or its affiliates on required federal disclosures. Those individual ad buyers’ names simultaneously continued to be included in ad documents for the NRA and America First, but with the ad buyers’ affiliation listed as National Media or one of its affiliates.

The three ad buyers whose names have popped up the most on political ad records for all three groups are Ben Angle, Megan Burns and Jonathan Ferrell, CRP says. And even though their names appeared on filings from Harris Sikes Media, all three are listed as employees of National Media and its affiliates. Their names and/or signatures have appeared on FCC political ad filings for AMAG, Red Eagle and National Media.

NRA’s relationship with Purple Strategies is obscured through a network of affiliated companies. Documents filed with the FCC indicate that the NRA routinely does its ad buys through American Media & Advocacy Group and Red Eagle Media. Both companies give the same Alexandria, Virginia, address—815 Slaters Lane.

Court records reveal, however, that like the address, Red Eagle Media does not actually exist, but rather is a fictitious business created and owned by National Media.

Harris Sikes Media’s registered agent, attorney Joel Dahnke, is also the registered agent for National Media.

The Trump practice of routing funds through Harris Sikes Media —a previously unreported shell company that was not known to be affiliated with National Media — appears to be a new tactic, and Trump is the first major federal candidate known to have been a part of it, according to CRP’s review of FCC records.

The only other political ad disclosures in FCC records dating back to 2015 that mention Harris Sikes Media are for former U.S. Rep. and current Attorney General Jeff Landry and Louisiana Rising, the political action committee associated with Scott Angelle’s failed gubernatorial campaign.

“Using shell entities to circumvent campaign coordination rules is hardly a new concept, and something that often occurs without consequence — giving consultants free rein to exploit these tactics,” the CRP report said.

Just another way in which so-called “dark money” is used to usurp the democratic process in this country, effectively stifling the voice and the will of the people. Instead of focusing on the all-too-real issues facing us, we are instead seduced into voting for the candidate with the sharpest, most appealing TV ads.

We now vote the candidate who can make the best use in a 30-second spot of catchy phrases like “border wall,” “drain the swamp,” “make America great again,” “I believe love is the answer but you oughta own a hand gun just in case,” and “I’d rather drink weed killer.”

Real depth of thinking that addresses myriad problems, right?

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When I was a boy, my grandfather kept feed for his livestock in what we referred to as the corn crib in our barn. Naturally, rats, attracted to the grain, were a major problem.

One day, I moved a 55-gallon metal barrel into the crib. I put a couple of handsful of grain in the bottom of the barrel and propped a wooden plank outside the barrel against the open top. That night, about half-a-dozen not-so-smart rats climbed up the board and jumped into the barrel to get the grain. Too late they found they couldn’t get out.

I killed the rats and repeated the process each night, thereby eliminating quite a large number of the vermin because they too dumb to comprehend the peril of leaping before then looked.

The Senate passage (87-12) Tuesday of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL has put Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a metaphorically similar barrel and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can climb out or if he learns from it.

Landry, you see, has spent the duration of his term of office either attacking every initiative of Gov. John Bel Edwards or praising every action of his acknowledged hero, Donald Trump.

He has been especially critical of the governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Program designed to relieve the state of its dubious title as the world’s incarceration center. Until passage of the Criminal Justice Reform Program, Louisiana had the highest rate of incarceration in a nation that had the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world.

No one would try to say there wouldn’t be repeat offenders. That goes with any prison system anywhere but Landry was quick to jump into the fray back in August when he issued a blistering PRESS RELEASE and newspaper OP-EDS proclaiming to anyone who would listen that nearly 25 percent of inmates released under the program had reoffended.

In an especially self-righteous display of sanctimony designed to garner sympathy, he called upon Edwards to apologize to the victims.

A noble but, coming from Landry, a somewhat empty sentiment intended to curry favor while having little to do with any real concern for anyone other than his own political capital. Consider this remark in his press release:

“The governor’s reckless approach to empty our jails simply so he can take credit for a smaller prison population remains a threat to Louisiana citizens. It further highlights the need for truth in sentencing.”

Well, first of all, there was never any intent to “empty our jails.” That’s almost laughable, ranking right up there with some of Trump’s wildly exaggerated claims. As for “truth in sentencing,” I bring to the stand the innumerable investigative audits conducted by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office that were simply filed away somewhere with no action taken against those responsible for mismanagement, malfeasance and embezzlement.

A statewide elected official can let state taxpayers pay his fine for sexual harassment and move on with his life but let some kid from the ghetto get busted for an ounce of pot and all hell breaks loose. Authorities swoop down on him, hustle him off to jail where he is most probably raped as he awaits his trial and sentencing to hard time. How’s that for “truth in sentencing,” Jeff?

It must have kept Landry awake last night just knowing that his hero (Trump) and his nemesis (Edwards) actually worked together in coming up with the criminal justice reform bill, a bill favored by Trump and for which First Son-in-law Jared Kushner actually lobbied.

It must have also upset the folks over at The Hayride after their EDITORIAL last August in which they called for Republican supporters of the Edwards prison reforms “to step away quietly…”

Basically, this is what the criminal justice reform bill does:

  • Sends up to 4,000 prisoners home by increasing the amount of time inmates can cut off of their sentences due to good behavior.
  • Allow more male and female inmates to serve time in house arrest or halfway facilities instead of prison cells, with exceptions for high-risk inmates.
  • Require that prisoners be placed within 500 miles of family.
  • Outlaw shackling during child birth.
  • Mandate the provision of sanitary napkins and tampons to female inmates.
  • Reduce the mandatory penalty from life to 25 years for a third conviction of certain drug offenses, and from 25 to 15 years for a second conviction.
  • Prohibit the doubling up, or “stacking,” of mandatory sentences for certain gun and drug offenses.
  • Give judges more discretion in giving less than the mandatory minimum for certain low-level crimes.
  • Make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, which changed sentencing guidelines to treat offenses involving crack and powder cocaine equally. This could impact nearly 2,600 federal inmates.

The bill would only impact the 180,789 incarcerated in federal prisons, but many of the changes reflect reforms already implemented in many states.

It now goes back to the House, where it is expected to pass with equal ease.

At least one Louisiana politician remained true to his beliefs, however self-serving they may be.

U.S. Sen. JOHN KENNEDY was one of only 12 Republicans in the Senate and the only one from Louisiana to vote against the bill, calling it a “violation of American public safety. He sniffed last August that Edwards “calls it prison reform, I call it prison release.”

Never one to abandon a snippy sound bite if it gets him on camera, he repeated an eerily similar CLAIM last Friday: “This is not a criminal justice bill. It is a prisoner release bill.”

It’s a pity neither is running for governor. It would have been a darn interesting election from an entertainment perspective.

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