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Archive for the ‘Attorney General’ Category

Cameron, Vermilion, Plaquemines and Jefferson are attempting to accomplish what Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East could not: hold oil and gas companies responsible for the destruction of Louisiana’s coastline.

On July 28, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry expressed his “disappointment” that Vermilion Parish had the audacity to file a lawsuit over damages to the parish coastline Vermilion District Attorney Keith Stutes said was caused by drilling activities of several dozen oil and gas companies.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Landry, in a rare display of political accord, intervened in the lawsuit with Edwards asking the oil and gas industry to settle the litigation and to assist the state in footing the cost of restoring the cost, which is expected to reach tens of millions of dollars over the next half-century. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/28/vermilion-sues-oil-and-gas-companies-over-coastal-/

Calling lawsuits filed by Cameron and Jefferson parishes as well as Vermilion “counter-intuitive,” Landry said, “We cannot allow these differing and competing interests to push claims which collectively impact the public policy for our coast and our entire state.”

Two weeks later, on Aug. 10, Landry was practically effervescent as he all but took full credit when 24th District Judge Stephen Enright dismissed a similar lawsuit by Jefferson Parish. “I intervened in this lawsuit because I was concerned that the interest of the State of Louisiana may not have been fully represented or protected.

“I accept the court’s ruling because addressing the issues associated with permit violations through the administrative process is a cost-effective, efficient way to resolve any violations,” he said. “That was clearly the purpose of the Legislature creating this regulatory scheme.”

Funny how Landry would choose to use the word scheme.

Scheme, after all, would appear to be appropriate, considering how much money the industry has invested in campaign contributions to Louisiana politicians.

Copy of Campaign Contributions

And there’s certainly no mystery why Landry is so protective of the industry. In fact, he might be described as Jindal 2.0 because of his determination to protect the industry to the detriment of the citizens od Louisiana.

After all, of the $3.3 million Landry received in campaign CONTRIBUTIONS between July 1, 2014 through Dec. 31, 2015 (during his campaign for attorney general), more than $550,000 came from companies and individuals with strong ties to the oil and gas industry.

Moreover, more than $600,000 in campaign contributions to Landry came from out-of-state donors, with many of those, such as Koch Industries ($10,000), one of America’s biggest polluters, also affiliated with the oil and gas industry.

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/inside-the-koch-brothers-toxic-empire-20140924

http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2013/06/10/americas-20-worst-corporate-air-polluters/#10b98e794c70

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/climate-deniers/koch-industries/koch-industries-pollution/

(Koch Industries, by the way, with ties dating back to the right-wing extremist group, The John Birch Society—Fred Koch, Charles and David Koch’s father, was a charter member—has run afoul of federal law on numerous occasions, including fraud charges in connection with oil purchases from Indian reservations.) http://www.corp-research.org/koch_industries

One $5,000 donor, Cox Oil & Gas, was from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, according to Landry’s campaign finance records. That contribution date was May 20, 2014 but Cox Oil Offshore, LLC, Cox Oil, LLC, and Cox Operating, LLC, all of Dallas, contributed $5,000 each three weeks earlier, on April 28, 2014, those same records show.

Besides the Cox companies, Landry received more than $300,000 from firms and individuals from Texas, many of those from Houston and the surrounding area.

Landry, like Jindal and the bulk of legislators, has sold his soul to an industry that has ravaged our coastline, polluted our land and waterways, and failed to restore property to its original state when operations have concluded, all while reaping record profits and enriching stockholders.

LouisianaVoice has long adhered to the idea that there is far too much money in politics and that most of it comes from special interests. The reality is that citizens have long been removed from the political process.

If you don’t believe that, drop in on a House or Senate committee hearing on some controversial issue. Invariably, the issue will have already been decided by a quiet influx of special interest money and intense lobbying. As you sit and watch and listen to testimony of citizens, pay close attention because you will be the only one besides those testifying who will be doing so.

Watch the committee members. They will be checking emails or texts on their phones, talking and joking among themselves or just milling around, exiting the rear door of the committee room to get coffee—anything but listening to citizens’ concerns. Only on the rarest of occasions could a committee member give you a summation of the testimony.

The only time many legislators really take their jobs seriously is when they are discussing a bill with a lobbyist and that is unfortunate.

Once you’ve heard committee testimony go upstairs to the House or Senate chamber and take a seat in the front row of the spectator gallery. Observe how few of the senators or representatives is actually paying attention to the proceedings. The scene below you will underscore the adage that there are three things one should never see being made: love, sausage, and laws.

And while you’re at it, watch the lobbyists working the room. As you observe the absence of interaction between legislators and average citizens, do the math and deduce the way lawmakers are influenced. You won’t get far before you encounter the old familiar $.

Like him or not (and in Louisiana, it’s fairly accurate to say most don’t though they can’t give you a really sound reason why), President Obama pretty much nailed it when he was running for re-election in 2012.

Jane Mayer, in her excellent book Dark Money, quoted Obama from his speech in Osawatomie, Kansas (the same town where Theodore Roosevelt demanded in 1910 that the government be “freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests”), about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 and the ensuing glut of Super PAC money into the political arena:

  • “Inequality distorts our democracy. It gives an outsized voice to the few who can afford high-priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions, and it runs the risk of selling out our democracy to the highest bidder.”

Meanwhile, Landry ramps up his war of words and political ideology with Gov. Edwards (perhaps in an effort to deflect attention away from his own flawed agenda). The most recent salvo was fired last week over the administration’s hiring of former Sen. Larry Bankston, a one-time convicted felon as legal counsel for the State Board of Contractors—never mind the fact that Landry also hired an employee formerly convicted of fraud for the attorney general’s fraud section. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_fe56114c-6ad7-11e6-8e7e-6f06140ad60e.html

It would appear that in Louisiana, the state has long since been sold out to the highest bidder as witnessed by the combined efforts of Jindal, Landry, legislators, and the courts to protect big oil at all costs.

As further evidence of this, consider the words of Gifford Briggs, Vice-President of and lobbyist for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) in the run-up to the 2015 statewide elections immediately after Landry had indicated he might oppose then incumbent Attorney General Buddy Caldwell.

Asked if LOGA would support Landry, Briggs, the son of LOGA President Donald Briggs, said, “We can’t officially endorse any candidate. Our PAC can, but not us. Having said that, Jeff Landry is looking like a very good candidate for Attorney General.”

 

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Leave it to Attorney General Jeff Landry to come down on the wrong side of a case involving a question about constitutional law.

The Attorney General’s office, under the dictates of the state’s 1974 Constitutional, is barred from prosecuting illegal activity (other than child porn and a few drug cases) unless specifically asked to do so by the local district attorney. Instead, while attorneys general of other states actively pursue criminal prosecution, the Louisiana AG for the most part is relegated to defending state agencies, even when those same agencies may be neck deep in illegal or unethical activity.

Then Attorney General William Guste fought the encroachment on his prosecutorial powers but the state’s district attorneys, equally determined to protect their fiefdoms, were simply too strong. In the end, the AG was gutted of its authority to intervene in local criminal matters.

So it was that on Thursday (Aug. 25), Landry, after the Terrebonne Parish District Attorney recused himself from the case, wound up on the short end of a ruling by Louisiana’s First Circuit Court of Appeal that a search warrant signed by State District Court Randall Bethancourt and executed by Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter was unconstitutional at both the state and federal level.

http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/lafourche-terrebonne/court-rules-search-warrant-in-terrebonne-sheriff-case-unconstitutional/308367610

LouisianaVoice requested a copy of the SEARCH WARRANT but was initially referred by the clerk of court’s office to the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Department’s Chief of Detectives who told us, “The only way you’re gonna get that is with a subpoena.”

Not so fast, Barney. The Louisiana Public Records Law clearly says otherwise.

So it was back to the clerk as we explained that the warrant and affidavit were public record and on file in the clerk’s office. Incredibly, despite the illegal warrant having already made national news, the clerk employee professed to not knowing what we were asking for. finally, after more back and forth, she “found” it and said the five-page document would be sent when she received a $5 check ($1 per page). The check was sent only to be returned with the message that personal checks were not accepted by her office (she neglected to inform us of that minor detail before). So then we sent  money order and by sheer coincidence, we received the warrant on Thursday—the same day as the First Circuit’s ruling. That couldn’t have worked out better. Like they say, Sheriff, karma is a b—h.

But even more incredible was that upon reading the warrant, we learned that Larpenter also had served search warrants on Facebook and AT&T in an effort to go after his nemesis. That’s right. You read it here first. Presumably, Bethancourt signed those search warrants as well.

The entire basis of the warrants was a 1968 state anti-defamation law. A local blogger, it turns out had said bad things on the Internet blog Exposedat about the sheriff and the cozy business and familial relations that seem to abound in Terrebonne Parish (never mind that the stories had more than a grain of truth).

The only problem was—and something Judge Bethancourt should have known, assuming he is capable of reading a law book—the law was declared unconstitutional in 1981.

Rather than advise his new client (Judge Bethancourt and the high sheriff) of this, however, Landry allowed the matter to become case law (thankfully for the media) rather than quietly dropping the matter while working out an out-of-court monetary settlement with the victim whose computers and cell phones were seized in the illegal raid.

Instead, the sheriff’s office has now exposed itself to far greater legal liability for the August 2 raid deputies carried out on the home of Houma Police Officer Wayne Anderson during which they seized computers and cell phones, alleging that Anderson, the blog’s suspected author, committed criminal defamation against the parish’s new insurance agent, Tony Alford. Anderson has denied that he is the blog’s author.

We first addressed this Gestapo-type raid on Aug. 8:

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/08/08/blog-in-terrebonne-parish-making-officials-nervous-sheriff-conducts-raid-based-on-law-ruled-unconstitutional-in-1981/

Making matters even worse, Larpenter pulled off the near impossible feat of making Donald Trump appear to be the voice of reason and restraint with his comments about a Loyola University law professor’s assessment of the warrant at the time it was carried out.

Professor Dane Ciolino said on Aug. 3 that the Exposedat blogger’s comments about public affairs was protected speech under the 1st Amendment and that the raid was likely unconstitutional.

Not so, said a defiant Larpenter on a local television talk show, insisting that the criminal defamation law was not unconstitutional. He took a shot at Ciolino when he said, “Now, if this so-called professor they got out of whatever college he’s from, and you know, I hate to criticize anybody, but apparently he didn’t look at the West criminal code book to find out there is a statute in Louisiana you can go by criminally.”

That’s Loyola, Sheriff, the same “college” from which Huey Long obtained his law degree. It has pretty good creds, which is more than can be said for you. Where is your law degree from?

Our advice, unsolicited as it is, may well fall on deaf ears but Sheriff Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt need to realize they are not the law, but merely public servants with whom citizens have entrusted the responsibility of carrying out the law. There’s a huge difference. HUGE!

When public servants attempt to become public masters, when instead of enforcing laws, they starting making laws to serve a personal agenda, we have started down a slippery—and dangerous—slope.

And when an ego-driven sheriff and a sitting judge can disregard the law by serving search warrants on an individual and two major U.S. corporations for no other purpose than to stifle the First Amendment right of free speech, things have gotten more than a little dicey.

And it’s no better when the state’s attorney general attempts to defend that position.

And these are men who, in all likelihood, proudly—and loudly—support the Second Amendment.

Sorry, boys, but you aren’t allowed to cherry-pick which laws are guaranteed by the Constitution. Supporting one right while simultaneously defying another makes each of you nothing more than hypocritical tin horn despots.

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quid pro quo

ˌkwid ˌprō ˈkwō/

noun

A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.

Unless decisive action it taken over the next few days, our theory that nothing gets done about official chicanery, shady dealings and outright corruption will have been validated at the highest levels of state government.

And lest there are those who think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, let me assure them that I will keep pounding the keyboard as long as I am physically and mentally able to put the glare of the spotlight on them and their deeds.

At one point in 2015, someone said to me, “Once Bobby Jindal leaves office, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Not a chance.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians are intoxicated by money and power, there will be plenty to write about. And, as Johnny Mathis sang his song The Twelfth of Never, “that’s a long, long time.”

Take Kristy Nichols, for example. Someone, please. (Sorry, Henny Youngman.)

Or, just for fun, compare the strikingly similar cases of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Kristy, as LouisianaVoice reported last September, jumped the Jindal ship to join Ochsner Health System as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read: lobbyist).

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/09/17/more-on-kristys-new-job-it-seems-ochsner-gets-17-6-million-for-running-chabert-hospital/

The only problem with that was that as Commissioner of Administration for Jindal, she presided over virtually every facet of state government except the legislative and judicial branches, but worked closely with those as well. State law prohibited her from lobbying the administrative and legislative branches but apparently there was nothing to prevent her from lobbying local governmental entities.

On November 5, 2015, less than two months following our story, Kimberly L. Robinson, an attorney with the Jones Walker law firm, acting on behalf of Ochsner, requested an advisory opinion on the question of whether or not Kristy could legally lobby the state.

A month later, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards named Robinson as the new Secretary of the Department of Revenue, prompting her resignation from Jones Walker.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/john_bel_edwards_appoints_kimb.html

Robinson was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Kristy.

Sexton was an obvious choice, given his years as Chief Administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics. His knowledge of the system was so keen that in 2007, he pulled his own end-run when he resigned and the board immediately rehired him in a new capacity which allowed him to skirt a requirement under a newly-passed ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice (how’s that for irony?).

http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/07/ethics_administrator_quits_the.html

But back to Kristy’s dilemma.

On December 16, Sexton submitted a request to the ethics board to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion. Then, on January 22, 2016, Sexton submitted an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Kristy. That was followed by a request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion on March 31. The board granted the request to withdraw at its April 15 meeting.

The chronology was provided to LouisianaVoice in an e-mail Tuesday (Aug. 2) from Deborah S. Grier, Executive Secretary for the Board of Ethics. Here is that email:

——– Original message ——–

From: Deborah Grier <Deborah.Grier@LA.GOV>

Date: 8/2/16 9:14 AM (GMT-06:00)

To: azspeak@cox.net

Subject: RE: Opinion on Kristy Nichols: Public Records Requests

Good morning, Mr. Aswell:

Pursuant to your public records request of July 29, 2016 regarding an opinion issued by the Board with respect to former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols’ employment as a lobbyist by Ochsner Health System, please be advised of the following:

A request for an advisory opinion dated November 5, 2015 was submitted by Kimberly L. Robinson with the Jones Walker law firm on behalf of Ochsner Health System and Kristy Nichols.  Ms. Robinson subsequently left the private practice of law and was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Ms. Nichols as indicated in correspondence to our office from Mr. Sexton dated December 11, 2015.  On December 16, 2015, a request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion was submitted to our office.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion at its December 18, 2015 meeting.

 Mr. Sexton, by correspondence dated January 22, 2016, submitted to the Board an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Ms. Nichols.  A request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion was received by this office on March 31, 2016.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion at its April 15, 2016 meeting.
No opinion has been rendered by the Board with respect to this issue.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Deborah

Deborah S. Grier
Executive Secretary
Louisiana Board of Ethics

So, what does all that mean?

Could it be that Ochsner and Kristy have decided to let sleeping dogs lie? After all, if she proceeds with lobbying efforts and no one files an official complaint, then it’s no harm, no foul, right? That would certainly run true to form for Jindal’s Gold Standard of Ethics.

A quick check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed that Kristy is not registered among any of Ochsner Health System’s 10 lobbyists. Sexton told LouisianaVoice today that Ochsner had apparently decided not to pursue the matter and it was his understanding that the company was pursuing “other plans” for Nichols. “Ochsner has a number of other lobbyists,” he said.

So if she is not a registered lobbyist, then just what is it that she does to earn her keep as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs?

Or was her employment simply some form of payback as we initially suggested in light of the $31 million Ochsner received in takeover of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center by Southern Regional Medical Corp. and Ochsner as part of Jindal’s haphazard state hospital privatization plan?

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/terms-of-the-ochsner-deal-at-leonard-chabert-medical-center.pdf

We’d no sooner received Ms. Grier’s email on Tuesday than the Baton Rouge Advocate posted a couple of stories, also on Tuesday, that caught our eye.

The first involved a claim by Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson that Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot attempted to bribe him not to seek a city council seat against incumbent Neal Bourque.

The Pelican Post news website first published the report that Matassa and Berthelot had offered Lawson $1,200 and a parish job if he would withdraw from the race. The deadline to withdraw was last Friday (July 29) at noon. Lawson, after posing for a photograph with the cash, a parish job application form and candidate withdrawal forms, returned the money and documents to Berthelot’s office without completing either of the forms.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/communities/ascension/article_d9fda80a-58df-11e6-884c-d3779607197c.html

Ricky Babin, District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said his office would investigate Lawson’s claims. He said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are also investigating the allegations.

The Attorney General’s Office may be in something of a quandary as it embarks on that investigation, however.

The second Baton Rouge Advocate story, by reporter Gordon Russell, conjured up the ethics complained filed against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_6f7a7990-58e9-11e6-9cd1-a36f0eb42bbf.html

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ethics-complaint.pdf

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/03/between-beating-guilty-pleas-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-and-ethics-complaint-iberia-sheriff-louis-ackal-has-his-plate-full/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/09/one-week-after-louisianavoice-story-feds-hand-down-three-count-indictment-of-iberia-parish-sheriff-ackal-top-deputy/

In his story, Russell said that Landry, after trailing incumbent Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points in the primary election for Attorney General last October, received the endorsement of third place finisher Geri Broussard Baloney of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish, who had polled 18 percent.

With her endorsement in his back pocket, Landry, a former U.S. Representative, easily won the November runoff over Caldwell (who can forget Caldwell’s concession speech?). Soon thereafter, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, was given a $53,000-a-year job by Landry.

At the time of her hire, all would-be employees of the AG’s office were required to sign a form agreeing to background checks and were also asked, in writing, if they had any criminal record.

In her case, she did. In 1999, she was charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts, according to court records from Henrico County, Virginia. She was sentenced to six years in prison, all of it suspended.

Her new job? Well, it’s in the AG’s fraud section. More irony.

But in the end, her background is of less interest, given that her conviction was 17 years ago, than the fact that she was given her job as apparent payback for her mom’s endorsement of Landry following the first primary election in October.

A spokesperson for the AG’s office, Russell wrote, did not respond to questions about whether other candidates had applied for Quendi Baloney’s job or whether Landry had hired any other convicted felons.

For her part, Quendi Baloney told The Advocate that her arrest and conviction were “devastating,” but had made her a “stronger, harder-working ethical adult…”

She forwarded to The Advocate a link to the state’s new “Ban the Box” law which prevents state agencies from asking applicants about their criminal records. That law, however, did not take effect until after she was hired.

It’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Landry’s investigation of Matassa and Berthelot unfolds in light of the same day’s revelations about his own actions.

But we’re willing to wager that when the dust settles on the issues of Matassa, Berthelot, Nichols, Ackal (the state ethics complaint, not the federal indictment) and Baloney, we’ll still be able to say:

Nothing gets done.

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MAGNIFYING GLASS

By Ken Booth

Guest Columnist 

Under the provisions of Louisiana 44:1 et seq. (The Public Records Law), should any local or state government official raise questions as to whether requested records are public, the agency’s custodian of public documents is required to notify in writing the person making the request of the custodian’s determination and the reasons, including the legal basis. Said notice shall be made within three days of the request exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays (emphasis added).

The law is pretty plain. It doesn’t say “may be made,” “might be made” or “should be made” within three days. The word used was shall.

MIKE EDMONSON PHOTO

But with the introduction of the new administration, elected and appointed officials in Louisiana seem to have decided they are exempt from provisions of the state law…one of them, the head of the State Police, of all people, even having “manufactured…own loophole for denying public records requests,” as reported by Louisiana Voice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/01/lsp-stakes-out-claim-that-investigations-records-are-exempt-from-public-records-law-if-no-disciplinary-action-is-taken/

Are they perhaps taking their cues from federal officials?  Within the past week, for instance, the State Department told a federal court that processing a demand for documents relating to Hillary Clinton and her aides would take as long as 75 years and would stretch “generations.”

Besides Obama, of course, Nixon, both Bushes and Bill Clinton have regularly invoked executive privilege as a means of protecting documents from public scrutiny.

What brings this to mind are a series of demands for public records recently involving three areas of significant public interest but which have either gone unacknowledged or denied or even fought with lawsuits against the public seeking the records.  That’s a mean stretch even by Louisiana’s political and corruption standards.

When the weekly Ouachita Citizen sought to follow-up on a state audit that pointed to possible payroll fraud involving a law clerk for the 4th Judicial District Court, the court’s judges balked and denied the paper’s request for disciplinary action taken against court clerk Allyson Campbell over her alleged falsification of time sheets and other public documents.

When the newspaper filed a complaint with the District Attorney, the court filed a lawsuit against the newspaper which from a financial standpoint would effectively throttle further attempts to litigate the issue.

The paper has multiple public requests in at the office of state Attorney-General Jeff Landry which have for weeks gone unanswered.

Similarly, a couple of my own requests (shown here) to the new “transparency-minded” and “aggressive” Republican Attorney-General remain without result except for one letter which said it “may take some time.”

In a June 7th E-mail to Landry’s office, I wrote: “I would very much appreciate either the documents requested sixteen days ago or an opinion from that office on why they cannot be produced. Please know this is a public records request that will not go away silently.”

Landry’s press secretary Ruth Wisher has made sure that reporters know that her boss doesn’t always return her texts. Well, that certainly makes everything hunky-dory.

BOOTH REQUEST

AG RESPONSE TO BOOTH

BOOTH FOLLOW UP REQUEST
           Known records requests to the AG’s office also demand access to a state police report on its investigation into the allegations of possible payroll fraud and destruction or concealment of court documents. A report on the findings from a companion investigation by the Inspector General’s office was released back on April 15th. The state police report is known to be in the hands of the Attorney General.

All of this is at odds with the very public Landry who has been throwing his weight around the capitol lately pushing for control of his agency’s own finances, making national headlines while trying unsuccessfully to crack down on illegal aliens, and squaring off (at least publicly) with the Gov. John Bel Edwards as if he hopes to succeed him some day.

But Landry and the 4th Judicial District Court in Ouachita Parish are not the only ones playing keep-away with public records.

LouisianaVoice has been repeatedly stymied by the Louisiana State Police with respect to sought after records.

In fact, as a recent LouisianaVoice post notes, Edmonson has manufactured his own loophole for denying public records requests after tiring, he suggests, of the public learning of “far too many instances of misconduct at LSP followed by a mindset of circling the wagons.”

Several high-profile cases of alleged improper State Trooper conduct have been determined to have been free of wrong doing and are therefore exempt  from public records laws if no diciplinary action is taken. That’s staking out a rather questionable claim by the Supertindent.

Curiously, however, his agency did release records showing payroll fraud had occurred at Troop D headquartered in Lake Charles when the lieutenant there was accused of having instructed the men under his command to pad their time sheets to reflect work that had not been performed.

Ironically, that’s the same charge investigated by the same LSP against the law clerk in Ouachita Parish, the report of which has been hidden from public scrutiny even amid growing speculation nothing will come of the charges against her or the Judges who approved her bogus time sheets. It should be noted that the Troop D lieutenant was found to have engaged in “no wrong doing” and access to any investigation findings with respect to him has been denied. However, a trooper he supervised and who figured in the padded time sheets was fired.

The Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police is appointed by the Governor with consent of the State Senate. Edmonson had—and continues to have—the support of Gov. Edwards.

Edwards is also credited with preserving through his influence, at least indirectly, the job of another Jindal administration hold-over department head, Education Superintendent John White. While White actually is appointed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over which the governor has little control since most board members are elected, his stated support of White certainly didn’t hurt.

JOHN WHITE PHOTO

White, a 2012 BESE appointee, has been under considerable public fire over his steadfast defense of the Common Core program.

White has filed a lawsuit against two individuals seeking public records in five different requests from the Department of Education, presumably to block their access to dirty laundry in that agency as might be said of the lawsuit by the Judges in Monroe against The Ouachita Citizen.

Even considering Louisiana’s notorius reputation for politial scandals, suing private citizens or even the news media by government agencies has plunged the state’s standards to a new low.

As has been pointed out elsewhere the use of unlimited financial and legal resources—all paid for by the taxpayers—to block citizens with limited financial means is a dangerous threat to the very notion of checks and balances that are supposed to protect the public from abuse.

For those elected Louisiana officials to sit back and do nothing to put a stop to this unprecedented assault on the public’s right-to-know is pretty much tantamount to an endorsement of such actions.

And if the civilian public looks the other way when this kind of mess is exposed and doesn’t demand that it stop then expect the level of distrust to grow.

 

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Editor’s note: Just when you think good, old-fashioned investigative reporting has gone the way of LINOTYPE MACHINES and hot lead typesetting, the Baton Rouge Advocate conducts a thorough probe of operations at the Louisiana State Penitentiary that has resulted in a wave of resignations if no indictments.

And then there is a twice-weekly publication up in West Monroe called The Ouachita Citizen headed by Publisher Sam Hanna, Jr. His paper’s ongoing investigation into the Fourth Judicial District Court is making a lot of people very uncomfortable and with good reason. So uncomfortable, in fact, that several judges in the 4th JDC actually filed a lawsuit against Hanna and The Citizen to prevent the publication from seeking public records to which they were legally entitled. Such action by the judges is unprecedented and appears frighteningly Nixonesque in its brazen attempt to thwart legitimate efforts to inform the citizens of Ouachita Parish. It’s the kind of action that should send chills down the spine of the electorate. Hanna has vowed to refuse to pay court costs assessed in that litigation. He has lost advertising revenue as a result of his coverage of the court.

Following is a lengthy story by Citizen reporters Zach Parker and Johnny Gunter published yesterday (Thursday, May 26) by the paper. One major point raised is the apparent conflict of interest in the Attorney General’s office conducting an investigation of the 4th JDC while at the same time defending four of the judges in a lawsuit brought against them by a fifth judge.

By Zach Parker and Johnny Gunter

The Citizen

Inquiries by The Ouachita Citizen into Fourth Judicial District Attorney Jerry Jones’ involvement in an investigation of Fourth Judicial District Court show the district attorney offered a false account of his communications with investigators, filed misleading court documents and did not refer this newspaper’s criminal complaint to authorities involved in the investigation.

Those activities formed part of Jones’ efforts to downplay the investigation into possible wrongdoing at the court as well as his involvement in the probe.

The investigation concerned allegations that law clerk Allyson Campbell committed payroll fraud and destroyed or concealed court records. Those accusations also are the focus of separate lawsuits, one filed in district court by Monroe businessman Stanley R. Palowsky III and the other in federal court by Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman.

Jerry Jones restricts probe’s scope

In July 2015, Jerry Jones called on the Office of State Inspector General and Louisiana State Police to investigate public corruption. At that time, he was tight-lipped about the scope of the investigation, at first refusing to comment though he later clarified the investigation concerned Fourth Judicial District Court.

As revealed in comments to The Ouachita Citizen as well as to other media outlets, Jerry Jones restricted the scope of the investigation to an audit of the court’s finances released March 2, 2015 by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office. That audit said some court employees may have earned pay for hours not worked. As first reported by The Ouachita Citizen and later confirmed in open court, Campbell was the subject of auditors’ comments.

However, there were other allegations concerning Campbell that Jerry Jones sidestepped during interviews, repeatedly claiming the probe concerned the audit only. During interviews, he downplayed any outcome of an investigation into payroll fraud since Campbell was a salaried employee, not hourly, in spite of the allegations concerning falsified time sheets approved by court judges.

In March 2015, Ouachita Citizen reporter Johnny Gunter submitted a criminal complaint to Jones’ office, asking the district attorney to investigate not only allegations that Campbell had committed payroll fraud but also accusations by Palowsky and Monroe attorney Cody Rials that Campbell had destroyed or concealed documents they had filed with the court in their separate legal matters.

Little more than a week before the Inspector General and State Police launched their joint investigation, The Ouachita Citizen learned Jones had not begun an investigation, requested any documents or information from court officials in response to the newspaper’s criminal complaint.

Through The Ouachita Citizen‘s inquiries and reports, more details emerged concerning the scope of the court investigation. In a June 30, 2015 interview, retired Judge Ben Jones, who is the court’s administrator, informed The Ouachita Citizen that he had discussed the newspaper’s criminal complaint with Jerry Jones.

“He (Jerry Jones) indicated to us (the court) that he would respond to your criminal complaint and take appropriate action at such time that he thought appropriate,” Ben Jones said. “We are prepared, should he act on that criminal complaint, we are prepared to cooperate, and that’s what we’ll do. But at this point, he has not asked us for any information, any documents, or initiated any investigation.”

During that interview, Ben Jones repeatedly said Jerry Jones would conduct an investigation into the matters raised by The Ouachita Citizen‘s criminal complaint “with integrity” and would show court officials no special privileges.

Ben Jones was one of five district court judges named defendants along with Campbell in Palowsky’s lawsuit. In his lawsuit, Palowsky accused Ben Jones and judges Carl Sharp, Wilson Rambo, Fred Amman and Stephens Winters of covering up Campbell’s activities, a claim reiterated in Marchman’s lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

In the district attorney’s interviews with the press, Jerry Jones said the investigation into the court did not involve any judges.

Jerry Jones gives false account of communications with investigators

The Ouachita Citizen learned Jerry Jones concealed his communications with investigators as well as offered the newspaper conflicting accounts of a report on the investigation’s findings.

When asked in an April 25 interview whether he had engaged in any communications with the Inspector General or the State Police concerning the investigation, he said, “No. None at all.”

The District Attorney further distanced himself from the investigation at that time and said, “I haven’t had any communication with them other than having my assistant ask (Inspector General) Stephen Street about the status of the report,” referring to whether a report had been prepared on any findings in the court investigation.

He made that statement to the newspaper in spite of the fact that his office had received a letter from Street 10 days before, a letter which represented a report on the investigation’s findings. Street’s April 15 letter claimed there was no “sufficient cause” to file criminal charges against Campbell on the accusations of payroll fraud or document destruction was first reported by The Ouachita Citizen. According to that letter, Street was concluding his office’s investigation into the matter.

“Because the available facts do not provide sufficient cause for the arrest of Ms. Campbell for any criminal offense, we are closing our file and taking no further action on this matter,” Street wrote. “Ms. Campbell was interviewed and denied destroying or hiding any court records or pleadings. She stated that her work schedule was approved by her supervisor and that she worked the hours for which she was paid. Judge Carl Sharp supported her claim that all court documents were always available to him. He also confirmed that Ms. Campbell was a salaried employee whose hours were sometimes irregular.”

In a May 11 interview, The Ouachita Citizen asked Jerry Jones why he had misinformed the newspaper by saying he’d had no communications with investigators though he’d received the April 15 letter from Street. In response to that query, he again denied he had engaged in any communications with investigators.

The Ouachita Citizen then asked Jerry Jones about his written correspondence with Street: He declined to comment, saying he couldn’t answer that question and had referred his office’s investigation to the Attorney General’s office.

The Ouachita Citizen then informed him that the newspaper had obtained a copy of the April 15 letter revealing correspondence between Street and Jerry Jones on the investigation, at which point the district attorney paused and then said, “Okay, I made a mistake. You’re not getting another word out of me.”

Throughout the investigation Jerry Jones sought to distance himself from the court probe though the Inspector General’s letter as well as The Ouachita Citizen‘s inquiries to State Police all referred to the district attorney’s involvement. According to the newspaper’s inquiries, he was calling the shots in the investigation though he said he wasn’t investigating and didn’t have the manpower in his office to conduct such an investigation.

“We keep it separate,” he said in the April 25 interview. “I’m not investigating.”

Following The Ouachita Citizen‘s May 11 interview, Jerry Jones informed the newspaper that State Police had completed a written report that contradicted the findings revealed in Street’s April 15 letter. He said he would ensure the newspaper was provided with a copy of the State Police report he claimed existed.

The Ouachita Citizen submitted an inquiry and a public records request to State Police about the purported report, asking to obtain a copy. However, State Police authorities informed the newspaper that Jerry Jones had told them the investigation should be considered open, a status that would bar the release of documents pertaining to the investigation, including the unseen State Police report.

According to a May 11 statement from State Police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain, State Police investigators were awaiting clearance from Jones to release the investigative report.

Later that day, State Police informed The Ouachita Citizen that record would not be released, per instructions from Jerry Jones.

“The district attorney for the 4th JDC is awaiting additional information and the matter is considered still open at this time,” wrote Michele M. Giroir, State Police attorney supervisor in a May 11 email. “Therefore, pursuant to R.S. 44:3(A)(1), the records are exempt from disclosure at this time.”

Records dispute DA’s claim he transferred case to AG

Since early last year, Jerry Jones has repeatedly told The Ouachita Citizen he was not investigating but had referred that responsibility to the Attorney General’s office.

“You people keep saying I’m investigating, but I’m not,” he said. “I sent that to the AG’s office.”

At that time, Buddy Caldwell was Attorney General and had appointed a taxpayer-paid defense for Campbell in spite of questions raised by The Ouachita Citizen about the legality of that appointment. Caldwell’s involvement in the defense of Campbell later was cited as grounds for naming him a defendant in Marchman’s lawsuit.

In support of his claim he had transferred the responsibility of investigating to the Attorney General, Jerry Jones produced last year a motion to recuse he had filed at the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office in the court record for Stanley R. Palowsky III v. W. Brandon Cork and others, the lawsuit in which the allegations against Campbell first surfaced.

His Dec. 5, 2014, Motion to Recuse said, “Now into this Honorable Court comes Jerry L. Jones, Fourth Judicial District Attorney, who, with respect, represents: The District Attorney recuses himself and his office in the above captioned case and moves that same be sent to the Attorney General’s Office.”

However, Jerry Jones’ motion to recuse has laid untouched in the court record and was never sent to the Attorney General’s office, according to Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court Louise Bond.

Earlier this week, The Ouachita Citizen asked to review the court record for Palowsky v. Cork, which is secured in Bond’s office since, she said, it’s a “high profile case” and she did not want any parties claiming their documents had gone missing from it, referring to accusations from Palowsky that Campbell had either destroyed or concealed documents he filed in that same case.

After a review of the record by Bond and The Ouachita Citizen, there was no indication that Jerry Jones’ motion to recuse had ever been sent to the Attorney General’s office.

“I don’t see anything that shows we sent anything, but there’s nothing on there that shows where it should be sent,” she said.

Bond confirmed with her deputy clerks that the DA’s document had not been sent there. It hadn’t been sent because Jerry Jones’ document didn’t indicate who or where the motion should be sent, though it asked the Clerk of Court’s office to handle the matter.

“I checked and nothing was sent,” Bond said. “But there’s nothing on here showing us who at the Attorney General’s office should receive it or where even to send it.”

Bond told The Ouachita Citizen that the deputy clerk, B.J. Graham, who accepted Jerry Jones’ filing no longer worked at the Clerk of Court’s office. Graham had quit, according to Bond.

According to Bond, normally a mover in a legal matter will either indicate they have sent copies of the filing to other parties in the matter. If the filing does not bear the name, address or contact information of the person it should be sent to, like the DA’s filing, then the mover will attach a cover sheet with instructions, Bond said.

“Most of the time they say please serve to so-and-so, or it shows that they’ve already sent copies, but there are no instructions, either on a cover sheet or on the motion itself,” Bond said.

Jones’ motion to recuse was later signed as a judicial order by Judge Carl Sharp: “It is ordered that the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office is recused from the above captioned case and same be sent to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Sharp is a defendant in both Palowsky’s and Marchman’s lawsuits. He is accused of covering up Campbell’s activities. Sharp also is one of the judges for whom Campbell clerks. Additionally, Sharp defended Campbell against the payroll fraud allegations during an interview with Inspector General investigators, according to Street’s letter.

Jerry Jones’ motion to recuse and Sharp’s order are available for viewing at www.ouachitacitizen.com

The Ouachita Citizen contacted the Attorney General’s office on numerous occasions, through telephone and email, to ask whether they had received any correspondence from Jerry Jones, including his recusal. Attorney General spokesperson Ruth Wisher suddenly ceased all communications with The Ouachita Citizen last week in spite of earlier pledging to answer the newspaper’s questions by Thursday, May 19. Attorney General Jeff Landry and Assistant Attorney General Shannon Dirmann also did not respond to communications from The Ouachita Citizen.

Two days after the Attorney General office’s last communication with The Ouachita Citizen concerning its questions, Landry’s office filed a pleading in Marchman’s federal lawsuit on behalf of Caldwell, the former Attorney General and defendant in the judge’s lawsuit.

Absence of investigation a key point in public records dispute

The Ouachita Citizen recently learned Jones did not refer the newspaper’s criminal complaint to some authorities investigating the court. Inspector General Stephen Street said state law protecting Inspector General records meant he could not reveal whether Jerry Jones had sent his office the newspaper’s criminal complaint or not.

“Due to OIG (Office of Inspector General) statutory confidentiality, I am unable to confirm or deny the receipt of the complaint to which you refer,” Street wrote in an email.

However, State Police did not receive the newspaper’s criminal complaint, according to Cain, the State Police spokesman.

“We are unaware of any complaint from The Ouachita Citizen through the DA’s office,” Cain said.

The Attorney General’s office did not respond to questions from The Ouachita Citizen about whether Jerry Jones had sent them this newspaper’s criminal complaint.

The Ouachita Citizen‘s criminal complaint was prompted by the district court’s refusal to produce public records from Campbell’s personnel file that could shed light on the allegations of payroll fraud and document destruction. The day after The Ouachita Citizen submitted its criminal complaint, the court sued the newspaper, asking for an ad hoc judge to determine whether Campbell’s right to privacy outweighed the public’s right to know.

In spite of The Ouachita Citizen submitting its criminal complaint with Jones in March 2015, there was no investigation called to target the court until after an ad hoc judge had ruled against this newspaper, declaring Campbell’s personnel file off-limits to public records requests.

During a court hearing before the ad hoc judge, The Ouachita Citizen argued the public should be granted access to Campbell’s personnel file since its public records requests – stemming from the allegations of payroll fraud – concerned public tax dollars (referred below as the “public fisc”). In response, the court argued there was no need for judicial intervention to make Campbell’s personnel file available to the public since the district attorney could exert his office’s authority to investigate if there were any reasonable grounds present in the newspaper’s criminal complaint.

Delivering the court’s argument was Monroe attorney Jon Guice, who also represented the five district court judges in Palowsky’s lawsuit and is a defendant in Marchman’s lawsuit.

“The response to his argument about the protection of the public fisc is it is handled by the law and you need not intervene in that,” Guice continued during the May 19, 2015 hearing on the public records requests. “His client (The Ouachita Citizen) is well aware that the legislative auditor sent a copy of its findings to the district attorney.

“They have also asked the district attorney to avail himself of that report and to do his duties to investigate, and if there is an issue there for him to address it. So, this court need not feel as though it has a duty of protection of the public fisc when there is an expressed officer, i.e., the district attorney who the legislative auditor has provided its findings and whom the paper has asked to honor his obligation. So if there is something there then that’s the way that is to be handled.”

After the ad hoc judge ruled against The Ouachita Citizen, details in Palowsky’s and Marchman’s lawsuits have suggested Guice, Ben Jones, the court administrator, and other court officials manipulated the documents present in Campbell’s personnel file before the ad hoc judge reviewed it to determine whether it was subject to The Ouachita Citizen‘s public records requests.

Jerry Jones later told The Ouachita Citizen he had agreed with Ben Jones to postpone acting on The Ouachita Citizen‘s criminal complaint until after the ad hoc judge had ruled in the court’s case against the newspaper.

When Ben Jones was asked about that arrangement during a June 30, 2015 interview, he said, “I am not prepared to say I had any agreement with Jerry Jones to wait until after the final judgment but he has elected, obviously, to delay any action until, I mean, to my knowledge, no action has been taken so far.”

“I have no idea when any action might be taken, but I take him at his word that he will respond to the complaint, and he has indicated that he would honor his obligation to respond to the complaint,” Ben Jones continued. “That’s all I can tell you about that. I have talked to him, but I’m not at liberty to say everything about that conversation.

“But I will say this to you. I know Jerry Jones and I am convinced that any investigation that he initiates will be one done with integrity. I absolutely believe that to be the case. He will go wherever the findings take him. That’s how he is, and that’s a good thing. It is our expectation that he will show us no special privileges or special deference. I expect him to respond to the request that he investigate with integrity, and I don’t fear that at all.”

 

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