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Billy Broussard of Breaux Bridge has been fighting a lonely battle for a decade. He has lost in court against a stacked deck and before a judge who appeared predisposed to rule against him at every turn and to verbally berate him in the process.

And now, LouisianaVoice has learned that someone who calls himself an attorney is doing all he can to add threat to injury. When you read the letter from a Lake Charles attorney—actually written nearly a year ago but which only recently came into our possession—you have to wonder where he got his law degree.

Briefly, Broussard’s story started after Hurricane Rita hit Calcasieu Parish back in 2005, just a few weeks behind Katrina.

Broussard was contracted by Calcasieu officials to clean debris from the storm. But, he said, officials started adding work assigned in the original contract. Debris which was in Indian Bayou and Little Indian Bayou before the storm were ordered cleared. The bayou was in close proximity to a high-ranking parish official, Broussard says.

The problem arose when FEMA refused to approve payment for removal of pre-existing debris and Calcasieu Parish refused to make up the difference of something a little north of $1 million.

It didn’t much matter to FEMA that Mike Higdon, the man responsible for making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project, is a half-brother to John Reon, superintendent of Gravity Drainage District 8, for whom Broussard performed his cleanup work.

making eligibility determinations/ordering and directing work on the Indian Bayou project (Mike Higdon) where he acknowledges that he is a brother of the superintendent of GDD8 John Reon.

Broussard sued and lost but he persisted in seeking public records that would support his position so that he could turn the information over to the media, LouisianaVoice included.

And those efforts to obtain public records led to a threatening letter-from-attorney-russell-stutes-jr which instead of harassment on Broussard’s part, would appear to border on harassment by someone attempting to use his position as an attorney to intimidate Broussard.

“Over the past several weeks, I have received numerous complaints by Calcasieu Parish officials regarding your repetitive public records requests…with respect to the Indian Bayou/Little Indian Bayou project,” Stutes’s letter begins and quickly went downhill from there.

Following more verbiage from Stutes, he incredulously wrote, “…all Calcasieu Parish employees have been instructed not to respond to any additional requests or demands from you associated with the project.”

As to underscore his bullying tactic, Stutes also wrote later in the letter, “Accordingly, the next time any Calcasieu Parish employee is contacted by you or any of your representatives with respect to the project, we will proceed with further civil actions and criminal charges. A rule for contempt of court will be filed, and we will request injunctive relief from Judge (David) Ritchie. Given Judge Ritchie’s outrage at your frivolous claims last year, you and I both know the next time you are brought before him regarding the project, it will likely result in you serving time for deliberately disregarding his rulings.”

Say WHAT?! Who the hell does Stutes think he is, the judges from the Fourth Judicial District in Monroe who filed SUIT against the Ouachita Citizen newspaper in West Monroe because the publication requested public records? Or Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White, who SUED two educators when they sought public records? (Note to Stutes: White lost that little gambit decisively in 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge.)

If Mr. Stutes would bother to take the time to read Louisiana Revised Statute 44.1 (et seq.) R.S. 44.1 (et seq.) which states unequivocally that any citizen 18 years or older has an unfettered right to review (and purchase copies of) any public record in the possession of any public body from the smallest hamlet in the state right on up to the office of the governor.

There is nothing in that statutes that says one can be prohibited from obtaining public documents simply because he came out on the short end of the stick in a court of law.

Likewise, Louisiana Revised Statute 42:4.1 (et seq.) R.S. 42:4.1 (et seq.), specifically R.S. 42:4.4(c) clearly states that all public bodies “shall provide” and opportunity for comments from citizens.

“Consider this your final warning, Mr. Broussard,” Stutes wrote. The harassment of Calcasieu Parish employees must completely and immediately cease. Otherwise, we are prepared to follow through with all remedies allowed by law.”

What a crock.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Stutes. I understand you are contracted by Calcasieu Parish officials, be it the police jury or the gravity drainage district. It doesn’t matter which one, but should I (and I am not Mr. Broussard’s “representative”) decide I wish to obtain public records from either of these bodies, woe be unto anyone who attempts to harass me with a letter like the one you wrote to Mr. Broussard.

It is I who shall follow through with all remedies allowed by law, including fines of up to $500 per day and possible jail time for non-compliance.

Do yourself a favor and read the public records and public meeting laws of the Gret Stet of Looziana.

They’re quite enlightening.

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The Republican governor of Nevada has done what Bobby Jindal for eight interminable years refused to do and what Gov. John Bel Edwards should have already done.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, saying, “There’s something not right here and it needs to be fixed,” ordered Nevada’s state dental board on Nov.8 to address—and fix—problems of corruption, bullying and extortion rampant in the board’s patient-complaint/resolution process.

A STORY in the Las Vegas Review-Journal sounded eerily familiar to a number of LouisianaVoice stories dating back to March 2014 about abuses perpetrated by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry through harassment, intimidation, and exorbitant penalties—including ruined careers—for minor infractions and sometimes none at all.

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/07/state-board-employs-intimidation-harassment-to-generate-funds-to-pay-for-lucrative-contracts-worth-millions-of-dollars/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/18/like-dental-board-louisiana-board-of-medical-examiners-survives-on-fines-and-incentive-to-punish/

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/23/appeal-court-slams-lsdb-tactics-in-reversing-kangaroo-court-license-revocation-board-attorney-rules-on-his-own-objection/

And should Edwards take it upon himself to rein in the rogue dental board, he may well also wish to take a long hard look at a few other boards that have gone off the reservation over the years.

  • Here are just a few that warrant a closer look:
  • The State Board of Cosmetology;
  • The Auctioneers Licensing Board;
  • The State Board of Medical Examiners;
  • The State Board of Examiners of Psychologists

Each of these boards has been the subject of considerable controversy over the manner in which they investigate complaints and assess penalties without giving their targets the benefit of the same due process to which accused criminals are entitled under 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Several dentists and dental hygienists protested a $500,000 increase in the contract for the Nevada dental board’s outside legal counsel, John Hunt and their testimony quickly escalated to shouting a crying by those who said Hunt coerced them to acknowledge wrongdoing and to pay money to the dental board.

Several of them accused Hunt of benefitting from money collected by the board.

As we said earlier, eerily familiar.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/11/16/dentistry-board-facing-difficult-future-because-of-policies-contracts-with-attorney-private-investigator-are-cancelled/

At least in Nevada, complaints by victims of the dental board led to action.

A legislative audit of the board concluded that the board imposed excessive penalties on those it was investigating and also took issue with the board’s handling of Hunt’s contract. The board’s handling of patient complaints, it said, left targets of investigations with the belief that they either had to accept a settlement agreement or risk steeper punishment if found guilty in a final board hearing.

“That’s where the allegation of extortion comes in,” State Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, a member of the subcommittee that conducted the audit, said in June. “Either pay me now or we’ll look into it deeper and you’ll pay me more.”

Again…eerily familiar.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/18/case-of-slidell-dentist-illustrates-unbridled-power-of-dentistry-board-to-destroy-careers-for-sake-of-money/

Sandoval appoints the members of the dental board. He said the time has come for the 11-member board to address the problem. Citing his experience with other state boards during his political career, he said, “I’ve never seen …people as upset as they are.”

The board, following Sandoval’s scolding, postponed action on Hunt’s contract amendment.

1980 U.S. Supreme Court specifically addressed the issue of excessive penalties in the case of U.S. Secretary of Labor v. Jerrico, Inc.

In that case, the Supreme Court reduced a $103,000 penalty to $18,000 in that the higher penalty constituted an unconstitutional risk of bringing “impermissible factors into the prosecutorial decision.”

In an earlier, even more pointed decision, the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that “board members’ pecuniary interest disqualified them from passing on issues.”

In citing an Alabama case in which the Board of Optometry revoked the licenses of all optometrists employed by corporations such as Lee Optical, the court said, “Because the Board of Optometry was composed solely of optometrists in private practice for their own account, the District Court concluded that success in the board’s efforts would possibly (contribute) to the personal benefit of members of the board, sufficiently so that in the opinion of the District Court, the Board was disqualified from hearing the charges filed against the appellees.

“It is sufficiently clear from our cases,” the court continued, “that those with substantial pecuniary interest in legal proceedings should not adjudicate these disputes.”

As simple to understand as that ruling is, one must wonder why, 43 years later, the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and other licensing boards in the State of Louisiana are still allowed to operate their own respective fiefdoms with carte blanche.

Are their legal counsels not able to read and understand the law?

Is there not a single board member among them with the decency to say, “This isn’t right”?

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Less than three months ago, on June 24, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order in which he mandated more scrutiny over how significant industrial property tax breaks are doled out to manufacturers. http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2016/06/john_bel_edwards_signs_executi.html

Theoretically, the order gave local governments that would lose out on property taxes a say in approving exemptions for heavy industry, and companies applying for five-year renewals of five-year tax breaks totaling $11 billion would be required to prove the breaks would create and/or retain jobs.

But the Commerce and Industry Board may be trying an end run around Edwards’ order.

The board waited until late Friday afternoon (one of Bobby Jindal’s favorite tactics of making announcements as the week’s news cycle winds down) to give public notice of a Monday board meeting during which it is scheduled to vote on redirecting millions in local property tax revenue from disaster-affected parishes to corporate tax exemptions, without any input from the local bodies losing that revenue.

One of the exemptions to be voted on Monday would “renew” an exemption for Georgia Pacific, a Koch brothers company, costing East Baton Rouge $1.9 million in property taxes.

Exemptions are costing $16.7 billion in lost property tax revenues to local governments, schools and law enforcement, according to the nonprofit Together Louisiana, which will hold a press conference to oppose the proposed exemptions Monday at 9:15 a.m. prior to the 10 a.m. board meeting. http://togetherbr.nationbuilder.com/about

The board meeting will be held in the LaSalle Building at 617 North Third Street in Baton Rouge. The Together Baton Rouge press conference will be held in front of the LaSalle Building.

The exemptions being voted on at Monday’s meeting are being considered in direct violation of Governor John Bel Edwards’ Executive Order issued, and “effective immediately,” on June 24th, 2016, which stated that no future industrial tax exemptions would be approved without the consent of the local governmental bodies — school boards, sheriffs, municipalities and parish governing authorities — whose tax revenue was at stake.

No public hearings, public deliberations or local votes have taken place on any of these proposals, despite the clear requirement of the Edwards executive order. Here is the full agenda for Monday’s board meeting: http://www.opportunitylouisiana.com/docs/default-source/boards-reports/MeetingCategory/louisiana-board-of-commerce-and-industry/9-12-16-c-amp-i-board-agenda.pdf?sfvrsn=0

 

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co–opt

verb \kō-ˈäpt\

  • to use or take control of (something) for your own purposes

LouisianaVoice and The Hayride come down on the same side of an issue about as often as Bobby Jindal balanced the State Budget without imposing draconian mid-year cuts.

We are both in accord in the belief that there’s something that doesn’t pass the smell taste in the suspicious manner in which an investigation of political contributions by State Troopers was quietly dropped by the attorney hired to conduct the investigation—only to see that attorney retained to represent the state in a high-dollar lawsuit against oil companies over coastal land loss.

But the folks over at The Hayride should check the time line a little more carefully before trying to claim credit for breaking the story.

In its Thursday (Sept. 8) post, The Hayride said, “our own John Binder was at the forefront in reporting on the (contribution) scandal, following up with updates on the investigation, and exposing how deep it goes.”

That’s a pretty interesting claim given that LouisianaVoice and The Baton Rouge Advocate have attended every meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) meeting (except when Advocate reporter Maya Lau was pulled off the story following the police shootings in July).

John Binder has yet to make an appearance at any of those meetings.

Moreover, to our knowledge, Binder’s first story about the contributions being laundered through Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) Executive Director David Young was posted on Jan. 14 of this year. http://thehayride.com/2016/01/trooper-gate-illegally-funneling-money/

That was more than a month after our Dec. 9, 2015, story. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/09/more-than-45000-in-campaign-cash-is-funneled-through-executive-director-by-louisiana-state-troopers-association/

Moreover, The Hayride gave attorney Taylor Townsend credit for revealing that three members of the LSPC also had made political contributions in violation of state law when in fact, LouisianaVoice announced that fact before Taylor’s revealed it to the commission. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

Co-opt.

But enough of that. At least we’re in accord in our conviction that there’s something rotten in Denmark over the sleazy way in which it was announced that (1) no witnesses were interviewed, thus no written report was generated, (2) because there was no report, there are no findings to be provided the media, ergo (3) it’s nobody’s damned business what his “official investigation” found.

That’s correct, public records requests have hit the proverbial stone wall. In fact, LouisianaVoice has learned that there is a recording of a meeting of the Troop I affiliate of LSTA at which a member acknowledged that the LSTA violated the law in the manner in which the donations were approved by LSTA directors, funneled through Young, who was then reimbursed for “expenses.”

When a request for a copy of that recording was made of Townsend, he never denied the existence of the tape but said that because the tape was never introduced into evidence, it is not public record.

First of all, why was the recording not included as evidence? Second, why did Townsend not interview a single member of the LSTA?

So the obvious lesson here is if you don’t want your buddies (or one of your appointees) to be found guilty of some impropriety or if you don’t want to embarrass the agency you head, the obvious solution is to terminate the “investigation” short of interviewing witnesses or introducing key evidence (like an incriminating recording) and never issue  written report. That way, you keep your “findings” away from the nosy media. Hell, Nixon could’ve learned from these guys.

For a $75,000 contract, taxpayers deserve a little more thorough effort on the part of their “investigator.” To call Townsend’s efforts at a legitimate investigation and his lame explanation to the commission an exercise in duplicity would be charitable.

It would be enough if that were the end of the story. But it’s not…and it gets worse.

The fact that Gov. Edwards selected J. Michael Veron of Lake Charles and Gladstone Jones of New Orleans to represent the state in the legal action against the oil companies doesn’t concern us so much because (1) a lawsuit to force big oil to bear the cost of cleaning up after itself is long overdue, and (2) both men have proven track records in such litigation, having major decisions in the past. After all, in litigation with so high stakes, you want the best—even if they were major contributors to Edwards’ campaign—which they were. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/environment/article_36a72414-6fd3-11e6-84fb-533941a35403.html

The fact that he chose to include Townsend, basically inexperienced in such litigation but a major Edwards fundraiser, on the heels of a complete—and shameful—whitewash in a probe that at least peripherally involved State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, re-appointed by Edwards, only reinforces our skepticism and our belief that the “investigation” was ordered quashed from the very top—by Edwards.

Of course Attorney General, in kicking off his 2019 gubernatorial campaign (can anyone seriously doubt he’s running?) has refused to concur in the attorneys’ appointments, which is an entirely different sideshow that’s certain to get even more interesting.

The Advocate’s Lau reported that Matthew Block, Edwards’ executive counsel, said the governor was not aware that Townsend had been hired by the LSPC until after it happened. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_2d629298-712d-11e6-b66b-4f996a7bf239.html

Block’s claim, to say the least, stretches credulity.

And then there was Thursday’s closed door meeting of the LSPC.

The commission went into executive session not once, but twice and that second time may have been in violation of the state’s open meeting laws.

At issue was the promotion of Maj. Jason Starnes to the position of Department of Public Safety Undersecretary to succeed Jill Boudreaux who retired (for a second time) earlier this year.

Starnes, a classified member of LSP, had been transferred by Edmonson to an unclassified non-state police service position as Interim Undersecretary, Custodian of Records of the Office of Management and Finance within the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPS). https://louisianavoice.com/2016/06/06/starnes-promotion-pulled-by-edmonson-after-complaint-governor-fails-to-sign-lsp-pay-plan-rescinded-by-lspc/

That move, the complaint says, was in violation of Rule 14.3(G), which says:

  • No classified member of the State Police shall be appointed, promoted, transferred or any way employed in or to any position that is not within the State Police Service.

When the matter of a rule change to allow the appointment came up on the agenda, the commission went into closed session a second time.

When we pointed out state law prohibits carte blanche closed-door meeting, Townsend said the executive meeting was to discuss “personnel matters,” which is permitted under law.

La. R.S. 42:17 Exceptions to open meetings

  1. A public body may hold an executive session pursuant to R.S. 42:16 for one or more of the following reasons:

(1) Discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person, provided that such person is notified in writing at least twenty-four hours, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, before the scheduled time contained in the notice of the meeting at which such executive session is to take place and that such person may require that such discussion be held at an open meeting. However, nothing in this Paragraph shall permit an executive session for discussion of the appointment of a person to a public body or, except as provided in R.S. 39:1593(C)(2)(c), for discussing the award of a public contract. In cases of extraordinary emergency, written notice to such person shall not be required; however, the public body shall give such notice as it deems appropriate and circumstances permit.

(2) Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining, prospective litigation after formal written demand, or litigation when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.

(3) Discussion regarding the report, development, or course of action regarding security personnel, plans, or devices.

(4) Investigative proceedings regarding allegations of misconduct

But, we said, the executive was not to discuss personnel matters, but to discuss policy, which must be discussed in open meeting.

You can guess who prevailed in this mini-debate. Townsend, again earning his fee, decided that since Edmonson claimed he never actually “appointed” Starnes because that can only be done by the governor, there was no need for action by the commission. Neither Townsend nor Doss bothered to mention that while Edmonson said he never “appointed” Starnes, the Louisiana State Police (LSP) Web page first listed Starnes as Undersecretary but then took the page down following the official complaint registered by retired State Trooper Bucky Millet of Lake Arthur.

As for the first executive session, it appeared to be legal. It was to discuss a settlement proposal in a legal matter, which was ultimately rejected by the commission.

A proposal by Commission President T.J. Doss to revamp the duties of the LSPC Executive Director was tabled following complaints by other members that they had not had an opportunity to review the changes.

Doss was caught off guard but recovered after we asked if the proposed changes, which would sharply curtail the executive director’s powers and responsibilities by transferring them to the LSPC, represented a power grab by Edmonson. The proposals certainly left that impression but Doss denied that was the motive behind the proposed changes.

The commission also rejected Doss’ call for a three-member “executive committee,” saying that was simply another layer of bureaucracy.

Nice to know there is still a sliver of sanity on the commission.

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“Why are you going into executive session?”

—My question to the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) after it voted to go into closed session.

 

“We don’t have to give a reason.”

—LSPC legal counsel and former State Sen. Taylor Townsend of Natchitoches, who is under a $75,000 contract to the commission to provide legal advice.

 

“Yes, you do. It’s the law.”

—My response to attorney Townsend.

 

“To discuss personnel matters.”

— Townsend (did I mention he’s an attorney?), after a moment’s reflection on my citing law to him. Below is the statute:

 

RS 42:16

  • 16.  Executive Sessions

A public body may hold executive sessions upon an affirmative vote, taken at an open meeting for which notice has been given pursuant to R.S. 42:19, of two-thirds of its constituent members present. An executive session shall be limited to matters allowed to be exempted from discussion at open meetings by R.S. 42:17; however, no final or binding action shall be taken during an executive session. The vote of each member on the question of holding such an executive session and the reason for holding such an executive session shall be recorded and entered into the minutes of the meeting.  Nothing in this Section or R.S. 42:17 shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public, nor shall any executive session be used as a subterfuge to defeat the purposes of this Chapter. (Emphasis added.)

 

 

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