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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

A state district court last week knocked down action taken by the Vermilion Parish School Board for violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law. In what must surely be a first, I find myself in agreement with Attorney General Jeff Landry on the whole affair.

Suffice it to say, however, that Landry waited until there was a judicial ruling to take his courageous stand, a ruling 10 months in the making, while LouisianaVoice took a similar position on the removal of a teacher from a board meeting immediately.

For that matter, why the hell did it take 15th Judicial District Court Judge David Smith 10 months to issue a ruling on a matter that is supposed to be fast-tracked: the issue of public meetings of governmental bodies? To take 10 months to decide what was obviously a violation of state law is somewhat ludicrous.

Be that as it may, Smith not only ruled the school board violated the Open Meetings Law by having a teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, a Kaplan middle school English teacher, arrested and removed from the meeting because she questioned the board action of awarding Superintendent Jerome Puyau a $30,000 raise, from $110,190 to $140,188, while teachers have gone years without a pay increase.

Puyau, in an interview with a Lafayette television station, said, “By the time the teacher stood up in the audience to the time she was at the door, it was 53 seconds. During that 53 seconds, she was asked to sit multiple times, the gavel struck multiple times.”

Yes, she was asked to sit and yes, the gavel was struck multiple times in a desperate effort to keep Hargrave from further publicly embarrassing the board and Puyau. When the raise for Puyau came up on the agenda, Hargrave, the parish’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year, attempted to ask how the board could award Puyau a raise “when you’re basically taking from the teachers.”

Board President ANTHONY HARGRAVE, an Abbeville attorney who should have known better, rapped his gavel while informing Hargrave she was not on the agenda and the item being discussed was the superintendent’s contract.

Hargrave was quick to point out that she was addressing the very issue the board was considering, his gavel-rapping notwithstanding. “This directly speaks to what you’re voting on,” Hargrave said as a city marshal moved in to slap handcuffs on her and lead her from the meeting.

To view the complete video, click HERE.

The video prompted a flood of outrage from throughout the country. News organizations, from the Charlotte Observer, to The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to US News & World Report, to NPR, to NBC, to the La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, and even the Baton Rouge Tiger Droppings picked up on the school board’s action.

Meanwhile, Fontana, referring to Hargrave as “the poor little lady,” said, “If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can’t control, out of the classroom to the principal’s office, under our policy we have the same rules.” Apparently, Fontana believed he could treat teachers as children and that getting arrested is the equivalent to being sent to the principal’s office.

And perhaps Fontana, after 25 years on the board, should have retired before deciding he was the final authority on open meetings and freedom of speech First Amendment rights.

And while Judge Smith took his time in issuing his ruling, he did take it to its ultimate conclusion in negating the school board’s approval of Puyau’s contract and his $30,000 raise—because the action was taken in what Smith said was a meeting held in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Puyau, obviously feeling he had been grievously wronged by the ruling (never mind the manner in which the board treated Hargrave—one of its teachers, no less), told Lafayette TV station KATC reporter Chris Wetly that he would appeal the decision.

“It has ruined myself and my family,” he sniffed. “It has broken me personally. It has changed me as a person…to understand that politics is ugly and they (whoever “they” is) will do anything they can to get rid of me as Superintendent.”

Hey, Puyau, trying getting arrested, being handcuffed, and led out a public meeting—for simply exercising your First Amendment right of free speech. Then you can talk about your life being “ruined” and your life “changed.”

And of course, there is Landry, always ready and willing to pick the low-hanging fruit. Here’s the headline from his news release on Monday:

Vermilion Ruling A Victory for Teachers, Public Declares Jeff Landry
AG Landry Pledges Continued Enforcement of Open Meetings Law 

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry said of the ruling, adding that Hargrave and her fellow teachers, “who have not received a pay increase in many years despite growing class sizes, should have absolutely been heard.”

Of course, that was an easy call to make for Landry, ever the politician on the prowl for votes wherever and whenever he can find them. “And I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” he said.

That’s a curious “pledge” for him to make. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits his intervention in parish affairs unless specifically requested to do so by the local district attorney. And as attorney general, he represents state boards, commissions, and agencies, meaning he is mandated to protect their interest, not ours. That means that in litigation over open meetings or public records, rather than enforcing the law, he defends state boards, commissions and agencies.

As ample illustration of that important distinction, observant readers will note that while LouisianaVoice WEIGHED IN on the controversy immediately, Landry, once a ruling had been made, had an opportunity to characteristically grab the spotlight with his news release. Prior to Judge Smith’s ruling, however, he had absolutely zero to say about the matter.

Nothing.

Nil.

Zilch.

So much for “diligent enforcement.”

 

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In the annals of pure comedic performances, few could rival the record of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

But now it appears he is making a valiant attempt to surpass his own record of slapstick routines.

According to Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Elizabeth Crisp, who has a solid record for accuracy and spot-on political analysis, Landry may have pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of actually making it onto the short list to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions who resigned under intense pressure from Donald Trump last Friday. You can see her story  HERE.

Of course, if Landry were to actually be nominated it would (a) be in total keeping with the unbroken line of absurd appointments and nominations by Trump and (b) turn the practical joke heretofore limited to the borders of the gret stet of Looziana onto the rest of the nation.

And we thought the Keebler Elf had some screwy legal interpretations. Landry, should he be nominated against all odds and be confirmed against even greater odds, would give new meaning to the term court jester.

He’s probably the only lawyer alive who could be out-maneuvered in court by Jethro Bodine.

This is the same Jeff Landry who, while in private practice prior to his election as Louisiana’s top legal scholar (insert laugh track here), was ridiculed in open court by a state judge for his sloppy legal work in improperly filing a lien on behalf of one of his only existing clients with the presiding judge admonishing the client to “Pick your lawyer carefully.”

But as Crisp pointed out, he is also the same Jeff Landry who has been invited to the Trump White House on several occasions, the same Jeff Landry who has a close relationship with former U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, now Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the same Jeff Landry whose annual alligator hunt fundraiser was attended by First Son Donnie Junior (I’d love to have had a photo of Donnie in hip waders).

And with this president, who knows? Landry is just qualified enough as a Trump bootlicker and unqualified enough as an attorney to pull it off.

And that would be a cruel joke indeed.

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So, just why did Second Circuit Court of Appeal candidate Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens of Baskin pay a convicted drug dealer to help him get out the vote for his re-election campaign when all across the country there are full-fledged efforts to prevent volunteers from transporting voters to the polls?

Apparently, the answer depends upon whose ox is being gored. Put another way, perhaps there’s a double standard being applied as conditions dictate.

The FRANKLIN SUN recently ran an article in which it cited state campaign finance records as showing that Stephens’ re-election campaign shelled out $500 to Tyrone “K9” Dickens’ company, K-9 Outreach, last May.

Stephens, in an interview with THE OUACHITA CITIZEN, a sister publication to the Winnsboro newspaper, said his campaign paid Dickens to help get out the vote but later tried to walk back that statement. Under further prodding, Stephens admitted his campaign paid Dickens for a “sponsorship” that involved the use of his (Stephens) campaign materials.

Dickens, who vehemently denied that he was paid to help Stephens, has a long STRING OF ARRESTS dating back to 1986 on multiple drug charges, including distribution of cocaine, distribution of methamphetamine, indecent behavior with a juvenile, two charges of forcible rape (both dismissed), domestic abuse battery, and violation of a protective order.

Dickens’ former wife told authorities that a protective order was useless because her former husband often boasted of his political connections with police, judges, and Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo

“Judge Stephens never paid me, never, to help him with no campaign or to help get no vote,” Dickens told The Citizen. “I don’t know where that lie came from.”

Tyrone Dickens: “Wen (sic) God on your side don’t tell me you can’t change. It was a (sic) honor to be ask (sic) by governor John Bell (sic) Edward (sic) to help with his campaign again. A (sic) honor to stand beside attorney & State Representative Katrina Jackson, Judge Milton Moore, & Kevin Horn, people who I look up to they never forget where they came from. An’t (sic) God good. Its (sic) change going to come.”

“We were told that he (Dickens” was reformed and a community leader,” Stephens said. “I do not know his personal background. I hope Mr. Dickens will support us.”

In something of a surprise, Dickens told The Citizen that he was going through the legal process of getting his criminal record expunged.

A north Louisiana source told LouisianaVoice that State Rep. Katrina Jackson and 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Milton Moore (see photo above) are working behind the scenes to get Dickens a “gold seal” pardon from Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Dickens: “It feels good to be able to stand with State Representative Katrina Jackson (center) & Supreme Court Judge Marcus Clark (right)in the House of Representative (sic) Chambers. Both of which I had the privilege of campaigning for, and ultimately led to them being elected!”

In addition to the local district attorney’s office’s dismissing charges against Dickens, former 4th Judicial District Assistant DA Madeleine Slaughter paid Dickens $900 from her campaign to distributed push cards at the parish fair when she ran unsuccessfully for Ouachita Parish clerk of court. Slaughter is currently employed as an assistant attorney general under AG Jeff Landry.

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If it’s an adverse court judgment, it must be Iberia Parish.

Right.

And if it’s Iberia Parish, it must be the office of Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Right again.

Ackal, who has already been hit with enough judgments to paper the entire Iberia Parish Courthouse, has just been tagged again.

Ackal’s office alone is responsible for judgments averaging more than $25,000 per month for every month of his 10 years in office. The total has now zoomed past $3 million, surpassing much larger parishes like Orleans, Jefferson, Caddo, and East Baton Rouge.

The latest judgment, signed by 16th Judicial District Court Judge Lori Landry on September 21, awarded $122,500 to Brian Riley who was bounced around his jail cell like a ping pong ball in a whirlwind and doused with an entire can of pepper spray—all while handcuffed and conveniently out of sight of jailhouse surveillance cameras.

The judgment stems from an incident on Feb. 24, 2015, when Riley was being fingerprinted by a female deputy, Lt. Rachita Rhine, who accused him of touching her in an inappropriate manner and proceeded to scream expletives at Riley. That attracted the attention of Deputy Camisha Jackson. whose response was described in the judgment as “very deliberate.” She retrieved a can of pepper spray and proceeded to a holding cell where Riley had been secured, alone and handcuffed. Jackson promptly emptied the entire can of pepper spray in Riley’s face.

No sooner than that task was completed then Lt. Rhine’s assistant warden husband, Capt. Jackie Rhine who did his impersonation of Muhammad Ali on Riley’s face in what the judgment described as an “unsolicited and senseless beating. Capt. Rhine, in administering the beating of Riley, ignored the advice of bystanders to let other officers handle the prisoner. As officers were removing Riley from the holding cell, Rhine took the opportunity to strike the prisoner in the face in what the judgment called a “sucker punch.”

Rhine said the last punch was in response to a comment from Riley, though he was unable to say at trial what the comment was. Moreover, a witness to the entire sequence of events, Sgt. Joshua Chipman, denied ever hearing Riley make a comment.

“It is noteworthy,” Judge Landry said, “that the last incident occurred outside the holding cell but in an area that was not covered by cameras and none of the abuse inside the cell was captured on tape because the view was obscured” by deputies (again, conveniently) positioned “so as to shield the activity occurring in the cell.

Initial allegations by Jackson and Capt. Rhine of a combative prisoner “were never supported by the internal investigation or their later admissions,” the judge said, adding that video of the fingerprinting of Riley “could not support the allegation of an improper or intentional touching…”

Since Ackal took office in 2008, more than 30 lawsuits have been filed against his office in federal state courts. At least five inmates have died in the custody of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under his watch.

Ackal’s predecessor, Sit Hebert, a retired state trooper, was instrumental in disbanding the New Iberia Police Department, only recently reinstated after crime got completely out of control under Ackal, a retired state trooper.

One announced candidate for the 2019 election, Tommy Romero, is a retired state trooper whose daughter is an assistant district attorney for the 16th JDC. It is also rumored that another current state trooper, Murphy Meyers, who is expected to retire, may qualify to run.

Perhaps the time has come for voters in Iberia Parish to consider a candidate other than a retired state trooper for sheriff.

It’s not like troopers retire on a pauper’s pension, so it can’t—or shouldn’t be—that they actually need the additional salary, which for sheriffs in Louisiana averages more than $150,000 in annual salary and something approaching $200,000 after other perks are factored in.

 

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LouisianaVoice may have to move its operations to Iberia Parish just to keep up with the shenanigans of Sheriff Louis Ackal, District attorney Bofill Duhé and Assessor Ricky Huval.

We might as well for any information we might pry out of the office of Attorney General Jeff Landry about his investigation of a criminal case in Iberia involving the son of a supporter of both Landry and Duhé.

Landry is so preoccupied with his dual role as Donald Trump’s leading Louisiana lackey and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ primary adversary, it’s going to be interesting to see how he manages to do his job as attorney general.

Meanwhile, there’s the question of Duhé’s First Assistant District Attorney Robert C. Vines and his part in the investigation of the illegal manipulation of the Cypress Bayou Casino’s employee and payroll databases.

The Cypress Bayou Casino is run by the Chitimacha Indian Tribe in St. Mary Parish and in June 2016, the tribe’s chairman, O’Neil Darden, Jr., was ARRESTED by State Police on charges of felony theft, accused of stealing from the tribe by tinkering with the casino’s data bases that resulted in his receiving and “annual bonus” of several thousand dollars to which he was not entitled.

Duhé’s office is handling the prosecution and Vines was named lead prosecutor.

The problem with that is Vines is also the prosecutor for the Chitimacha Tribal Court. He was appointed to the post in January 2016 by….(wait for it)….Darden.

That case was originally set for trial last January but was removed from the docket and continued to May 1. But that trial date also was continued and the matter is now set for trial August 29.

Meanwhile, LouisianaVoice has received a non-response response to our public records request into the status of its investigation of Taylor Richard, accused of sexually molesting toddler siblings, daughters of his girlfriend.

Taylor Richard’s father, James Richard is a political supporter of both Duhé, having contributed $2600 to his campaign in 2014 and 2015, and Landry.

Landry got the case because Renee Louivere, who had previously worked as an assistant district attorney for the 16th Judicial District which includes the parishes of Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary. She left the DA’s office and enrolled as Taylor Richard’s legal counsel while in private practice.

But then she returned to the DA’s office and currently works in the St. Martinville office. That created a conflict which allowed Duhé to punt the case to Landry and the AG’s office in Baton Rouge.

Last Thursday, we received the following email from Landry’s office:

From: LADOJ – Public Records Center <louisianaag@mycusthelp.net>
Sent: Thursday, July 26, 2018 2:21 PM
To:
Cc: wisherr@ag.louisiana.gov
Subject: [Records Center] Public Records Request :: R000178-070918

RE: PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST of July 09, 2018, Reference # – R000178-070918

Dear Mr. Tom Aswell,

In response to your public records request pursuant to La. R.S. 44:1 et seq, which our office received on July 09, 2018, the information you requested has been processed. You sought records related to the following:

“The AG’s investigative file for Taylor Richard of Iberia Parish.”

Louisiana’s Public Records Law, specifically La. R.S. 44:3(A)(1), exempts records held by the office of the attorney general which pertain “to pending criminal litigation or any criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated, until such litigation has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled…”

As the matter of Taylor Richard is pending criminal litigation, the file you seek is not subject to disclosure and our office must respectfully decline to produce these records at this time.

Louisiana Revised Statutes 44:3(A)(4), however, allows release of the initial report for this matter. Copies of these records are invoiced below.

After a diligent search, our staff have (sic) identified three (3 ) pages of records which are responsive to your request. The records are not electronic. If you wish to receive physical copies of these records, pursuant to La. R.S. 39:241 and La. Admin. Code Title 4, Part 1, Section 301, there is a charge of .25 per page. The billing is as follows:

3 pages @ .25 per page = $0.75 

TOTAL:  $0.75

If you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact our office. 

Best regards,

Luke Donovan
Assistant Attorney General

Besides brushing up on grammar, Landry’s office could also stand a remedial course in math.

What we got was two, not three, pages of a heavily-redacted report (a third page was blank) that confirmed that the AG’s office was indeed investigating a complaint of the sexual battery (redacted) against a female of (redacted) age in a New Iberia home by Taylor Richard.

The only way it could be determined that the battery was against a child was that the complaint was made by an employee of the “Department of Child Services” (actually, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services).

The report had one other grisly revelation. It noted that the sexual battery was “completed” and not simply attempted and after the words Criminal Activity on the complaint form was the word “Other.”

We can hope it won’t take Landry two years to complete this investigation the way it did for him to finish up the probe of the Union Parish jailhouse rape. But this is Jeff Landry and if he can’t see a political advantage, he just doesn’t give a rat’s behind.

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