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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

“No good deed goes unpunished.”

“Karma’s a bitch.”

“What goes around comes around.”

No matter how you say it, good intentions sometimes bring unjust punishment and sometimes those good intentions result in very bad results.

Just ask Donald Broussard of New Iberia.

Last July 8, Broussard was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver who minutes later collided head-on with an 18-wheeler and was killed.

Yet it was Broussard who was indicted by a Lafayette Parish grand jury last week for NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE.

You are probably thinking about now that there has to be more to this story—and you’re right, there is more to it.

You see, Broussard did the unpardonable: On July 1, a week before the auto accident, Broussard was the impetus behind a RECALL of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Broussard was one of the organizers of the Justice for VICTOR WHITE III Foundation which filed a petition last July 1 to force a recall election.

White, you may recall, was the 22-year-old who died of a gunshot wound while in the back seat of a sheriff deputy’s patrol car in March 2014. The official report said the gunshot was self-inflicted. The coroner’s report said he was shot in the front with the bullet entering his right chest and exiting under his left armpit. White’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time.

Ackal, of course, skated on that issue and was later indicted, tried and acquitted on federal charges involving beating prisoners and turning dogs loose on prisoners, proving beyond any lingering doubts that he is a force to be reckoned with. But when you’ve got retired federal judge and family member FRED HAIK helping with the defense, you tend to land on your feet.

All of which brings us to the latest woes to beset Broussard.

The story in Sunday’s Daily Iberian reads, “A New Iberia man who was instrumental in the drive to recall Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal last year has been indicted for manslaughter in the aftermath of an alleged road rage incident that left a Bossier City man deal in July.”

Here’s the chronology of events:

Moments before the fatal crash, Rakeem Blakes, 24, rear-ended a Cadillac driven by Broussard at the corner of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and U.S. 90 in Lafayette Parish which is just up the road apiece from Iberia Parish.

Broussard said he followed Blakes after Blakes fled the scene when Broussard approached his car but denied that he chased Blakes. “The guy hit me,” Broussard said. “I got within 20 feet of him so I could get his license plate number. I gave it (the license number) to the (911) dispatcher and they told me to fall back, so I fell back.” Broussard said reports that he had a gun were ridiculous. “I don’t even own a gun, he said. “I told the State Police they could search my car. They just handed me my license and let me go on my way.”

Broussard said Blakes was driving erratically, causing a hazard for other drivers.

Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé said the case involving Broussard was turned over to his office for review in November following completion of the LSP investigation.

In what has to be one of the most convoluted reviews of any investigation, Assistant District Attorney Janet Perrodin presented the case and the grand jury last Friday returned a true bill indicting Broussard for manslaughter and “aggravated obstruction of a highway,” which led to Blakes’ death.

Unexplained in this bizarre episode was how Broussard created an “aggravated obstruction” when it was Blakes who rear-ended him and subsequently fled the scene. Duhé, in some pretty fancy verbal footwork, said state law allows a manslaughter charge to be brought when an offender “is engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person. Aggravated obstruction of a highway is the performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered,” he said.

That’s one helluva stretch, Mr. DA. It’s also one of vaguest laws ever cited in bringing an indictment against someone. I mean, go back and read it.

Manslaughter: when one is “engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person.”

Aggravated obstruction of a highway: the “performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered.”

And we know that a district attorney can make a grand jury dance a ballet in a septic tank if he so desires. It’s all in what information is provided the grand jury and what is withheld. By those definitions, any one of us could be arrested, jailed, tried and convicted at just about any time for any perceived offense.

But we won’t be. This was tailored just for Mr. Broussard who had the temerity to take on a powerful sheriff who has shown his proclivity to exact revenge against those who would dare stand up to his authority.

Broussard’s bond on the manslaughter charge was set at $75,000 and bond for the aggravated obstruction charge was set at $10,000.

Given any semblance of justice, there’s not a chance in hell of a conviction.

But whoever said there was a semblance of justice in this ludicrous drama being played out in the heart of Acadiana?

Only the most naïve of the naïve would discount a good-ol’-boy, back scratchin’ network between two adjoining parishes and judicial districts, especially if it benefits a powerful sheriff bent on revenge.

The recall effort eventually failed for a lack of sufficient signatures but that doesn’t mean that Ackal doesn’t have a long memory and the propensity to call in favors from friends in the right places.

And even if the charges are dropped or if Broussard is acquitted, it’s going to cost him plenty in legal fees.

And that’s how you spell revenge when you are a ruthless sheriff who can tweak the so-called justice system to do your bidding.

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Perhaps it’s time to direct some hard questions to Department of Public Safety and Corrections (DPSC) Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, after all, is technically Mike Edmonson’s boss. Besides holding the title of Superintendent of State Police, Edmonson is also Deputy Secretary of DPSC.

LeBlanc only recently came through an intensive investigation into the Corrections, also under the DPSC umbrella. That investigation cost Angola Warden Burl Cain and several of his family members their jobs.

And yet DPSC general counsel Kathy Williams notified retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet by letter dated last Thursday (March 2) that DPS would not consider his complaint against the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association because Louisiana State Police (LSP) “considers the matter closed.”

She may wish to revisit that decision.

Today, FBI agents fanned out across the state to simultaneously serve federal grand jury subpoenas on 18 State Troopers, LouisianaVoice has learned. Included among those served were officers and directors of that very same LSTA that DPSC refuses to investigate.

One report indicated that the LSTA board of directors was in its monthly meeting Wednesday when federal agents walked in and served each board member with his subpoena.

LouisianaVoice has not learned the date of the grand jury nor was the specific subject readily available. But because troopers from across the state were served, it would seem reasonable to assume that the thrust of the federal investigation is the laundering of campaign contributions by the LSTA through the association’s executive director David Young, a story LouisianaVoice broke more than a year ago.

It was not immediately known if Young was one of those served on Wednesday.

It was also learned that the FBI has already interviewed some of those slapped with subpoenas today.

The LSTA board is comprised of trooper representatives from each of the eight state police troops. The individual troop headquarters are located in Baton Rouge in East Baton Rouge Parish, Kenner in Jefferson Parish, Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish, Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, Lafayette in Lafayette Parish, Monroe in Ouachita Parish, Bossier City in Bossier Parish and Gray in Terrebonne Parish.

Neither Edmonson, Deputy Superintendent Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy nor Director of Management and Finance Lt. Col. Jason Starnes were among those handed subpoenas. Only LSTA officers, directors and former officers and directors were served.

Regardless, reports out of State Police headquarters in Baton Rouge say command personnel have been in “full panic mode” all afternoon as they hunkered down in meetings. As my grandfather used to say, you probably couldn’t pull a needle out of their butts with a John Deere tractor. A federal grand jury subpoena, after all, is less welcome than an IRS audit letter—and who knows? That might not be far behind.

LSTA general counsel Floyd Falcon cannot represent any of those served if their legal interests should conflict with those of the association, as they quite likely will. That means that each of those served will have to retain his own legal counsel.

With that many having been served subpoenas, it’s likely that at least one, maybe several, will roll over and give the feds information they’re looking for in order to cut a deal. The scramble will be to see who can give up whom first because that’s will will likely get the best deal. What’s not likely is for any of them to lie because we’re sure they are all keenly aware that lying to the FBI, even if not under oath, can get a quick trip to a federal facility where one can work in the laundry for 20 cents per hour.

One thing you can expect out of all of this: there will be no united front. Targets are almost certain to turn on each other as the cannibalization begins in earnest. Edmonson already has thrown the four men who drove the expedition to California—and his secretary—under the bus.

And make no mistake: the clock is ticking on Gov. John Bel Edwards. Mike Edmonson, Charles Dupuy and Jason Starnes represent baggage he simply cannot afford to carry into his campaign for reelection. That campaign cranks up in less than two years.

Edmonson needs to go and he needs to take LeBlanc with him.

Back to you, Kathy Williams.

 

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There are times when, after you break a major story about official wrongdoing and after the requisite denials by those involved, everything gets quiet and the story seems to have hit a dead end. Or at least been placed in a state of suspended animation.

But generally, if you are willing to be patient and wait long enough, the story gets new life with the surfacing of new information.

So it was a year ago when LouisianaVoice and New Orleans Fox8 News investigative reporter Lee Zurik simultaneously broke a STORY that Troy Hebert, former director of the Office of Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (and furtive candidate for the U.S. Senate last fall—he got one-half of one percent of the vote), was under investigation by the FBI for:

  • Extorting sex from a New Orleans woman, Sarah Palmer, in exchange for approval of a liquor license for the French Quarter restaurant she managed, and
  • Illegally steered applicants for liquor licenses to attorney Chris Young for representation through Young’s sister, Judy Pontin, executive management officer for the New Orleans ATC office.

Now, thanks to a wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Hebert by a former ATC agent, those same issues have surfaced again.

Documents concerning still another issue, the suppressing of an investigation into a Baton Rouge bar following a 2012 accident involving a patron of the bar who had a blood alcohol content of .307 when he struck and killed two cyclists, killing one and injuring the other.

LouisianaVoice wrote in a February 2016 POST that Hebert wrongfully took control of the investigation and personally exonerated the Bulldog Bar from any wrongdoing. Chris Young was legal counsel for the Bulldog.

The only problem for fired ATC agent Brett Tingle, who filed the lawsuit against Hebert, it’s possible that none of Hebert’s repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment in a deposition will be allowed into testimony.

Federal Judge John DeGravelles of Louisiana’s Middle District in Baton Rouge, currently has under advisement Hebert’s motion for protective order filed by attorney Renee Culotta which would, if granted, prohibit Tingle’s attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III, from posing any questions at trial about Hebert’s relationship with Palmer and/or Young.

In Hebert’s deposition taken in December in preparation for trial in the Tingle matter, Hebert repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment when Palmer’s name was brought up by Smith, as illustrated by the following exchanges:

  • Smith: “Do you recognize this (redacted) document?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Do you know a lady by the name of Sara (sic) Palmer?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “Have you engaged in any infidelity during your marriage to Dawn Vick?”
  • Hebert: “I’m going to exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “That’s not a Fifth Amendment matter.”
  • Smith” I’m going to show you Exhibit No. 9 (redacted). What is this document, sir?
  • Hebert: I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”
  • Smith: “So with respect to Exhibit No. 9, you’re exercising your Fifth Amendment right”
  • Hebert: “I answered the question.”
  • Smith: “I’ll show you (exhibit) No. 10 (redacted). Do you recognize the Exhibit No. 10?”
  • Hebert: “I will exercise my Fifth Amendment right.”

While the exhibits were redacted in Hebert’s Memorandum of Support for obvious reasons, the motion did note that exhibits eight and nine were “documents concerning” Louisiana Oyster House, dba Star Steak and Lobster (the restaurant managed by Palmer), notably a notice of violation and renewal applications. Exhibit 10, Culotta said, “concerned Chris Young documents previously attached to Hebert’s deposition as Exhibit 10-12.”

Interestingly, in his Memorandum in Support of his Motion for Protective Order, Hebert said that while he has not been indicted and there is “no active criminal case” against him… “It is clear Hebert has been under investigation by the FBI, and should he provide answers to these questions, he could face indictment and criminal prosecution.” (Emphasis added.)

And this memorandum, we should point out, was written by Hebert’s attorney, Renee Culotta, who is being paid thousands of dollars while under contract to the Attorney General’s office as a contract attorney—just as she was in a previous lawsuit against ATC, that of Lisa Pike, a former ATC employee who also sued Hebert. The terms of that settlement have been held confidential by the court.

LouisianaVoice has made a public records request for Culotta’s billing for legal representation in the Pike matter. Her billing in the defense of the Tingle lawsuit would not be made available because the case is ongoing.

Culotta said in the memorandum that allegations by Palmer against Hebert “occurred in January 2016, well after Tingle’s work for and termination from the ATC. Tingle did not participate in any issue concerning Sarah Palmer and/or Steak and Lobster, and no facts about Palmer or Steak and Lobster are contained in (Tingle’s) complaint.

“Likewise, the issues concerning Chris Young (i.e., whether Hebert gave preferential treatment to Young and/or referred clients to Young as part of an illegal scheme) are also not a part of this lawsuit and are not relevant to and have no bearing on whether Hebert allegedly retaliated against Tingle because of Tingle’s participation in the race discrimination charges and lawsuits filed by three African-American employees.

Tingle’s counsel’s questions and discovery concerning Chris Young and/or Sarah Parker were only meant to embarrass and harass Hebert,” Culotta said in her memorandum.

“Hebert cannot fully defend himself in the civil case (i.e., by explaining his position concerning Young, Palmer and (t)he Star Steak and Lobster license renewal) while the threat of criminal prosecution is looming.

“Plaintiff cannot have it both ways: if he intends to pursue this evidence, he then must agree to a stay in order that Hebert can defend himself without threat of criminal prosecution.

“Defendant Troy Hebert respectfully requests (that) this court issue a protective order forbidding plaintiff’s counsel from discovering, asking any questions about or referencing Chris Young, Sarah Palmer and/or the Star Steak and Lobster restaurant going forward in this litigation. To the extent plaintiff claims these issues are relevant, then Hebert respectfully asks the court to stay the proceedings until the statute of limitations has run on any criminal charges that could be brought in connection with these matters.” (Emphasis added.)

Now I don’t pretend to be a legal scholar. Journalism schools (or at least the one I attended) sadly do not require any courses in law even though any career journalist is going to be covering courtroom procedure at some point during his career.

That said, it appears to me that someone is one helluva lot more concerned with potential criminal exposure than any civil liability.

But then, that’s understandable. If a public official is convicted of criminal wrongdoing, he is the one who is penalized. If, on the other hand, a civil verdict is returned against that same individual, it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays whatever judgment is assessed.

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Despite Inspector General Stephen Street’s impassioned plea for a stay of proceedings in the Corey DelaHoussaye defamation lawsuit against the Street and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) “for the sake of conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars,” it has been brought to the attention of LouisianaVoice that one of the biggest and most expensive law firms in Baton Rouge has been retained to defend OIG.

And apparently it’s not enough that the firm Taylor Porter was retained but the firm has assigned not one, not two, but three of its attorneys to the DelaHoussaye matter.

As evidenced by OIG’s MOTION TO STAY PROCEEDINGS filed on Nov. 15, Taylor Porter attorneys Preston Castille, Jr., Katia Bowman and Ne’Shira Millender signed off as “Special Assistant Attorney General Counsel to OIG Defendants.”

Talking about using a baseball bat to swat a gnat…

Not that DelaHoussaye is a gnat by any means. He appears to have a pretty solid case against Street and OIG, given that his home was raided by Street on the basis of a search warrant the OIG has no authority to issue and based on the fact that Street initiated the prosecution of DelaHoussaye even though DelaHoussaye did not work for any state agency.

It’s also telling that by the attorneys signing off as “Special Assistant Attorney General” counsels for OIG it is implicit that the Taylor Porter contract was issued by the Office of the Attorney General.

You may remember how Attorney Jeff Landry got his drawers in a wad over Gov. John Bel Edwards’ appointment of attorneys to represent the state in litigation against oil companies for their contribution to the destruction of Louisiana’s coast. Landry just flat refused to sign off on the contracts and Edwards was forced to cancel their appointments.

That’s because State law gives the attorney general the final say-so in approving the appointment of all lawyers who represent the state.

So what’s wrong with that? Not much except that LIZ MURRILL is Chief of the Attorney General’s Civil Division and as such has direct supervision over Taylor Porter.

And her husband, JOHN MURRILL, just happens to be a PARTNER at Taylor Porter.

Now I’m not an attorney but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express once and it appears to me that the Taylor Porter contract comes awfully close to a violation of the STATE ETHICS CODE which says, in part:

  • GENERAL PROHIBITIONS (R.S. 42:1111 – 1121): For public servants, other than legislators or appointed members of boards and commission, bidding on or entering into any contract, subcontract or other transaction under the supervision or jurisdiction of the public servant’s agency. This restriction also applies to the immediate family members of the public servant and to legal entities in which the public servant and/or his family members own an interest in excess of 25 percent. (Emphasis added)

Granted, John Murrill doesn’t “own” 25 percent of Taylor Porter but he is a partner in the firm.

And the State Ethics Law covers that little contingency when it goes on to say:

  • 1112 – Participation by a public servant in a transaction involving the governmental entity in which any of the following persons have a substantial economic interest: (1) the public servant; (2) any member of his immediate family; (3) any person in which he has an ownership interest that is greater than the interest of a general class; (4) any person of which he is an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee; (5) any person with whom he is negotiating or has an arrangement concerning prospective employment; (6) any person who is indebted to him or is a party to an existing contract with him and by reason thereof is in a position to affect directly his economic interests. (Emphasis added)

Does Taylor Porter and thus John Murrill have an “economic interest” through contracts with the Attorney General’s Civil Division?

Well, consider this: Taylor Porter, from August 2015 through November 2016, was approved for 13 contracts totaling more than $2 million, about $160,000 per contract on average.

And that didn’t even include Taylor Porter’s contract to defend OIG. That contract has yet to be entered on the state’s online LaTrac program, which lists contracts with every state agency.

Perhaps there is a perfectly logical explanation for all of this. If so, we’d love to hear it.

Otherwise, we’ll just refer to the immortal words of the late C.B. Forgotston:

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

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Louisiana’s Inspector General Stephen Street recently accused LouisianaVoice of not letting facts get in the way of a good story.

He should know.

It was Street’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) that went after Corey Delahoussaye for overbilling for hurricane cleanup in Livingston Parish at the same time Delahoussaye was working as an informant for the FBI to assist in challenging more than $50 million in charges submitted to FEMA by Livingston Parish.

It was Street’s OIG that raided Delahoussaye’s home with the assistance of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office in the early–morning hours on July 25, 2013, even though nowhere in the statute establishing OIG is the agency authorized to obtain search warrants. The raid was conducted at 6 am with multiple agents bearing firearms in a home that was only occupied by Mr. and Ms. Delahoussaye and their two young children.

It was OIG that served subpoenas on Delahoussaye’s fitness club and his doctor seeking personal and medical records even though state law requires a judge to issue a written reason for the subpoena. No such written reason was ever obtained.

But never let law get in the way of a good raid.

The Office of the State Inspector General was established by the Louisiana Legislature. Its purpose is set forth in LA R.S. 49:220.1-220.26. Section 220.21 reads in part:

  • The prevention and detection of waste, inefficiencies, mismanagement, misconduct, abuse, fraud, and corruption in all departments, offices, agencies, boards, commissions, task forces, authorities, and divisions of the executive branch of state government as specifically provided in Title 36 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, all hereinafter referred to in this part collectively as “covered agencies” and individually “covered agency” is an important responsibility of the state.”
  • In the view of the responsibility of the state, it is the purpose of this part to establish an independent office of the state Inspector General in the office of the Governor to examine and investigate the management and affairs of the covered agencies.” (Emphasis added)

Livingston Parish, with whom Delahoussaye was contracted, is not part of the executive branch of state government. Accordingly, OIG had no authority to carry out a raid on Delahoussaye. None. Nada. Zilch.

The obvious solution was to claim he was contracted to the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP). Except he was not and never had been.

Never let facts get in the way of a good witch hunt.

Of course Street was not alone in this exercise of the absurd. Scott Perrilloux, District Attorney for the 21st Judicial District which includes Livingston Parish, took his “evidence” to a grand jury which promptly refused to indict Delahoussaye. Undeterred, Perrilloux simply proceed to indict Delahoussaye on a bill of information. After all, there were $56 million in bogus charges for Livingston Parish cleanup uncovered by…Delahoussaye. But they thought they had Delahoussaye dead to rights for a couple of thousand dollars in unwarranted charges they said, incorrectly, it turns out, that he billed for.

Instead, all the charges were thrown out and now Delahoussaye is out for his pound of flesh as payback for the hell Street and Perrilloux put him through—as he should be. He has filed a DEFAMATION-LAWSUIT against OIG and now Street, after spending untold thousands of dollars pursuing criminal charges and now that the is suddenly a defendant in an unexpected turn of events, suddenly is thinking about the horrific costs to be incurred by the state in the discovery phase of Delahoussaye’s lawsuit. SAVING-TAXPAYER-DOLLARS

“For the sake of conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars, the OIG requests a stay of this proceeding, including a stay in discovery,” read OIG’s motion to stay proceedings pending a First Circuit Court of Appeal decision on OIG’s writ application. (Emphasis added)

Okay, so Street wants to talk about “wasted taxpayer dollars?” How about the sheer volume and man-hours for lodging an almost-guaranteed-to-fail appeal? Here’s the link for the OIG’s APPEAL: It rambles on for 169 pages on something that is almost certain to fail based on an earlier ruling by the First Circuit wherein the court said that if a state agency lacks jurisdiction to investigate (as 21st JDC Judge Brenda Ricks made it clear in her rulings), then a cause of action can survive a motion for Preemptive Exception based on “invasion of privacy.”

So, bottom line, we have the Office of Inspector General:

  • Serving subpoenas absent the required judge’s written reasons;
  • Carrying out an early morning raid on the basis of a search warrant even though the law creating OIG never gives search warrant power to the agency, and
  • Taking a leadership role in carrying out the raid even though that same law relegates OIG to a “back seat” role once it determines it has credible information of criminal activity.

Finally, that “credible information” is the belief that Delahoussaye was contracted by GOHSEP when in fact, his contract was with Livingston Parish.

But never let facts…..

And only after all that did it occurred to Street that he should suddenly now be concerned with conserving judicial resources and preventing the waste of valuable taxpayer dollars.

Lest we forget, this is the same agency that went after former State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Director Murphy Painter when Painter got crossways of Bobby Jindal and one of his biggest campaign contributors, Saints owner Tom Benson.

And we know how that turned out: The state had to end up paying Painter’s legal costs of $474,000 after Painter was exonerated in federal court.

 

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