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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

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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Cody Bowlin, after multiple DWIs and a host of other citations and arrests, finally had his day in court on Monday and came away essentially unscathed with a nominal fine and a requirement for community service.

Bowlin, 26, a self-employed auctioneer, appears to be connected via his grandfather, Marvin Henderson of Livingston, founder of Henderson Brothers Auctioneers who has contributed more than $50,000 to various political candidates since 2003.

His citations, in chronological order, include:

  • March 18, 2008—Possession of marijuana;
  • 21, 2008—Speeding, limitations on passing on the left;
  • 24, 2009—Following too closely, driving under suspension (amended to improper parking);
  • May 3, 2011—Shoplifting;
  • 13, 2011—No seat belt;
  • May 31, 2012—Speeding;
  • Nov, 27, 2012—Careless operation, driving left of center, operating a vehicle while intoxicated with controlled dangerous substance;
  • June 2, 2015—Improper overtaking and passing a stopped school bus;
  • 27, 2015—Possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana or synthetic contraband;
  • 17, 2015—Careless operation of a motor vehicle, driving while intoxicated—controlled substance, second offense; operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, second offense;
  • June 11, 2016—Possession of marijuana, possession of a schedule 3 drug, improper passing, no insurance (charges dismissed);
  • June 23, 2016—Speeding;
  • 21, 2016—Possession of drug paraphernalia.

In at least three cases, Bowlin failed to appear for arraignment and bench warrants were issued for him.

The arresting officer was not present in court for Monday’s proceedings (did District Attorney Scott Perrilloux suggest to him that he need not attend?). Therefore, the charge of second offense DWI was reduced to first offense DWI. All other charges (careless operation, speeding) were conveniently dropped.

Bowlin entered a No Contest plea to first offense DWI, and Bowlin received the following devastating sentence:

  • 6-month jail term, suspended (no jail time);
  • One-year probation;
  • A fine of $600;
  • 32 hours community service;
  • Must attend MADD’sVictim Impact Panel;
  • Court costs of $1,333;
  • Report back to Judge Elizabeth Wolfe on March 13, 2017, so she can monitor “progress.”

Wyman Bankston, Bowlin’s defense attorney (who also represents Henderson Auctions in its ongoing LITIGATION against First Guaranty Bank and Charles Easler/Worldnet Auctions), and Bowlin lingered in the hallway until time for them to appear.

Call us jaded, but we cannot help but think skeptically. If MADD had not been present in the courtroom for the “trial,”—which was left off the court docket (we suspect as a tactic to keep MADD in the dark)—this would have likely been swept under the rug with all charges dropped as has been the case with Bowlin so many times in the past.

We also have to wonder if District Attorney Scott Perrilloux might have suggested to the officer that he need not attend so the charges could be reduced.

 

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What do you do when you just keep getting into trouble whenever you get behind the wheel of an automobile?

How is that when you rack up multiple DWIs (at least three), tickets for speeding, illegal passing, driving under suspension, possession of narcotics, reckless driving, passing a stopped school bus unloading kids, no insurance, no seat belt, following too close—and then fail to even appear in court and you are sentenced to not a day in jail because friendly district attorneys quietly make the charges go away?

How is it that you even manage to have a cooperative district attorney submit court records showing you have completed a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program in record time—a program intended solely for first-offenders—so you avoid jail time?

How is it that even the charge of no insurance goes away with the “presentation of proof of insurance” showing that coverage started, conveniently, the day before the ticket was issued—and even though the insurance is in someone else’s name, it’s accepted with no questions asked by the court?

And most puzzling of all, how is it that your court date for your latest DWI was changed from Wednesday, the usual day for the court to hear DWIs when Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) normally monitors the court proceedings, to Monday, December 5—with no notification given to MADD?

Could it be because your grandfather (Marvin Henderson, in whose name the supposed “proof of insurance” was issued) has, over the years, greased the palms of Louisiana politicians, including a former “reform” governor, a state treasurer, a parish president and a state senator currently running for mayor-president of Baton Rouge to the tune of more than $50,000 over the years?

Perhaps it’s just that Cody Bowlin of Livingston is just lucky to have found the district attorneys and judges in St. Landry and Livingston parishes in exceptionally good moods.

More likely, however, it’s Paw-paw.

LouisianaVoice has long held to the position that too many politicians with no souls, no moral compasses and with (they seem to believe) no responsibility to adhere to any code of conduct or ethical values facilitate bad behavior by the politically connected.

Cody Bowlin, 26, a self-employed auctioneer, appears to be connected via his grandfather, Marvin Henderson of Livingston, founder of Henderson Brothers Auctioneers who has contributed more than $50,000 to various political candidates since 2003.

Henderson has experienced legal problems of his own which will be discussed in more detail in a subsequent post. But for now, let’s look at Cody Bowlin.

His citations, in chronological order, include:

  • March 18, 2008—Possession of marijuana;
  • Nov. 21, 2008—Speeding, limitations on passing on the left;
  • Sept. 24, 2009—Following too closely, driving under suspension (amended to improper parking);
  • May 3, 2011—Shoplifting;
  • Dec. 13, 2011—No seat belt;
  • May 31, 2012—Speeding;
  • Nov, 27, 2012—Careless operation, driving left of center, operating a vehicle while intoxicated with controlled dangerous substance;
  • June 2, 2015—Improper overtaking and passing a stopped school bus;
  • Oct. 27, 2015—Possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana or synthetic contraband;
  • Nov. 17, 2015—Careless operation of a motor vehicle, driving while intoxicated—controlled substance, second offense; operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcoholic beverages, second offense;
  • June 11, 2016—Possession of marijuana, possession of a schedule 3 drug, improper passing, no insurance (all charges dismissed after proof of insurance mailed in showing the insured to be not Bowlin, but his grandfather, Marvin Henderson—insurance coverage that was issued June 10, the day before Bowlin’s arrest and which did not list Bowlin as covered as a driver);
  • June 23, 2016—Speeding;
  • Sept. 21, 2016—Possession of drug paraphernalia.

In at least three cases, Bowlin failed to appear for arraignment and bench warrants were issued for him.

Some with less pull might find himself subject to Louisiana’s three strike law that imposes harsher penalties to multiple offenders.

Bowlin also picked up a DWI in Mississippi several years ago. In that case, he completed a 90-day pre-trial intervention (PTI) program for first offenders, court records from that state indicate.

He later completed another PTI and charges were dropped. PTI programs are intended only for first offenders.

But it is his arrest in St. Landry back in June and the November 17, 2015, DWI arrest that raise eyebrows.

In the St. Landry case, papers submitted to the court by District Attorney Earl Taylor’s office certified that he had completed yet another PTI program in an astonishing nine days (PTIs normally require several weeks to complete, in some cases, months) and charges were dismissed. (Perhaps he was enrolled in the accelerated class, given his experience in the program.)

But it is that Nov. 17, 2015, that warrants special attention.

That’s because in Livingston Parish, where this arrest occurred, DWI cases are always held on Wednesdays. Always, except for Bowlin’s case, that is.

You see, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) monitors DWI cases and always shows up to track DWI trials.

But Bowlin was flying under MADD’s radar.

That’s because the case has been scheduled for next Monday, December 5, LouisianaVoice has learned, and MADD is mad.

There was no explanation of why Bowlin’s case was moved from Wednesday to Monday.

Perrilloux has already dropped charges against Bowlin in two other cases, the ones on June 2, 2015, and October 27, 2015. He probably planned to do the same next Monday but with MADD sitting in the courtroom, perhaps he should reconsider.

But now that MADD has been alerted, they will be there, the best (or worst) intentions of District Attorney Scott Perrilloux notwithstanding.

 

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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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This is a story with no readily apparent good guys.

It’s a story about charges of theft of heavy equipment.

It’s a story about thousands of dollars floating around unaccounted for by public officials.

It’s the story of the attorney general’s office abruptly halting a confrontational deposition.

It’s a story about a Baton Rouge judge having the decency and courage to impose (finally) a stiff financial penalty against a state agency over the agency’s failure to complete the deposition or to produce legally required public records.

It’s a story of how the superintendent of State Police was unable to account for the receipt of two checks totaling nearly $150,000 and how the state attorney general’s office and its former rogue investigator wound up with egg all over their already questionable reputations.

And, of course, it’s a story of how the taxpayer and not the public official responsible ultimately will bear the cost of those penalties.

It all began in May 2014 with the indictment of Joseph Palermo of Sulphur on five counts of possession of stolen things, destruction of serial numbers and forgery.

http://www.kplctv.com/story/25298149/five-count-indictment-unsealed-against-sulphur-businessman

Palermo previously got crossways with state police over operation of casinos in Calcasieu Parish and he settled that civil matter back in 1998 but prosecutors, apparently still nursing a grudge over the casino gambit, brought up the 1998 trouble in connection with his more recent problems. Things have a way of playing out that way for some people.

In February 2015, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of receiving “ill-gotten gains” in a plea bargain in which he agreed to paying civil penalties of $1.2 million over three years with expenses to the Calcasieu Parish District Attorney’s office coming off the top. After expenses, the $400,000 per year was to be divided equally between the Calcasieu DA, the attorney general and State Police ($133,333.34 each). An additional $14,792.55 was what remained after the district attorney’s expenses were paid.

Identical checks of $14,792.55 and $133,333.34 were then issued to Louisiana State Police and the attorney general’s office. State Police, however, initially had no record of receipt of the funds.

Moreover, neither of the checks to the attorney general’s office was ever negotiated and it took more than a little effort to get State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson to acknowledge his office had received the money. State Police’s financial section has no record of the checks, nor is there any record of the checks having been deposited in state police accounts.

In February of this year, Palermo began efforts to obtain certain records from the attorney general’s office, specifically those pertaining to the criminal investigation of his case by Scott Bailey, then employed as an investigator for the attorney general’s office.

Bailey, in addition to being a central figure in the botched CNSI investigation of a couple of years back, holds the dubious distinction of being the investigator who photographed Jimmy Swaggart exiting his infamous rendezvous with the hooker in that seedy Metairie motel three decades ago. (Some claims to fame you just want to hang onto for whatever reasons).

Bailey resigned from the attorney general’s office the very day he was directed to provide all his time management records for all his investigations.

The records by Palermo from the attorney general were insufficient to meet the parameters of his request, so he tried again and this time he was met with a response that the records, after all, were exempt from public disclosure despite the investigation of Palermo having been completed for more than a year.

The legal back and forth jockeying continued with two separate legal actions by Palermo—one for public records and the other to force deposit of the checks into the court’s registry pending a determination of to whom the money actually belonged—being consolidated into a single lawsuit. Finally, it culminated in a deposition scheduled for October 27 in Lake Charles.

Alas, it was not to be.

State attorney Chester Cedars abruptly called an end to the deposition only a few minutes into the proceedings, acknowledging he was doing so at his own peril.

On Monday, 19th Judicial District Judge Don Johnson of Baton Rouge came down hard on the attorney general’s office and we would be less than honest if we didn’t admit we are delighted (so much for any pretense of objectivity).

It was such a beautiful order, we’re reproducing some of the wording here:

“Judgment is hereby entered herein in favor of Joseph R. Palermo, Jr. and against Jeff Landry, in his official capacity as the Attorney General of Louisiana, in the amount of twenty-five thousand and no/100 dollars ($25,000.00) payable within 30 days from November 14, 2016.”

Here is the judgment in its entirety.

One courtroom observer speculated that Cedars would likely take writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court on the matter of the amount of the fine.

That’s unlikely, however, because of Cedars’s own admission at the time he suspended Bailey’s deposition.

It is part of the transcript of the deposition and Cedars tells opposing counsel Christopher Whittington, “…I do so at the defendant’s peril. I fully understand that if I’m incorrect in the assertions and the law as I understand it, or in the facts as I understand it, then we are going to have to pay the appropriate sanctions.”

WHITTINGTON: “Okay. And we will move for those sanctions pursuant to Article 1469.”

http://www.laboards-commissions.com/MCBD.pdf

You have to wonder how that little on-the-record exchange and Judge Johnson’s ensuing fine are going to sit with Cedars’s boss, Attorney General Jeff Landry (Of course Landry has his own problems, having recently dodged service on a subpoena in the ongoing litigation with Gov. John Bel Edwards over the governor’s non-discriminatory executive order).

Now, if we can just find out what happened to those two checks after they arrived at State Police headquarters…

(Special thanks to Robert Burns for scurrying around and digging up valuable court documents for this story.)

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