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Archive for the ‘Courts’ Category

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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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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