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Just the good ol’ boys
Never meanin’ no harm
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

                                  —Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard by Waylon Jennings

The recent actions of State Rep. STEVE PYLANT (R-Winnsboro) most probably were not the intended consequences of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2017.

Pylant represents House District 20 which includes all or parts of the parishes of Caldwell, Catahoula, LaSalle, Tensas and Franklin.

In 2013, Pylant was one of only two members to vote against a bill to give special consideration to veterans of the armed forces who are arrested or convicted of a crime: “I support veterans 110 percent,” he sniffed at the time, “but when someone violates the law, we should be fair and impartial, no matter who they are. Everyone has problems … I don’t think it’s fair to be more lenient on some than others because of their military background.”

He currently serves a vice chair of the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice and in 2015, he voted against reducing the penalties for the possession of marijuana.

The following year—and again in 2017—he voted against Senate Bill 180 (Act 343) which provided exemptions from prosecution for anyone lawfully possessing medical marijuana.

In 2017, he voted in favor of Senate Bill 70 (Act 108) that make misbranding or adulteration of drugs under certain circumstances a felony.

He also supported drug testing of welfare recipients and the right of concealed carry in restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages;

That seems about right for the man who, before entered the Louisiana Legislature in 2012, served for 16 years (1996-2012) as the high sheriff of Franklin Parish.

So, with all those law and order credentials, how did it come to be that Rep. (formerly Sheriff) Pylant would come galloping in on his white horse to secure a property bond of $90,000 to spring four convicted felons from jail in Catahoula Parish in December 2018?

Perhaps they weren’t members of the military, thus earning them greater consideration for leniency.

Or perhaps one of those arrested is the brother of a member of the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office and the judge, a tad more adherent to the law than those seeking to exert political influence, noted that he could not grant bail to one and not the others.

All or none, in other words, so Rep. Pylant obligingly ponied up the $90,000 property bond for all four defendants, each of whom had prior drug convictions as well as other assorted convictions spread among them.

The four were said to have been hunting on private property in Tensas Parish and were originally booked on promises to appear in Catahoula court on bonds of $5,000 each as set by Judge John Reeves. But Seventh Judicial District Attorney Brad Burget said when he reviewed the clerk’s file that showed the four were all convicted felons, he determined that “an appropriate bond” had not been set.

Booked on Dec. 8 were Jamie Dewayne Roberts, 45, Michael S. Linder, 49, and Trampas Barton, 43, all of Wisner, and Steve Drane, 50, of Gilbert.

Roberts, at the time of the arrests, was armed with a CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle and in addition, had a concealed .22 magnum North American Arms revolver in his front pocket. Barton had a Model 7400 Remington 30.06 rifle. Linder had in his possession of CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle, and Drane had a Browning A bold 325 WSM rifle.

Convicted felons are prohibited by law from possessing firearms.

Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards said that after the four were booked, he received a call from Bryan Linder who asked that his brother, Michael Linder, be released on a PTA—promise to appear in court.

Bryan Linder works for the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office, the office once headed by Rep. Pylant, so it’s pretty easy to connect the dots on how things went down from that point.

But, for the moment, let us examine those felony conviction records of the four.

  • Jamie Dewayne Roberts: possession of methamphetamine in 2010; theft of anhydrous ammonia (used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, or meth) in 2016, an indication he didn’t learn much from his first conviction.
  • Trampas Barton: Distribution of methamphetamine in 2016, five additional convictions for burglaries and two more for drugs.
  • Michael S. Linder: Manufacture of methamphetamines.
  • Steve Drane: Manufacturing meth and on parole until 2021.

At least they weren’t involved in the possession or distribution of marijuana. That’s something Pylant, as your basic law and order representative, just couldn’t abide.

So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross

                            —The Law is for Protection of the People, Kris Kristofferson

 

 

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Rampant drug deals, police officers taking McDonald’s lunches to the police chief’s son at school, a fundraiser that reportedly raised $50,000 for a wounded officer which he never received, and termination of a department officer who only tried to do his job.

Just another day at the Jennings Police Department.

But every now and then, the good guys win one.

Christopher Lehman, a retired Navy veteran and a resident of Jennings, has reached a confidential SETTLEMENT believed to be in the six-figure settlement range with the City of Jennings and its former Police Chief for wrongful termination.

Lehman, who also is a retired federal government civilian employee, joined the Jennings Police Department in June 2013 as a community services coordinator after having reported suspicious activity on his street beginning back in 2011.

His duties with the Jennings PD included overseeing the city’s Neighborhood Watch program.

And his troubles began when he started watching his own neighborhood as a representative of JPD.

And someone didn’t like it so, in December 2015, he was suspended.

Generally, law enforcement officials are quick to tell you, “If you see something, say something.”

But it appears others don’t want people rocking the boat or airing the city’s dirty laundry, i.e. the proliferation of illegal—and unrestrained—drug activity. In short, upstaging the local police chief. And saying something can sometimes get you fired.

Remember: Jennings is in Jefferson Davis Parish and Jefferson Davis Parish is where the murders of eight prostitutes between 2005 and 2009 remains unsolved to this day. The victims were said to have been heavily involved in the area’s drug culture, the issue that was—and remains—at the center of Lehman’s termination.

Lehman, you see, took his duties seriously and when he began reporting suspected drug trafficking on Isabelle Street, his days as a member of the Jennings Police Department were numbered.

It just so happens that Lehman resides on Isabelle Street, so he had an up-close look at the activity on the dead-end street. Some days, as many as 100 vehicles made their way to the end of the street where a couple resided in a dilapidated mobile home that, it would turn out, was in violation of a number of local building codes.

None of the cars turning into the driveway of the trailer stayed more than a few minutes and when a suspicious Lehman installed a high-tech surveillance camera to record the comings and goings, his career at Jennings PD went south in a hurry.

Add to that atmosphere the fact that then-Police Chief Todd D’Albor, who referred to Lehman as his department’s “token nigger,” according to the sworn CLAUDE GUILLORY AFFIDAVIT, a 27-year veteran of the Jennings PD, and you have a department with internal problems.

Former officer Debbie Breaux testified in her SWORN DEPOSITION, that D’Albor would make her shuttle his son to and from school and to take his lunch to him at school each day. She also would take the city mower to the chief’s home so he could cut his grass (at least he didn’t have her perform that chore).

“I knew it was all wrong and I shouldn’t have been doing it,” she said in her deposition of Oct. 29, 2018, “but what was I supposed to do? He was the chief, he told me to do it. I have no protection. I’m not civil service. He could have fired me on the spot.”

And then there is the case of officer RICKY BENOIT, shot in the neck while responding to a domestic disturbance call in 2014..

Chief D’Albor spearheaded a skeet shoot and silent auction on Benoit’s behalf and reportedly raised about $50,000.

Problem is, Benoit says he never received a penny of the benefit money.

But it was the deposition of Jennings officer CHRIS WALLACE that proved to be really eye-opening. His testimony, along with that of Debbie Breaux and the affidavits of Guillory and Priscilla Goodwin, most probably convinced the city to settle Lehman’s case before it got to an open courtroom. It was Goodwin who revealed that D’Albor’s attitude toward Lehman changed after complaints that he was photographing vehicles on his street he suspected of being involved in drug dealings in the trailer at the end of the street.

Negotiated settlements in the conference room of a law office, after all, can keep a lot of embarrassing testimony from the public’s eyes and ears.

And a confidential settlement, as this was, helps keep the lid on the actual amount of the settlement and keeps any admission of fault out of the official record, as well.

Which is precisely why we’re seeing more and more confidential settlements of lawsuits that should be very public. It is, after all, public money that is being negotiated in these settlements and the public has a right to have every cent accounted for.

Instead, realizing it was about to get burned severely, both financially and in a public relations sense, the city decided to capitulate—as it should—with a confidential settlement—as it should not.

And the settlement amount does not even include the thousands and thousands of dollars spent on Douget Court Reporters for no fewer than 10 sworn depositions, attorney fees for Baton Rouge attorney Erlingson Banks, representing the city, as well as the cost of numerous court filings—all because D’Albor, who displayed a sign on his desk that read, “I am the alpha male—I am the Lion,” told Guillory when Lehman persisted in trying to expose suspected drug deals on his street, “I’m getting rid of our token nigger.”

D’Albor is no longer heading up the Jennings Police Department. He is now Police Chief of New Iberia, a city with its own law-enforcement problems, thanks in no small part to Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Meanwhile, the drug deals continue, the murders of the Jeff Davis 8 remains unsolved, and the benefit money raised for officer Benoit remains unaccounted for.

And the circle just keeps going ‘round.

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The hits just keep coming.

Another victory in a public records lawsuit—sort of—while a state tax official goes and gets himself arrested for payroll fraud, and three members of the Louisiana State Police Commission (them again?) find themselves on the hotseat for apparent violations of state regulations that already cost some of their predecessors their positions.

All in a day’s work in Louisiana where the sanctimonious, the corrupt, the unethical, and the unbelievable seem to co-mingle with a certain ease and smugness.

The Lens, an outstanding non-profit news service out of New Orleans, has just won an important fifth with the Orleans Parish District Attorney when the Louisiana Supreme Court DENIED WRITS by the district attorney’s office in its attempt to protect records of fake subpoenas from the publication.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in October had AFFIRMED a November 2017 ruling by Orleans Civil District Court which had ordered the DA to turned over certain files pursuant to a public records request dating back to April 2017.

As in other cases reported by LouisianaVoice, the court, while awarding attorney fees to The Lens, stopped short of finding that the DA’s denial of records was “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning the DA’s office would not be fined the $100 per day allowed by law for non-compliance with the state Public Records Act.

And because the district attorney was not held personally liable for non-compliance, he will not have to pay the attorney’s fees either; that will be paid by the good citizens of New Orleans.

And, in all probability, the next time the DA’s office or any other public official in New Orleans decides to withhold public records from disclosure, he or she will also skate insofar as any personal liability is concerned with taxpayers picking up the costs.

Until such times as judges come down hard on violations of public records and public meeting laws, officials will have no incentive to comply if there is something for them to conceal.

The records requests were the result of the practice by the DA of issuing FAKE SUBPOENAS (and this preceded Trump’s so-called “fake news”) to force reluctant witnesses to speak with prosecutors—a practice not unlike those bogus phone messages from the IRS that threaten us with jail if we don’t send thousands of dollars immediately.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the practice as an “UNDERHANDED TRICK.”

Meanwhile, former Livingston Parish Tax Assessor and more recently Louisiana Tax Commission administrator CHARLES ABELS has been arrested on charges of payroll fraud, improper use of a state rental vehicle and for submitting unauthorized fuel reimbursement requests for the vehicle.

Abels was elected Livingston Parish assessor, an office held up until that time by his grandfather, with 51 percent of the vote in 1995. He served only one term, however, being defeated by current assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999.

In 2002, he was hired as a staff appraiser by the Louisiana Tax Commission. He said at the time that he was a recovering alcoholic who was trying to turn his life around. He was promoted to administrator of the commission during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He was arrested last march on a domestic violence charge but the case was never prosecuted.

One LouisianaVoice reader, a longtime critic of the Louisiana Tax Commission, said Abel’s arrest came as no surprise and that the entire agency is long overdue a housecleaning. “Let’s hope that the State of Louisiana doesn’t wind up on the hook financially for any misdeeds,” he said.

And then there is the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) which just won’t go away.

Almost three years ago, two members became the second and third to RESIGN after reports that they had contributed to political campaigns in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution.

So, you’d think their successors would’ve learned from their indiscretions, right?

Nah. This is Louisiana, where prior actions are ignored if inconvenient and duplicated if beneficial.

But then again, this is the LSPC that paid Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend $75,000 to not issue a report on a non-investigation into political contributions by the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA), contributions that were not paid directly to candidates (including John Bel Edwards and Bobby Jindal), but funneled instead through the personal bank account of LSTA Executive Director David Young so as to conceal the real source of funds.

And now, we have three of the commission members who combined to contribute more than $5,000 to political campaigns during their terms on the LSPC), either personally or through their businesses.

Whether the contributions were justified as having be made by a business (as claimed by State Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington) or whether the money was contributed to a political action committee as opposed to an individual candidate appears to make no difference; they are all strictly prohibited under state law.

Despite his earlier obfuscation on the issue, Townsend did provide some clarity on the legality of political activity. Quoting from the Louisiana State Constitution, Townsend said, “Members of the State Police Commission and state police officers are expressly prohibited from engaging in political activity. More specifically, Section 47 provides that ‘No member of the commission and no state police officer in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity…make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate…except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately…and to cast his vote as he desires.’”

But the real kicker came from a headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate, which proclaimed, “Three State Police commissioners under probe for possible unlawful political donations.”

Buried in that STORY was a paragraph which said LSPC Chairman Eulis Simien, Jr.” tasked the commission’s Executive Director Jason Hannaman to conduct an investigation into the allegations and report back with the findings. Hannaman, a civilian administrator for the board, said Thursday he hoped to complete the report by next month’s meeting.”

Oh, great. An in-house investigation. That should do it. Get a subordinate to investigate his bosses. At least Taylor Townsend carried out the appearance of an outside, independent investigation—until he proved by his inaction that it wasn’t.

What are the odds of this being truly independent and candid?

 

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He’s been gone from office for three years now but the legacy of Troy Hebert lives on at the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC).

Hebert recently prevailed in a federal lawsuit filed for fired ATC agent Brette Tingle and that decision is currently being appealed.

But another suit  by fired agent Randall Kling, tried in state court resulted in a jury award of nearly $400,000, plus legal interest from May 26, 2011, the date Kling filed his suit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

That decision, which somehow flew under the radar of all Baton Rouge news media, including LouisianaVoice, was rendered just over a year ago, on December 30, 2017 and like the Tingle decision, is currently under appeal.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith represented both Tingle and Kling in their litigation.

In that action, Kling had claimed that when he made official complaints of what he deemed was offensive behavior on the part of Hebert on March 16, 22, and 25 in 2011, Hebert fired him on March 30.

The jury verdict form revealed that jurors determined by a 9-3 vote that Kling “was engaged in protected speech on a matter of public concern” under the Louisiana Constitution. It then said, by an 11-1 vote, that “His termination was substantially motivated by his protected speech.”

The breakdown of the award was $243,045 in lost wages, $75,000 for mental anguish and distress and another $75,000 for loss of enjoyment of life.

Nineteenth JDC Judge William Morvant, in writing the formal judgment, somehow managed to circumvent the usual 6 percent per annum interest the state pays on judgments and set total interest at $9,538.06.

At 6 percent, interest would normally accrue at a rate of about $24,000 for each year since the suit was filed in May 2011 until final resolution, which is still pending.

If applied as in other judgments against the state, that would mean Kling would be entitled to more than $168,000 to date.

In any case, it will be the taxpayers of the State of Louisiana, and not Hebert, who will be called on to pay the judgment should the verdict be upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeal and, should it advance that far, the Louisiana Supreme Court.

And that $400,000 doesn’t even include the cost of the state’s having to pay a contract attorney to defend Hebert and the Department of Revenue, costs paid through the Louisiana Office of Risk Management.

It’s another example of state officials, in this case, Troy Hebert, not being held personally accountable for their actions and taxpayers having to pick up the tab for their bad behavior.

Morvant, by the way, is the same judge who only yesterday (January 10, 2019) declined to hold Attorney General Jeff Landry personally liable for refusing to allow an Indiana woman access to what were clearly public records.

Unless some real teeth are put into these judgments, Louisiana’s public officials will go on disregarding the law in the knowledge they will suffer no personal consequences.

This needs to change.

 

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Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

A variation of that adage might be, “If your intentions are pure, you don’t have to worry about consistency.”

Jeff Landry might want to remember both statements.

But, on the other hand, sometimes it’s good entertainment to watch a politician more concerned with advancing his own career than the interests of his constituents get boxed in by his own words and actions.

Case in point: A self-serving press release from the attorney general on Nov. 19 which addressed a ruling by a state judge which said the Vermilion Parish School Board violated Louisiana’s Open Meeting Law for forcefully removing a teacher who was critical of the superintendent’s pay raise.

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry pontificated, “and I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law.” (emphasis mine)

Well, Louisiana’s Open Meetings Law and the Public Records Law just happen to go hand in hand, but you’d never know that from the lawsuit pending in State District Court in Baton Rouge scheduled for trial next Thursday.

Landry is a defendant in a LAWSUIT filed by an Indiana woman who is seeking admittedly voluminous records relating to correspondence between Landry’s office and various oil and gas interests in the state as well as records of his travel to conferences, speaking engagements, lodging and meals.

Here is a copy of her request for the records and her lawsuit.

Landry’s public information officer Ruth Wisher said, “We can only hope it is not a political witch hunt distracting from the important work of our office.”

And even though he has already turned over more than 6000 PAGES of documents, the woman, Scarlett Martin of Indianapolis, has sued Landry because she says he has failed to fully comply with her request and that he is holding back additional records.

Now Landry has offered up a rather unique defense by CLAIMING that Louisiana’s public records law applies only to citizens of the gret stet of Looziana.

That doesn’t exactly square with Opinion 17-0044 of last May 18 in which he wrote in an opinion pursuant to a legislator’s request, “The public’s right to public records is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Louisiana Constitution. ‘No person shall be denied the right to observe the deliberations of public bodies and examine public documents…”

(Note there is no mention of any restriction of that right to Louisiana citizens. And also note how he conveniently ties public meetings and public records together in a nice little bow for us.)

In the next paragraph of that opinion, he says, “Any person of the age of majority may inspect, copy, or reproduce, any public record” and “any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record.”

That sounds a tad definitive for a man who is now trying his best to protect certain records from disclosure.

Kinda makes one wonder what he’s trying to hide.

Oh, and in response to Ms. Wisher’s little comment about hoping the request isn’t some kind of “witch hunt” (wonder where she picked that phrase up from?), state law also expressly says, “The purpose for the document request is immaterial, and an agency or record custodian may not inquire as to the reason…”

Moreover, in further addressing Landry’s water-thin residency claim of exception, the Louisiana Supreme Court in Title Research Corp. v. Rausch (450 So.2d933,937 (1984) opined:

The legislature, by the public records statutes, sought to guarantee, in the most expansive and unrestricted way possible, the right of the public to inspect and reproduce those records which the laws deem to be public. There was no intent on the part of the legislatures to qualify, in any way, the right of access. [Citations omitted]. As with the constitutional provision, the statute should be construed liberally, and any doubt must be resolved in favor of the right of access.

Section 31 provides that any person may obtain a copy or reproduction of any public record, except as otherwise provided. A person over 18 has the right to inspect and copy or get a copy of a public record that is not exempt from examination, and the custodian has the burden of proving that the record is not subject to inspection. The person may apply in person to the custodian of the public body, to inspect, to copy or to reproduce a public record; however, in Elliot v. District Attorney of Baton Rouge, (1995) 664 So.2d. 122, the court opined that a person could make a request by letter. (emphasis mine)

Mr. Landry is going to have a helluva time getting around all that and he just might have to write a pretty big check (state check, of course, not personal) in penalties assessed by the court.

Editor’s Note: A conscientious attempt was made by LouisianaVoice to access that attorney general’s opinion cited in this story. Previously, the attorney general’s web page had a menu that users could use to access opinions on any subject. That menu no longer exists.

We did, however find in the Media Room, a menu labeled “More Resources” which provided:

biography  of Jeff Landry;

An introduction to Jeff Landry;

portrait of Jeff Landry;

candid portrait of Jeff Landry;

capitol photo of Jeff Landry;

Another capitol photo of Jeff Landry.

I’m certain he gladly provide those for Ms. Martin.

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