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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

It will be exactly six years tomorrow that a federal judged was ousted from office by impeachment. It so happens that it was a Louisiana judge, Thomas Porteous of New Orleans, a Bill Clinton appointee, was removed by vote of the U.S. Senate on Dec. 8, 2010, for taking bribes and making false statements under oath.

Porteous is the only federal judge among the 15 who have been removed by impeachment who was from Louisiana.

Could it now be that a second Louisiana judge, an appointee of Clinton’s successor, may face a similar fate? Well, no one has gone so far as to suggest that just yet, but the rumor mill about U.S. District Judge Patricia Minaldi’s reported drinking problems is at full throttle in the Lake Charles area.

One of the grounds for impeachment of federal judges, who are appointed for life, is intoxication on the bench and two have been removed for that reason, the most recent almost 150 years ago.

The first was John Pickering, an appointee of George Washington, who was impeached and removed in 1803 for mental instability and intoxication on the bench. The other was and Abraham Lincoln appointee, Mark Delahay, likewise removed in 1873 for intoxication on the bench.

It is important to explain the difference between an official’s being impeached and removed. Impeachment is simply the bringing of formal charges against an officeholder. He is then tried by the U.S. Senate and that body’s vote of guilty or not guilty determines if the accused is removed from office.

In the case of the charges against Porteous, senators voted guilty unanimously—96-0—for his failure to recuse himself in a case involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of trading favors for cash. On the charge of accepting meals, trips and car repair from a bail bondsman, the vote was 69-27 in favor of conviction. The Senate then voted 94-2 that he should be disqualified from ever again holding federal office.

LouisianaVoice has received reports that Minaldi, a federal judge for the Western District of Louisiana in Lake Charles had a criminal case over which she was the presiding judge REMOVED following a series of procedural errors, including assigning some of her duties to a prosecuting attorney.

A native of Somerset, Massachusetts, she is a 1980 graduate of Wesleyan University and a 1983 graduate of Tulane University Law School.

From 1983 to 1986, she served as an assistant district attorney of New Orleans before accepting a similar post at the 14th Judicial District in Lake Charles until 1996, when she became a state district judge in the same district.

She was nominated for a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush on January 15, 2003. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on May 6 and assumed office three days later, succeeding Judge James Trimble when Trimble reached senior status.

As federal judge, she dismissed a case in 2009 against a man who mailed anthrax and bomb threats following 9/11. The man had been convicted by a federal jury in 2004 on charges of threatening to use weapons of mass destructions but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned his conviction and his 30-year prison sentence in April 2009.

She was arrested on January 23, 2014, for having an open alcoholic beverage inside her vehicle and less than a month later, on February 14, she was charged with DWI. She refused a field sobriety test but ultimately pleaded guilty to DWI.

One source, an attorney, said Minaldi has been appearing on the bench intoxicated and unable to perform her duties. On at least one such occasion, the attorney said, the case was removed from her court and transferred to the federal court in Alexandria.

“I’ve heard the stories,” said another. “We all have. In our professional circle, it would impossible not to hear them. There were a lot of questions about a criminal case that was removed from her courtroom.

In fact, Judge Minaldi has been pulled off several cases this year, the latest of which occurred just yesterday.

ASSOCIATED PRESS reported that the trial of a man accused of producing kiddie porn and of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor was cut short less than an hour after court convened with no reason provided for the mistrial.

The only clue, and a sketchy one at that, was in the form of a single-page order from Chief Judge Dee Drell that he was “exercising (his) prerogative” in terminating proceedings. That trial is scheduled to resume on Jan. 3 in Alexandria.

In that case, Frankie Maldonado is the defendant. His attorney, Randal McCann, as well as the prosecuting attorney, have not commented on the sudden unexpected termination of Maldonado’s trial.

Nor has Judge Minaldi commented on the chief judge’s actions or of reports about her alleged problem with alcohol. LouisianaVoice attempted to contact her by telephone but was told she was not in her office. So far, she has not responded to our request that she return our call.

The biggest case pulled from Judge Minaldi—again, after trial proceedings were underway—was that of Iberia Parish Sheriff LOUIS ACKEL, accused of beating prisoners in his jail. His trial was moved to Shreveport and he was subsequently acquitted.

A third attorney contacted by LouisianaVoice was more circumspect than the others. “Let me say this,” the attorney said. “I personally like Judge Minaldi and when she’s okay, she’s a good judge. She’s very personable and a likable person. I knew she had a problem at one time but did not know she’d started drinking again. That’s very unfortunate.”

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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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By Robert Burns

Guest Columnist

It has been over a decade since Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. When the levees broke, much of the lower sections of New Orleans flooded. Many people were left without any form of housing because their previous homes had been inundated with water.

That’s when the Federal Government (FEMA) sprang into action. Recognizing the massive need for housing assistance, FEMA ordered an astounding 120,000 travel trailers, at a cost of $2.7 billion, from 60 different suppliers. For the next several years, these FEMA trailers would serve as temporary homes for the tens of thousands of residents who’d lost their homes as they rebuilt or, in some cases, opted to relocate and be bought out by FEMA.

Soon after, many residents complained of temporary memory loss, irritating sore throats, sneezing episodes, and similar ailments. The culprit was determined to be formaldehyde, which the National Institute for Health assessed prolonged exposure at rates exceeding eight parts-per billion (ppb) to be a known carcinogenic risk. Formaldehyde testing began to be conducted by the Center for Disease Control, and those results showed average formaldehyde levels of 40 ppb, or more than five times the level considered safe for extended exposure. Some tests revealed readings 40 times the acceptable level. Concerned about the health risks to the public, FEMA suspended sales of the trailers to the public in July of 2007, almost two years after Katrina made landfall. That moratorium expired on January 1, 2010.

FEMA then had a problem on its hands. Incurring storage costs of $130 million a month, the agency needed to unburden itself of its cumbersome inventory of unoccupied trailers. FEMA opted to hand them off to the General Services Administration which, in turn, auctioned them off in massive quantities per lot for a total price of $133 million, approximately seven cents on the dollar for what FEMA originally paid for the trailers. Buyers purchased the trailers for just under $1,000 per unit on average.

Henderson Auctions, located in Livingston, Louisiana, purchased approximately 23,000 of the FEMA trailers, or about one-sixth of all the trailers deployed. To facilitate the acquisition, the principals of Henderson Auctions, Jeff Henderson and Janet Henderson Cagley, the two children of Henderson Auctions’ founder Marvin Henderson, formed a company called the Lottie Group.

Lottie served to pool the resources of several investors to purchase the trailers for the purpose of liquidating them individually to consumers through successive auctions of hundreds at a time since the ban on sales to the public had been lifted. Accomplishing that turned out to be a tricky proposition, however, when the FDA announced that anyone caught reselling contaminated FEMA trailers could face criminal prosecution. The reselling process was also problematic because some states, Mississippi in particular, strictly forbade the resell of the FEMA trailers due to health concerns over the formaldehyde issue.

The first obstacle faced by Lottie and Henderson Auctions was where to store the 23,000 trailers. That problem was solved by the purchase of the old Evangeline Downs racetrack in Carencro in Lafayette Parish. An entity controlled by Jeff Henderson and Janet Henderson Cagley, Evangeline Properties, LLC, recently sold the old Evangeline Downs property for $11 million in a transaction in which their father, Marvin, notarized the Act of Sale for the sellers when, as a convicted felon, he is ineligible to hold a notary license.

The Louisiana Auctioneer Licensing Board (LALB) recently addressed the issue of Henderson’s apparent illegal notarizations but concluded that its hands are tied. The matter has been referred (by the Louisiana Secretary of State) to Livingston Parish District Attorney Scott Perrilloux for appropriate action.

As part of the sales agreements between GSA and buyers such as Lottie/Henderson, GSA insisted upon agreements being signed that the trailers would not be sold for housing purposes but rather only for “storage or recreational” use.

GSA placed stickers on the trailers in all caps declaring the trailers were “NOT TO BE USED FOR HOUSING.” Lottie/Henderson began conducting a series of auctions entailing several hundred trailers at each auction and, despite the fact that representations were made that the trailers were being sold “as is, where is” with all faults and that they should only be purchased for recreational uses such as hunting camps, it didn’t stop many environmentalist bloggers fromlambasting the auctions as well as criticizing the local media for failing to even point out the potential health risks associated with purchasing the trailers.

Selling the FEMA trailers to the public turned out to be a task that took more than three years for Lottie/Henderson to accomplish. Along the way, and in an effort to expand the geographic marketing to consumers in states beyond the Gulf Coast, Henderson reached out to some fellow auctioneers to sell many of the trailers. Once, Charles Easler of South Carolina, a long-time friend of Marvin Henderson, agreed to assist in the effort by accepting over 300 trailers to be auctioned from his facility in South Carolina. That episode, however, didn’t turn out as initially planned as Henderson filed suit against Easler on December 21, 2015 alleging that his one-time friend failed to make payments or account for approximately 60 of those trailers. Easler denied all of Henderson’s allegations.

Meanwhile, amidst all the banking transactions entailed with the trailer sales, Lottie/Henderson found itself in the crosshairs of its own bank, First Guaranty Bank (FGB) of Hammond.  Lottie/Henderson sued, claiming that FGB officials failed to adequately safeguard against their account usernames and passwords from being obtained to execute nearly $1 million in allegedly fraudulent wire transfers. The dates, amounts, and beneficiaries of the alleged fraudulent transfers are summarized in the following table:

 

Date Acct # / Name Amount Beneficiary
       
9/23/11 4767/Lottie $77,000 Golden Door
9/27/11 4767/Lottie $187,400 Time Imports, Inc.
9/28/11 4767/Lottie $5,000 Time Imports, Inc.
9/28/11 4767/Lottie $125,500 Golden Door V & L, Inc.
9/29/11 5806/JAH* $485,740.80 Emirates NBD
10/3/11 5806/JAH* $45,000 VTB 24
10/3/11 8510/JAH* $45,000 Citibank

* JAH is a limited liability corporation doing business as Henderson Auctions.

The lawsuit was not filed until September 22, 2014, well beyond the one-year prescription period to file suit since the final alleged loss was on October 3, 2011. FGB attorneys openly wondered the same, asserting prescription in their answer as one of 27 itemized defenses to the lawsuit. FGB attorneys also claimed that “Plaintiffs are the cause of any loss they have suffered due to their negligence, inattention, failure to investigate, lack of review, lack of management, and/or lack of supervision of the operations of JAH Enterprises, Lottie Group, LLC, including the actions of its members.”

So, where did all these FEMA trailers end up and how are they being used? Environmentalist journalist Heather Smith revealed in her documentary that a good number of these trailers have managed to find their way to North Dakota where the trailers are being routinely utilized as permanent housing for cashiers, fry cooks, and others who have become transplants in North Dakota. Several trailer tenants interviewed said they were lured to North Dakota by the prospect of $17-per-hour jobs as Wal-Mart cashiers (vs. $7-per-hour in their home states). One of the tenants acknowledged that the $1,200 rent on his FEMA trailer is high, but added that it’s the only housing he can afford where costs are so high because of the oil boom in North Dakota.

The VIN of one tenant’s travel trailer was traced in order to learn its origin. It was one of the 23,000 trailers purchased by Henderson Auctions.

The trailer of one tenant was tested and the occupant was told that his formaldehyde count is 30 ppb, or nearly four times the level considered safe for extended exposure. Tenants were encouraged to vent their units clean air from outdoors to dilute the concentrations of formaldehyde—hardly an option for the frigid North Dakota winter months. Shapiro questioned if the $17 per hour wage was worth the health risks to which these FEMA trailer tenants are unwittingly exposing themselves.

 

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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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