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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

There is only one word to describe the courts in the 4th judicial District: rancid.

It was bad enough when it was revealed that:

  • ALLISON CAMPBELL, a clerk for 4th JDC judges, had mis-filed, shredded, or otherwise destroyed records (52 different writ applications missing for more than a year turned up as being used as an end table in Campbell’s office.
  • Or that when the Ouachita Citizen sued to obtain public documents from the court, the court’s judges sued the newspaper and its publisher Sam Hanna, Jr. to prevent having to make the documents available.
  • Or that Campbell’s sister is a prominent Monroe attorney, Catherine Creed, her father George Campbell was an executive with Regions Bank and was married to the daughter of attorney Billy Boles.
  • Or that a “duty” or on-call JUDGE (Larry Jefferson) would alter bond instructions, allowing an inmate charged with five counts of aggravated crimes against nature to walk out of jail and disappear.
  • Or that Monroe attorney and former Monroe city council member ARTHUR GILMORE, JR., was sentenced to 24 months in prison and temporarily permanently disbarred by the Supreme Court for violations of the federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The disbarment was handed down as permanent but he petitioned and was approved for readmission in January.

But now, we learn that the Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended the law license of Monroe attorney DANIEL J. HUNTER for one year after an investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Council found that Hunter had mismanaged his client trust account.

(Yawn). So what, you say? Happens every day. Some lawyer dips into the account for a quick trip to the casino with every intention of repaying the money—until he loses it and then loses again in an attempt to win it back. Sometimes it’s for more sinister purposes. Many times it’s just sloppy bookkeeping and funds get co-mingled. Mismanagement could be many things but you get the idea.

But wait. Daniel J. Hunter isn’t just any old attorney.

He is the brother of current 4th JDC court judge and former Louisiana State Rep. Marcus Hunter.

Daniel and Marcus are the sons of former Louisiana State Sen. Willie Hunter.

Daniel Hunter also just happens to be employed by 4th Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew as an assistant prosecutor. He was recently demoted to prosecuting misdemeanor offenses.

So, there you have your state judicial district court in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.

Be proud.

Remember the adage that you get the government you deserve.

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On Thursday, WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge posted a story that was welcome news to the August 2016 flood victims, yours truly included.

The gist of the story was that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had waived the duplication of benefits provisions, clearing the way for flood victims who had to settle for SBA loans to rebuild their homes to receive compensation from FEMA through Restore Louisiana.

Until that provision was waived, anyone who did not receive FEMA funding was forced to accept the SBA loans. In some cases, as with me, victims were directed by FEMA reps to the SBA table to apply for loans. This was done without FEMA’s bothering to tell flood victims that if they accepted—or if they were even offered and declined—an SBA loan, they were automatically ineligible for other federal assistance.

So, as you might surmise, news of the waiver of the duplication of benefits stipulation was welcome news.

That story by WAFB-TV was posted at 8:41 a.m.

At 5:57 p.m., a scant eight hours later, I received my first scam call about my eligibility for federal assistance.

The call from Morgan City, my caller ID said. I know no one in Morgan City, but I answered anyway, thinking perhaps it may be someone with a tip for a story for LouisianaVoice.

Instead, it was a woman asking for me by name, although it took me about three or four tries to understand whom she was asking for. Then she launched into her spiel about my application, saying she need to confirm certain information. It took several times for that information to get through, which was just as well as it gave me time to wonder why someone would be calling from Morgan City about my FEMA application.

After asking her to repeat herself several times, the call was suddenly disconnected. When I tried to call back, I got the usual message on robo calls that the call could not be completed.

So, there you have it, folks. The scam artists are already busily scheming to prey on flood victims, some of whom still are not back in their homes and some, like me who, at 75, is saddled with a brand-new 30-year $125,000 mortgage.

The purpose of this is not to whine about my misfortune because to be honest, we fared better than many flood victims: we got an excellent general contractor who did everything he promised to do at the price he quoted—and he did excellent work.

The purposed of this is to put other victims on notice that the scammers are actively trying to steal your identity to bilk you out of anything you may have coming to you. You need to be alert to these people and NEVER divulge any personal information, including your Restore Louisiana application number, your social security number or anything else.

And just because my call showed up on caller ID as being from Morgan City (Area Code 985), that doesn’t mean diddly. They steal numbers so that it appears you are getting a local call. Your call may be from Hammond, Lafayette or anywhere, and from any area code.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM!

 

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Emails sent to the medical staff by the CEO of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL) Scott Wester and the CEO of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health Systems (FMOL) Dr. Richard Vath attacked what Vath described as “a troubling article” by the Baton Rouge Business Report which Wester said included “a number of negative allegations about Our Lady of the Lake, and me in particular.”

The Business Report article, by Editor Stephanie Riegel, was published on April 24 and described in detail administrative and financial problems encountered by OLOL and FMOL and hinting at a connection between the firing of former FMOL CEO Michael McBride and the embezzlement of $810,000 from the foundation involving its former chief fundraiser John Paul Funes.

McBride, brought in to shore up FMOL, lasted a year. An outsider, he attempted to oust local power Wester but was himself shown the door.

If all that isn’t confusing enough, consider this: the two emails by Vath and Wester went out on April 23, the day before the article’s online publication.

Damage control isn’t unusual but damage control in advance of a “troubling article” is less common, to put it mildly. Especially in light of a paragraph in Riegel’s story: “Attempts by Business Report to reach Wester for comment were unsuccessful and OLOL officials declined to make him available for an interview for this story.”

It just seems to me that if you’re not going to avail yourself to an opportunity to tell your side of the story, you waive any rights to attack the messenger—especially the day before the story’s publication.

Which, of course, raises the question of just how did Vath and Wester get their hands on an advance copy of the story?

Something about the timing of all this just doesn’t pass the smell test.

For those who might need a refresher or for those living out of the Baton Rouge media coverage area, FMOL and OLOL were rocked late last year by the revelation that $810,000 had been embezzled from a foundation, established by OLOL to raise funds for projects like the new OLOL Children’s Hospital.

Chief fundraiser Funes, whose salary was listed at $283,000, subsequently fired.

But Riegel’s story went further by quoting McBride as saying the Funes scandal “was a symptom,” not the cause, of bigger problems at OLOL. McBride was quoted as attributing low OLOL employee morale to the “good ol’ boys’ network,” adding, “It is no coincidence that seven-plus years of stealing went unreported until new senior leadership was in place.

She described inroads into the Baton Rouge market by Ochsner Health Systems of New Orleans, quoting sources as implying that OLOL’s fees are currently about 25 percent higher than its competition at Ochsner and Baton Rouge General.

Those were the points with which the two emails obtained by LouisianaVoice appear to disagree, although neither email addressed any specific errors in the story, both choosing instead to deliver a “feel good” message aimed at lifting morale and deflecting from points made by Riegel.

“I believe the article paints an inaccurate picture,” Wester wrote. “I could easily make the case about why the ministry is strong and how the Sisters and System’s leadership have us on the right path. Instead, I want to apologize.”

Vath took a similar approach, writing, “The article is misleading and inaccurate in several ways and attempts to use recent leadership transitions as the starting point for several lines of attack against our ministry.”

“When reading the emails, it was impossible to know what Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath were talking about unless one received the Baton Rouge Business Report in published form,” said one OLOL employee.

“Both of the emails are camouflaging and obfuscation, and don’t address any facts or specifics of the article—nor of anything going on at the hospital.

“Just from the form and tone of the two emails, I was pretty confident that I’d agree with over 50 percent of the article even before I actually read it the next day,” the employee said. “Now that I’ve read the article, I agree with almost 100 percent of it—at least the parts I know about from working at OLOL.

“I’d love to have Mr. Wester and Dr. Vath tell us which parts of the article are not factual and/or untrue.”

 

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If Louisiana’s working citizens—particularly those struggling to pay rent, put food on the table, pay for their children’s educational needs, clothe their families, buy gasoline and pay insurance premiums—are paying attention, they will soon know who their legislators represent—the aforementioned working people or the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

State Sen. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) cartert@legis.la.gov has introduced SB 155, backed by Gov. Edwards, to raise the state’s stagnant minimum wage from an incentive-choking $7.25 to $9.00, effective July 1, 2020. If approved, it would go to voters in the form of a constitutional amendment.

It’s time. In fact, it’s way past time.

The same goes for the long overdue equal pay for women legislation. Louisiana currently pays women about 60 percent of what men earn for the same job. That’s unthinkable.

Equally unfathomable is that similar bills have failed to gain traction in past legislative sessions.

Gov. Edwards is on record as supporting both measures.

Women are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.

HB 289 by Rep. Barbara Norton (D-Shreveport) nortonb@legis.la.gov provides equal pay for women and HB 63 by Rep Joseph Bouie, Jr. (D-New Orleans) bouiej@legis.la.gov would require any contractor who enters into a contract with a public entity to comply with the Equal Pay for Women Act. Both bills are pending before the House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee.

That committee membership is weighted 9-6 in favor of Republicans. Members include Reps. Patrick Jefferson, Chair (D-Homer) jeffersonpo@legis.la.gov, Kenny Cox (D-Natchitoches) coxk@legis.la.gov, Royce Duplessis (D-New Orleans) duplessisr@legis.la.gov, Ted James (D-Baton Rouge) james.ted@legis.la.gov, Ed Larvadain, III (D-Alexandria) hse026@legis.la.gov, Vincent J. Pierre (D-Lafayette)  pierrev@legis.la.gov, Blake Miguez, Vice Chair, (R-Erath) miguezb@legis.la.gov, Beryl Amedee (R-Houma) amedeeb@legis.la.gov, Larry Bagley (R-Stonewall) bagleyl@legis.la.gov, Raymond Crews (R-Bossier City) crewsr@legis.la.gov, Reid Falconer (R-Mandeville) falconerr@legis.la.gov, Dodie Horton (R-Haughton) hortond@legis.la.gov, Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro)  mcfarlandj@legis.la.gov, Alan Seabaugh (R-Shreveport) seabaugha@legis.la.gov, and Scott Simon (R-Abita Springs)  simons@legis.la.gov.

The federal minimum wage hasn’t been adjusted for a decade and anyone who thinks even a single person with no dependents can survive on $7.25 per hour is woefully out of touch with reality.

Anyone who believes that is spending far too much time on the golf course.

Anyone who believes that, you can bet, has never had to do so.

LABI President Stephen Waguespack, a alumnus of the Bobby Jindal administration, will throw all his organization’s resources into an all-out effort to defeat Carter’s bill just as he has with past efforts to raise the minimum wage.

Waguespack can afford to do so, too, because he’s being paid a comfortable six-figure salary to represent the interests of big business over those of working stiffs.

His condescending comment about a minimum wage being being a “one size fits all” approach is both arrogant and deliberately misleading.

Waguespack will be in the State Capitol corridors every day. Legislators are forbidden from accepting campaign contributions from any of the four LABI political action committees, but they know if they vote the way he wants, those contributions will flow in once the legislative session adjourns.

In the meantime, nothing prevents him from wining and dining key members of the legislature. Key members like, say, certain members (read: Republican) members of the Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee, which will decide whether or not Carter’s bill moves forward to the floors of the House and Senate.

That committee is chaired by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), risern@legis.la.gov

Riser should (but likely won’t) be all-in on raising the minimum wage. After all, it was he who tried to slip that amendment onto a rather benign bill back in 2014 that would’ve given then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson a healthy six-figure increase in his yearly retirement.

Carter is vice-chair and he should have allies in Sens. Regina Barrow (D-Baton Rouge) barrowr@legis.la.gov, Wesley T. Bishop (D-New Orleans) bishopw@legis.la.gov and Jean-Paul J. Morrell (D-New Orleans) morrelljp@legis.la.gov.

Republicans on the committee include, besides Riser, include Sens. Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles) johnsr@legis.la.gov and Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) peacockb@legis.la.gov

Other southern states that have held the line at $7.25 include Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Arkansas has already raised its minimum wage to $11. Shoot, even West Virginia has a state minimum wage of $8.75.

Altogether, 26 other states have a minimum wage higher than Louisiana and 19 of those are already at $9 or above.

The U.S. has an income disparity that should be embarrassing—and it’s only getting wider. The haves keep getting richer and the have-nots keep sinking in poverty and the Stephen Waguespacks of the world couldn’t care less as long as they can keep corporate board members fat and happy.

And many legislators couldn’t care less as long as they can keep the campaign contributions coming in.

So, fight back. The average worker can’t take time off to go to the Capitol to lobby legislators. Stephen Waguespack can because that’s precisely what he’s paid to do. It’s an uneven playing field.

But you can contact your legislator—early and often—and let him/her know that this is an election year and you have a lethal weapon—the ballot.

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I gave myself 24 hours to consider whether to write this or not because:

  • I didn’t want to come off as one who, like Bobby Jindal, whines at every perceived slight, and,
  • I am a member of neither the Louisiana Press Association (LPA) nor the CITY CLUB of BATON ROUGE, so, I truthfully debated if it was my place to say anything.

But after having mulled it over for a full day, I’ve decided to proceed because:

  • The manner in which the City Club treated Gov. John Bel Edwards was too shabby to let slide without comment, and,
  • I paid my $35 to attend the luncheon, so I feel entitled.

The event was the annual meeting of the Press Association. As I said, I’m not a member but I paid for the privilege of attending to see the man who gave me my start in journalism honored as a 50-year member of the journalism profession.

Tom Kelly, 88, is retiring and recently sold his monthly publication dedicated to the forestry and agriculture area, The Piney Woods Journal, to the Lovan Thomas Group, owners of the Natchitoches Times and several other publications in northwest Louisiana.

As most readers of LouisianaVoice know by now, Tom Kelly hired me as an advertising account sales rep for the Ruston Daily Leader at a whopping $65 per week back in 1966. That was a $5 weekly cut from my previous salary as a telephone installer/repairman, a trade I definitely was not cut out for. Neither was advertising sales, as it turned out, and Kelly soon realized his mistake. But as an act of charity, he made me sports editor, a position requiring far fewer skills.

I would be lured away by what was then the Monroe Morning World (now the News-Star) but returned to The Leader as city editor, only to be recruited by the Morning World and Shreveport Times (sister publications owned by the Ewing family) to run its newly-opened North Central Louisiana bureau in Ruston. From there it was to the Baton Rouge State-Times. Once again, Kelly made me an enticing offer to become The Leader’s managing editor so it was back to Ruston where I remained until Kelly was relieved of his duties by The Leader’s ownership in Panama City, Florida. So, I left, first for the Shreveport Journal, and finally back to the Baton Rouge area where I’ve remained since 1980.

As you can tell, my ties to Tom Kelly are strong and my admiration for him even stronger. So, there was no way I was going to miss this event even though I’d had cervical disc surgery only two weeks earlier.

That Gov. Edwards was to be the keynote speaker was just icing on the cake as far as I was concerned.

Until I entered the room where the meeting was to take place, that is.

The banquet room, if you care to call it that, was part of a much larger room with one of those accordion-type room dividers down the middle to section it off into two meeting rooms. The LPA got the smaller room which, believe it or not, had a wall down the middle dividing it into two smaller rooms. Half the members sat in one section and the other half, including Kelly, another former Daily Leader employee, Jerry Pye and his wife, and myself in the section furthest from the dais and with our view blocked by the wall.

In the larger room next door, there was some kind of major function for the Republican Party.

They had a microphone and a public address system, making it pretty easy for us to hear them.

John Bel Edwards, the governor of Louisiana, had squat.

We were told that we were originally given a public address system but that the City Club took it away for the Republicans.

To me, that was a major slight to the governor, an appalling display of disrespect.

But to his credit, he made the best of it. He gave an overview of his administration’s accomplishments and goals for the future in a game attempt to be heard over the Republican din immediately behind him.

He even stayed for a lengthy question and answer session—something Bobby Jindal would never have done and in fact, never did. And while I can’t speak for the others, he made a point that really resonated with me: he said he has a healthy working relationship with the Trump administration. At first, I was incredulous but then he explained. “I think it’s important that the governor of a state be able to work with the administration in Washington, no matter which party is represented. It’s too important for the people of Louisiana to let partisan politics interfere with the lines of communication. That is something my predecessor (Jindal) refused to do.”

He’s right. Jindal steadfastly refused to work with the Obama administration or to show any inclination to do so. Remember the little SNIT he pitched at a National Governors Association meeting following a meeting between governors and President Obama back in 2014? Those two approaches illustrate the difference between class and no-class, between maturity and petulance.

It may not be my place to say this, but I think the LPA should demand a refund for the way in which the governor was treated.

Both events broke up about the same time and I entered the elevator with a gentleman who was in the Republican meeting next door. He asked if I was in his meeting. “No,” I said. “I’m a recovering Republican.”

“Recovering?” he asked.

“Yes, I registered as a Republican back around ’76 or ’77, when Gov. Edwin Edwards signed the open primary bill. I resigned halfway through Bobby Jindal’s first term.”

“Well, we’ll get you back,” he said, making what I perceived to be a sincere attempt at friendly banter, perhaps even an attempt at an innocent joke.

But still, I couldn’t resist.

“Not as long as you have clowns like Donald Trump, you won’t.”

End of conversation.

I’m not governor, so I don’t have to be nice to Trump.

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