Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

There are so many ways a public agency can waste your taxpayer dollars. Some are out there for everyone to see like when contracts are awarded to a favored vendor even though that vendor didn’t have the low bid.

Or when a contractor is paid $175 per 100-square-foot tarps on rooftops in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina only to have the contractor (Shaw Group) subcontract the work to A-1 Construction for $75 a square and to have A-1 hire a second subcontractor, Westcon Construction at $30 per square, who finally pays workers $2 per square.

Other times, the waste is concealed from view and without someone doing a little digging, no one ever knows how thousands or dollars are frittered away by bureaucrats who nothing better to do than to quietly spread the spoils around among the politically-connected.

So it was in March of last year that Southern University’s Grievance Committee held hearings on the appeals of four professors who had been terminated. When the four professors indicated that they wanted the hearing to be in open meeting as opposed to executive session, their request was rejected out of hand.

The state’s open meetings law [R.S. 42:14 (A), (B), and (C)] allows for all personnel matters to be discussed [without any official vote being taken] in executive session unless the employee(s) being discussed requests that discussion be held in open session. Such request by the employee(s) would supersede any move for executive session.

But the Grievance Committee’s chairperson announced—without benefit of a public vote by the committee [also a violation of the open meetings statute] that a private vote had been conducted prior to the convening of the committee meeting at which it was decided to hold the executive session to discuss the professors’ grievance.

I was there to cover the hearing and the four professors and I promptly filed suit against Southern for violation of the open meetings law. The trial was held in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

Southern presented the unique argument that the school’s grievance committee was not a public body—even though every member was an employee of Southern and the committee was acting on behalf of Southern’s administration. Unique indeed.

Even more bizarre, Southern attorney Winston DeCuir, Jr., in his cross-examination of yours truly, tried to question my right to be a party to the suit by asking how many other events I’d covered for LouisianaVoice at Southern. The answer was none—as if that had any legal bearing on the matter at hand. He then asked why I picked that hearing to cover and I replied truthfully that I had been alerted that the hearing might produce an interesting story for LouisianaVoice.

The presiding judge had little problem in ruling for the four professors and yours truly, awarding a total of $5,000 ($1,000 per plaintiff), plus attorney fees and court costs. So, counting the award, court costs and attorney fees, we’re already looking at something approaching $8,000-$10,000 all because DeCuir did not provide proper legal counsel to the committee when it decided to break the law. [He was there and should have advised the committee that it was treading on thin legal ice.]

But Southern wasn’t finished. Rather than cut its losses and pony up the money, DeCuir appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. Nothing like throwing good money after bad.

In January, the FIRST CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEAL handed down its decision. The lower court’s decision was upheld without a dissenting opinion. Unanimous, in other words.

Moreover, the First Circuit assessed additional attorney fees of $1,400 and additional court costs of $1,804. And that’s not counting what DeCuir will bill the university for his solid legal advice.

So, Southern learned its lesson, right?

Not quite.

At DeCuir’s advice, the university has now taken writs to the Louisiana State Supreme Court—all to argue that Southern University and its Grievance Committee are not public bodies.

Your tax dollars at work. Not a lot of money in the overall scheme of things, but an example how quixotic legal battles by state agencies make thousands upon thousands of dollars disappear into contract attorneys’ bank accounts.

Which also raises another question: Can defense attorneys always be counted on to give the best advice to clients when that advice might conflict with the attorney’s financial advantage of keeping the meter running?

 

Read Full Post »

When Kimberly Gail Womack was found dead in the bedroom of her Jarreau residence in Pointe Coupee Parish, her daughter Kathryn Simpson assumed there would be a thorough investigation into her death.

Womack, had died little more than a month shy of her 49th birthday of “blunt force trauma to head by assault,” according to the official death certificate. She suffered “left sided (sic) subdural hematoma (brain hemorrhaging generally associated with traumatic brain injury) because of a blow or blows to the head, and “multiple fractured ribs.

Her death was assigned to the parish coroner and Simpson had every reason to believe authorities would devote their energy to find her mother’s killer.

That was on Aug. 1, 2008, and more than 11 years later, no one has been charged with the killing and authorities have attempted to deflect Simpson’s inquiries into her mother’s case, saying (a) that she died from a fall and (b) her lifestyle was the primary contributing factor in her death.

Eighteenth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton has even implied to Simpson that she “will never know” the full story of Womack’s death.

Those words now seem prophetic since after more than 11 years, the case appears no closer to resolution than ever.

Kim Womack’s “lifestyle” kept resonating with Simpson, who was aware her mother was involved with a West Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy.

The only problem was, unbeknownst to Simpson, the deputy, WBR Sheriff’s deputy was married. It’s not known if Womack was aware that inconvenient fact.

When the deputy, whom Simpson says she had known all her life, was a no-show for her mother’s memorial, “I got suspicious.”

Clayton refused to provide the investigative report to Simpson. “He told me he would let me see the information but he could not let it get out because of the media got hold of it, it could ruin the deputy’s life and he wasn’t going to do that,” Simpson said.

She said she then went to the office of the deputy’s wife and “slapped my mom’s picture down in front of his wife. I asked if she knew the woman in the picture.” She said she told the woman that her mother was having an affair with her husband and my mom “has now turned up dead.”

Womack had accompanied the deputy to a training session in Lake Charles about three weeks before her death, Simpson said.

She said the man’s wife told her she would present her husband with what Simpson had given her and that the two women would talk the following day.

“I called her the next day and she wasn’t ugly, but she said she couldn’t talk to me anymore,” Simpson said.

“The deputy went to Tony Clayton’s office and threw a fit the next day,” she said. “And that’s the last I ever heard of it (the investigation).”

Ty Chaney, chief investigator for the Pointe Coupee Parish Coroner’s Office, did write a two-paragraph letter dated Jan. 28, 2020 that he attached to the six-page autopsy report in which he stipulated that “This death was a result of a left side Subdural Hematoma from Blunt Force trauma to head.

“This is still a pending homicide investigation with Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Office.” The autopsy report added that she suffered “multiple bruises and abrasions on the upper and lower extremities as well as the midfrontal region of the face.”

The problem with any investigation at this point is that Womack’s body was cremated by Rabenhorst Funeral Home of Baton Rouge on Aug. 4, 2008, just three days after her death.

Louisiana R.S. 13:5719 says “…If, after the necessary investigation, the coroner is satisfied that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, he shall issue a permit for cremation.”

An autopsy was completed but the coroner’s report made it plain that there were “suspicious circumstances. By cremating the body, any evidence that might have been overlooked was gone forever.

When prosecutors and law enforcement investigators are less diligent about solving crimes that are not sufficiently high-profile or because victims lack name recognition, social status or proper connections, or when prosecutors just go for the low-hanging fruit (read: easy cases), then justice is not being served on an equal and impartial basis.

Far from it. In fact, it smacks of either laziness or favoritism.

Clayton earlier this week formally announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, DA Ricky Ward who is retiring. This story likely will invoke howls of a political hatchet job. In an election year, that would be an expected reaction for a political candidate under fire. The truth is, however, that I know little about Tony Clayton and have no axe to grind with him. Nor do I know of any other potential candidate for the DA’s post in the three-parish 18th JDC.

The only dog I have in this hunt is contempt for any public official who appears to be shirking his duty to the people he or she serves or who is otherwise giving less than his/her best. And after 11 years of inaction on the Kim Womack case, it would appear that someone has gone to sleep on the job in the 18th JDC.

The alternative would seem to be that someone is indeed being protected.

 

Read Full Post »

You gotta love it when someone gets burned for their hypocrisy, tries to jump out in front of the story, and that effort falls flat.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who rails against illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, has the proverbial egg all over his face and his brother Benjamin’s 10-minute VIDEO on Youtube in an effort to blunt the effects of a stellar investigative report by the Baton Rouge Advocate landed with a thud.

And of course, The Hayride internet blog also attempted to come to Landry’s rescue, accusing the Baton Rouge paper of doing a hatchet job on poor Jeff.

Both Ben Landry and The Hayride accused the paper of attacking brother Jeff Landry because he’s a conservative but in doing so, neglected to observe that The Advocate has long been the unofficial official organ for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), quite possibly the most conservative businessmen’s club in the state of Louisiana.

But the bottom line is it’s pretty hard to defend Landry for his latest escapade: being part of a $17 million scam to hire Mexican welders and pipe fitters under H-2B visa rules through three companies owned by Jeff and Ben Landry.

Under terms of the deal, the Mexicans would work for CB&I, the prime contractor on the $7 billion Cameron LNG project in Hackberry in Cameron Parish. The three Landry companies would be subcontracted to a company run by Houston labor broker Marco Pesquera.

Pesquera made millions of dollars by defrauding the immigration system to bring more than a thousand Mexican laborers to the Gulf South but his luck finally ran out when he was convicted and began a three-year prison sentence in December for fraud.

Ben Landry, in his “Poor Me, Poor Jeff” video, blamed all his brothers’ woes on The Advocate and its reliance on a convicted felon for building its case against the attorney general.

Not said in that 10-minute diatribe was the fact that prosecutors like Jeff Landry often use jailhouse snitches, i.e. convicted felons, as the preferred ploy to convict defendants, frequently putting away innocent people, so playing the convicted felon card would seem rather disingenuous. I guess it’s okay when prosecutors do it.

It’s especially curious when you consider how Jeff Landry went to such great lengths to shield Pesquera and his company and his companies’ ties to Pesquera as well as how they embellished their claims for a need for foreign labor, documentation required by the feds.

H-2b visas are supposed to be issued only if there is a shortage of American workers to perform the needed work.

Southern Innovative Services was approved for 113 welders and pipefitters from Mexico and Evergreen got the nod for 195.

Records provided to The Advocate by the Louisiana Workforce Commission showed that 113 local welders and pipefitters applied for positions with Evergreen Contractors, one of three Landry companies involved in the scheme.

Pesquera told The Advocate that none of the Landry companies hired a single American for work—and never intended to.

Brent Littlefield, Jeff Landry’s campaign mouthpiece, refused to respond to repeated questions from The Advocate as to whether Evergreen hired any American welders or pipefitters.

While Evergreen obtained a contractor’s license in June 2018, his other two companies, Prime Response and Southern Innovative Services, have never obtained one as required by law and Jeff Landry, normally quick with the lip, has not responded to questions about the companies’ status regarding state contracting licenses.

And while Jeff Landry, who disrupted a State of the Union Address by President Obama while he was a member of Congress by holding up a sign opposing the drilling moratorium in the Gulf following the BP spill, was uncharacteristically mum in responding to The Advocate’s questions, his brother most certainly was not in his Youtube video.

The Advocate newspaper is on a crusade against my brother—my guess is, for no other reason than because he is a conservative,” Ben Landry said.

You have to wonder if Landry may have used his position as attorney general to lean on CB&I to hire those Mexican workers that he was importing at the same time he was publicly positioning himself as a dedicated opponent of illegal immigration.

Jeff Landry, it seems, couldn’t be satisfied with being a full-time attorney general; he just had to find a way to enrich himself while in office.

Funny, isn’t it, how politicians can conveniently bend their moral compasses so that north is south and east is west.

 

Read Full Post »

You can call last September’s arrest of Jerry Rogers several things:

  • Jerry Larpenter, Chapter Deux;
  • SLAPP;
  • Stupid;
  • All of the Above.

Especially stupid.

To refresh your memory, Rogers, a former St. Tammany Parish sheriff’s deputy, fired off an email to the family of slain Nanette Krentel that was critical of the official investigation into Krentel’s murder. Specifically, he leveled his criticism at lead investigator Det. Daniel Buckner, whom he described as “clueless.”

For his trouble, Sheriff Randy Smith directed that Rogers be arrested for criminal defamation, despite being advised by the St. Tammany Parish District Attorney’s office that the state’s criminal defamation law had been declared unconstitutional as to public officials, according to a LAWSUIT filed by Rogers.

Named as defendants in the litigation are Smith and deputies Danny Culpepper and Keith Canizaro.

The arrest and ensuing lawsuit evoked memories of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter who pulled a similar stunt when he spotted an online blog critical of him and other parish officials and promptly had an obliging judge sign a search warrant empowering Larpenter’s office to conduct a raid on the blogger’s home and to seize his computers. Larpenter, in the glow of his triumph, albeit temporary, crowed that when one criticizes him, “I’m coming after you.”

Except, of course, the warrant and the raid were unconstitutional and Larpenter’s office ended up ponying up about $250,000 to soothe the ruffled feelings of aggrieved blogger.

Just the kind of thing to make one wonder where the judges involved obtained their law degrees and why they would sign off on warrants that were so obviously unconstitutional.

But when considering political expedience, the rule of law often takes a back seat to the sweet (but again, temporary) taste of revenge.

In legal parlance, such legal maneuvers are known as Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP), a tactic honed to perfection during the civil rights era by Southern sheriffs and chiefs of police, particularly in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama.

Former Gov. Edwin Edwards, when questioned about his observations immediately after Larpenter’s raid but before litigation had been initiated, quipped, “I’d love to be that blogger’s lawyer.”

Prophetic words indeed. A federal judge held in that case that “no law enforcement officer in Sheriff Larpenter’s position would have an objectively reasonable belief, in light of clearly established law, that probable cause existed to support a warrant for the Andersons’ home” because it was based on criticism of a public official.

Now it’s Jerry Rogers’s turn at bat against another ill-conceived move by a sheriff and district court judge, in this case, one Hon. Raymond Childress.

That’s because as early as 2014, the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office was reminded of the status of Louisiana’s criminal defamation law, the lawsuit says.

The president of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association in 2014 “described arresting anyone for an alleged violation of an unconstitutional law as a waste of time and resources,” the lawsuit quotes a newspaper article as reporting.

“Sheriff Smith’s actions were intended to deter and chill Jerry Rogers’ exercise of his First Amendment right to express his opinion about STPSO,” Rogers’s petition asserts.

That, by the way, is a classic definition of a SLAPP lawsuit.

Not only did Judge Childress sign off on the AFFIDAVIT FOR ARREST WARRANT, but the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office even had the presence of mind to issue a self-serving PRESS RELEASE to announce its diligence in protecting its citizens from being exposed to such defamatory criticism and in the process, declaring its utter disregard of the law.

Except for the decision of the Louisiana Attorney General’s office to DECLINE TO PURSUE the case after noting that the Louisiana Supreme Court had “held [that] criminal defamation is unconstitutional insofar as it applies to statements made in reference to public figures engaged in public affairs.

“…[T]he statements made by Jerry Rogers were aimed directly towards a public function of a member of state government. Because the alleged conduct under these specific facts involve statements aimed at a public official performing public duties, this office is precluded by law from moving forward with any criminal action, Assistant Attorney General Joseph LeBeau wrote on January 8.”

So chastened, there was little wiggle room for the sheriff other than to WALK AWAY from his aborted attempt at retribution.

All of which served to invoke the third option in our multiple-choice observation at the beginning of this post:

Stupid.

 

Read Full Post »

In terms of head-scratching bewilderment, the appointment of Stephen Russo as interim secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH)—even with that word “interim” thrown in—by Gov. John Bel Edwards makes about as much sense as his reappointment of Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent back in 2016.

The governor’s announcement of Russo’s appointment to fill in for the departed Dr. Rebekah Gee was made on Friday (Jan. 31).

Compounding the obvious lack of vetting, word is that while a brief story by Sam Karlin in the Baton Rouge Advocate quoted Edwards as saying he has a “long list” of potential candidates for permanent secretary, the fix is apparently in for the appointment of Courtney Phillips. Click HERE to read that story.

I’ll get to Phillips later. First, let me re-hash a couple of LouisianaVoice stories that featured Russo rather prominently—and not in a particularly favorable light.

LouisianaVoice on January 18, 2018, almost two years ago to the day, published a story detailing a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement by an LDH female employee. More specifically, the story told of how the perpetrator, Attorney Supervisor Weldon Hill, was shielded and protected by Hill’s boss, Executive Counsel Stephen Russo. You can read that story by clicking HERE.

When the woman complained to Human Resources and to Hill’s supervisor, she was moved from her eighth-floor office to a converted storage room on the fifth floor. She was not provided a telephone nor was she allowed to take her computer with her to her new location.

Besides the legal settlement, that lawsuit cost the state more than $76,000 in LEGAL FEES.

We followed that story with another exactly three months later on April 18 in which we published a string of emails written by Russo on his state computer on state time on behalf of Dr. Gee during her negotiations  with LSU to retain her medical license, credentials and board certifications through continued part-time employment as a physician at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans.

(That alone should have triggered conflict of interests questions since she would be performing work for an agency overseen by—and which receives funding from—the agency she was heading at the time.)

Her appointment as LDH secretary was announced on Jan. 5, 2016, and by 3:12 p.m. on Jan. 13, Russo was already emailing LSUHSC Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier on Dr. Gee’s behalf.

A rank and file employee would be called on the carpet and perhaps fined for such a breach of ethics. A civil service employee of another agency, for example, was once fined $250 because a vendor had sent her—unsolicited—a baked ham for Christmas.

So, now the message is clear: vastly different standards apply dependent upon whether you are a rank-and-file civil servant or a privileged executive counsel of an agency. Play your political cards right and you might even get appointed interim secretary. Never mind those sexually harassed employees you leave in your wake.

Which now brings us back to Courtney Phillips, a Port Sulphur native who previously worked as Deputy Secretary of LDH, then known as the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), in the Bobby Jindal administration. She left that position in February 2015 to become CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

On Feb. 13, 2015, LouisianaVoice posted a story dealing with her employment at DHH during which time her mother was hired as a DHH employee, raising questions of NEPOTISM.

She left Lincoln in August 2018 for Austin to become Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Agency but not before leaving a path of destruction and low morale in her old agency.

On March 6, 2018, BRAD GIANAKOS, chief counsel for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, by all accounts a professional who cared deeply about his work, was summoned to the office of the agency’s chief operating officer where he was summarily fired and escorted out of the building.

He wasn’t the only one. Others met similar fate with no explanation other than the agency wanted to move “in a different direction.”

But when Gianakos interviewed for other state jobs, he found the doors closed. He concluded that he was being blackballed even though there never any allegations of wrongdoing or criticisms of the job he had done for two decades at HHS.

A month later, he was dead. Suicide.

And four months later Phillips moved on, leaving behind an agency missing many longtime managers and administrators who also left but for different reasons: a harsh working environment.

And now, less than four years after leaving Louisiana in the broad daylight and less than two years after departing Lincoln, she may again be on the move—this time back to Louisiana where she will rejoin Russo.

It’s enough to make you scratch your head in bewilderment.

 

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: