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The City of Covington has hired a local Louisiana law firm, Porteous Hainkel & Johnson LLP to take on America’s pharmaceutical industry for knowingly mislabeling and misrepresenting their opiate-based drugs which have resulted in a spiraling addiction crisis across the nation, according to a news release from the Brylski media relations firm in New Orleans.

The epidemic has resulted in thousands of deaths and rising costs in safety, public health and other local services needed to treat the problems created, according to attorney William Lozes.

On January 16, 2018, the Covington City Council gave Mayor Mike Cooper the authority to retain Porteous, Hainkel & Johnson LLP for representation in a civil action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Porteous, represented by local attorneys Ralph Alexis and Lozes, is part of a national leadership team of attorneys that includes lead consultant Stuart Smith LLC, Kevin Thompson, Kevin Malone and Kent H. Robbins. Their clients will consist of hospitals, parishes, counties, cities, non-profit health providers, drug rehab centers, coroners, foster care agencies, and other public third-parties like local police departments in states from Missouri, West Virginia, New York, Florida, Ohio, Minnesota and Texas.

“The legal team will help local governments like Covington in attempts to recoup the unreimbursed expenses for dealing with a drug crisis which is reducing American’s life-expectancy and resulting in a death-rate that now out-paces violent gun deaths in the nation’s largest cities,” Lozes said.

St. Tammany Parish saw an outbreak of heroin related deaths in January. Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz recently joined police chiefs and sheriffs from around the country at the White House to give a local face to the problem, since death overdoses now out-pace car-related deaths 2-to-1.

“Our law enforcement and criminal justice system is on the front lines of dealing with the crisis, which is impacting families from every spectrum of our society,” Cooper said. “We have chosen a local law firm, Porteous Hainkel & Johnson LLP, with 90 years of experience and four offices in Louisiana to help us seek reimbursement for the incredible public costs created by this rampant problem.

“Hopefully, we can recover some of the extensive costs that the City has incurred dealing with this rampant problem and put the money into treatment programs to address the opioid addiction problem firsthand.”

The contracted legal team, along with other top nationally recognized “super lawyers,” has extensive experience prosecuting claims for impacted plaintiffs across the United States.

“Our team is ready to protect the interests of all those who have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of the callous actions of the drug manufacturers,” Lozes said. “It’s time for the legal and medical professions to stand up and work together to help solve this health crisis.”

“Due to extensive public indebtedness on federal and state levels, it seems reasonable and logical to conclude that those who profit off this health disaster should pay,” Smith said. “The American civil justice system is well suited for this purpose.”

The team alleges that civil lawsuits brought against the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, opioid drug distributors and/or wholesalers, and big retail pharmacies are the only way to remedy the prescription opioid drug epidemic.

Prospective plaintiffs include public entities, like, the City of Covington, and private ones such as hospitals, which have massive unreimbursed expenses from opioid-related issues.

Some of the facts presented by the law group and its medical expert Dr. Brent Bell, PA-C/Radiation Oncology, include:

  • Prescription opioids killed almost twice as many people in the U.S. as heroin in 2014, and surpassed car accident deaths in the U.S;
  • Nearly 100 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, and half of all overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid;
  • 91% of persons who have a non-fatal overdose of opioids are prescribed opioids again within one year;
  • Seven in 10 opioids overdoses that are treated in an ER are for prescription opioids;
  • The Centers for Disease Control in 2016 disputed pharmaceutical company claims that opiate addiction is not possible in patients with chronic pain;
  •  CDC and Federal Drug Administration guidelines in 2016 also stated that the benefits of high opiate dosage for chronic pain are not established and not proven to increase patient function or have a long-term benefit in reducing pain.

“America’s opioid crisis has resulted in huge and non-reimbursable expenses related to ER visits, training costs, lost employee productivity due to addiction, increased need for police resources, and the under-reported impact on foster care where one-third of all children entering are from drug addicted households,” Lozes said.

“Facts show that pharmaceutical drug companies and their distribution partners exaggerated the benefits of opioids, downplayed risks and consequences, knew the drugs were being overly prescribed, yet failed to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit and monitor the dose,” Smith said.

The lawsuits also focus on distributors’ violation of the Controlled Substances Act by failing to report the unusual patterns associated with the opioid purchases and use. The attorneys point to multiple on-the-record admissions of wrongdoing by many manufacturers and distributors of opioids. Many of these target defendants have pleaded guilty to criminal violation and/or paid massive fines; their liability is unquestioned, according to Smith.

“We’re proud to represent the City of Covington and others in Louisiana,” Lozes said. “It’s time to help those like Chief Lentz, who are putting their lives on the line through programs like Operation Angel to deal with a problem that clearly has been created in the name of profit.”

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By Morgan Statt, Guest Columnist

It’s 2005, and the National All Schedules Prescription Reporting Act (HR 1132) is on President George W. Bush’s desk ready to sign. With one fell swoop he signs the bill into law, and it grants all states $100 million in funding to aid prescription drug monitoring services. Shortly after, former Louisiana representative Billy Tauzin abandons his post in the House of Representatives and accepts a job as President and CEO of PhRMA, a major lobbying group for pharmaceutical companies. Instead of celebrating the bill being signed into law, Tauzin finds a way to dismantle the allocation of funding.

Now, let’s bring it back to present day. Today, there is an almost daily snippet of news on America’s opioid epidemic, one that has ravaged nearly every area of the country. In 2016, more than 63,600 opioid overdose deaths were reported, the highest number ever, and new reports show that the crisis is lowering the average American life expectancy.

What’s being done to combat the crisis that either directly or indirectly affects millions of Americans?

For one, states are strengthening their prescription monitoring programs, the very thing Rep. Tauzin dismantled funding for in 2005. Although these programs have been in place for a number of years, only a limited number of providers have taken advantage of their ability to detect and deter abuse. Additionally, cities and states across the country have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for their role in the crisis.

And Louisiana is one of them.

In September 2017, the Louisiana Department of Health filed a lawsuit against 16 drug manufacturers, among them OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, at the 19th Judicial Court in Baton Rouge. The suit claims that the named companies used aggressive marketing tactics and encouraged physicians to prescribe opioids under the guise that they were not addictive.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has said that “Louisiana is one of eight states that has more opioid prescriptions than residents.” Despite the fact that Big Pharma played a role in the opioid epidemic, will these lawsuits actually make a difference? Even if there was an astronomical payout, will these lawsuits help to end the crisis and prevent future epidemics?

The short answer is: no.

Big Pharma is like that rich, popular kid in high school we all knew. They used their money and status to manipulate peers and played off students’ desires to be a part of their inner circle.

Similarly, Big Pharma uses status and influence to get what it wants. Its targets for manipulation span multiple areas of the industry, which include the current regulations in place and clinical trials.

Before we can even have a sliver of hope that a hefty payout will change its ways, we have to tackle the pharmaceutical industry’s influence head-on to see any real impact on its actions. We can start by addressing these two areas of influence.

Drug companies have the ability to fund clinical trials.

Imagine you come out of surgery and are placed on a blood thinner to prevent any clotting from happening once you’re off the operating table. You’ve been told of the internal bleeding side effects, but there just so happens to be no known antidote on the market yet to serve as treatment if such complications arise.

This was the case for the anticoagulant Pradaxa. In 2010, the medication was met with FDA approval and put on the market without an antidote. But then severe internal bleeding incidents took place, and over 1,000 people died as a result of being prescribed the medication. Since then, manufacturer Boehringer Ingelheim has had a slew of Pradaxa lawsuits filed against it for its role in patient harm.

I bring up Pradaxa as an example because it points to issues with the clinical trial process that exist today. In a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, clinical trial funding that has been traditionally provided by the National Institute of Health has fallen dramatically over the years. To supplement the lack of funding, pharmaceutical companies sponsor the trials. But, this presents the opportunity for companies with financial interest in the trial outcomes to favor positive results over any negative side effects that could occur.

In the case of Pradaxa, its industry-funded clinical trial RE-LY was met with criticism from drug safety groups for generalizing the medication’s potential population and failing to be carried out as a double-blind study. Skewed trial results led to hasty FDA approval and ultimately the creation of a $650 million settlement fund in 2014 that Boehringer Ingelheim used to settle over 4,000 claims.

Laws & regulations favor Big Pharma.

Despite legislators’ best attempts to protect consumers, certain laws & regulations currently in place often aid pharmaceutical companies’ business ventures, rather than prioritizing patient safety. One such law that has faced criticism in recent years is the 21st Century Cures Act, which loosened regulations on the drug and medical device approval process.

Although put in place to encourage innovation and quicken the ability for life-saving drugs to get to market, critics argue that the real winners of the bill were the drug companies. As part of the “loosening” of regulations, Big Pharma can now get away with using only “data summaries” instead of conducting full clinical trials to get drug approval. They’re also now able to promote off-label uses for their medications, enabling them to expand their markets – and their profits.

Ironically enough, drug companies aggressively promoted the off-label use of opioids and contributed to the rise in addictions across the country. Look no further than Insys Therapeutics’ push for non-cancer patients to take Subsys, a “powerful, fentanyl-based liquid” originally marketed for cancer patients with pain that couldn’t be treated with any other option.

As much as we’d like to pretend that lawsuits against Big Pharma can play a role in solving the opioid crisis, this isn’t the case. Drug companies’ influence stretches far and wide, and it may be time to strip that influence away little by little.

Let’s scrutinize the laws and regulations in place that give Big Pharma the upper hand. Let’s consider alternative funding sources for clinical trials that would allow little room for bias. But most importantly, let’s find a way to ensure that lawmakers, lobbyists, and other government officials are committed to doing what’s best for the American public rather than chasing that dollar sign.

(Morgan Statt is a Health & Safety Investigator for Consumersafety.org, a consumer information organization which strives to provide information about recalls and safety-related news about drugs, medical devices, food, and consumer products.)

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When Judge Robert James moved to senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on May 31, 2016, State Judge Terry Doughty of the 5th Judicial District Court (Franklin, Richland and West Carroll parishes) made one call.

That call, to U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a fellow member of the First Baptist Church of Rayville, to express his interest in a federal judgeship, proved productive, but not right away. He was interviewed by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter but his nomination was not taken up by the Obama Administration.

But following the elections of Vitter’s successor John Neely Kennedy to the Senate and Donald Trump to the presidency, things changed. Follow up interviews took place, this time with Cassidy and Kennedy, and upon the recommendation of Cassidy and Abraham, Doughty was interviewed by the White House in April 2017 and officially nominated on Aug. 3.

If one follows the connections between Doughty, Abraham, and former 5th JDC Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens (since elected to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal) back far enough, some old familiar names start to pop up.

Names like former State Legislator (both the House and Senate) and now Legislative Director for Gov. John Bel Edwards NOBLE ELLINGTON, Bobby Jindal and Vantage Health Plan.

(Major League Baseball, which once held franchise rights on recycling coaches and managers, has nothing on Louisiana politicians. Edwards, when in the legislature, was a thorn in the side of Jindal but when he became governor, he couldn’t resist reappointing many of Jindal’s foot soldiers—people like like Jimmy LeBlanc, Burl Cain, Mike Edmonson, Butch Browning and Ellington.)

Now Ellington’s son, Noble Ellington, III, whose own home health care BUSINESS failed, now works as Director of Shared Savings for Vantage Healthcare in Monroe. Could politics have played a part in his hiring? We will probably never know, but the pieces were certainly in place.

AFFINITY HEALTHCARE, an affiliate of Vantage Health Plan, Inc. and which shares the same address at 130 DeSiard Street in Monroe, purchased the medical practice of Abraham’s MEDICAL CLINIC, formerly of 261 Hwy. 132 in Mangham (now the address of Affinity Health Group).

So, what’s the big deal about Vantage Healthcare?

Nothing much except back in October 2014, LouisianaVoice did a fairly comprehensive STORY about how the Jindal administration and Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) conspired to circumvent the state’s bid laws in order to allow Vantage to purchase a state office building in downtown Monroe on the cheap even though there was another serious buyer interested in the property.

That building, the old Virginia Hotel, constructed in 1935, is a six-story, 100,750-square-foot building that cost $1.6 million when built. It underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984 and was being used as a state office building when it was sold to Vantage for $881,000, a little more than half its cost when it was built more than eight decades ago. One might have expected the building, if properly maintained, to appreciate in value over the years, not depreciate by 45 percent.

The state could afford to unload the building because it owns another six-story office building containing nearly 250,000-square-feet of floor space a couple of blocks away, at 122 St. John Street in Monroe, but that seems little justification for selling the Virginia at fire sale prices.

But even with 109,000 square-feet of vacant office space available in the building on St. John, where do you think Judge Stephens and fellow Appeal Court Judge Milton Moore chose to locate their offices?

In the Vantage Healthcare building, of course.

NELASOB REPORT

LouisianaVoice has made public records requests to determine the cost to the state of housing the judges in the Vantage building instead of the state-owned building with all that available space but those records have not been forthcoming yet.

Regardless, someone in Baton Rouge needs to explain why the state is paying rent to a private entity for office space in a building which that entity received at bargain basement prices—from the state—as some sort of underhanded political favor—orchestrated by the Jindal administration’s circumvention of the state bid laws, aided and abetted by four North Louisiana legislators.

But the minor issue of where his office is housed doesn’t seem to be the type of thing that would bother Stephens anyway. After all, there is a photo, apparently posted on his Facebook page that shows him holding up the antlers of a deer he shot—at night? One person commented, “Illegal to hunt at night, ain’t it?” to which Stephens replied, “It’s illegal to get caught.”

And when he was running for the appellate court in 2016, there were more than 160 people who signed onto a newspaper ad endorsing his candidacy. Among them was one Donna Remides.

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

In December 2013, a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans said Ms. Remides was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment for lying in order to secure loans to hide more than $600,000 in thefts from the federally-funded non-profit Northeast Delta Resource Conservation and Development Council (NDRC&DC).

She was employed as a project coordinator by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to work for the council in Winnsboro. From January 2001 to December 2010, she used the NDRC&DC accounts to pay herself $640,000 without authorization. She wrote herself and her private business checks during the 10-year period and obtained loans in the name of the council to cover the thefts.

Granted, Stephens has no control over who purchases a newspaper advertisement to endorse his candidacy. But that, coupled with the controversy over his refusal to recuse his pal Doughty from a trial involving a LAWSUIT against a bank with some questionable links to Doughty, the flippant remark about illegal night hunting, the office space at Vantage, the same personalities tying both judges to Vantage, Abraham and Ellington…

But then again, maybe that’s what qualifies both judges for their positions in the political climate in which we currently find ourselves.

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Oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on Nov. 7 in the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge on a three-year-old matter that a layman unfamiliar with the way in which judges can manipulate and interpret laws to keep the meter running would think should have been settled two years ago.

But settling cases quickly and decisively is not the way the courts work and because of that, the case involving the unconstitutional closure of Huey P. Long Medical Center (HPLMC) in Pineville in 2014 rocks on, continuing to rack up fees for contract attorneys for the state—all paid for thanks to the generosity of Louisiana taxpayers.

Meanwhile, the fate of some 570 employees has been held in abeyance since the hospital’s closure on June 30, 2014.

And the manner in which its closure was approved prompted the lawsuit by plaintiffs Edwin Ray Parker, Kenneth Brad Ott and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Here’s the way it all went down:

At 4:07 p.m. on April 1, 2014, a notice of the April 2 meeting at 9 a.m. of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to consider Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 48 which “Provides for legislative approval of and support to the Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University for the strategic collaboration with the state in creating a new model of health care delivery in the Alexandria and Pineville areas.”

A “new model of health care delivery” was a clever way of wording the SCR so as not to tip the hand of the Jindal administration’s intent to shutter the doors of HPLMC. Who could possibly be expected to discern from that goony-babble that in less than 24 hours, the decision would become final to close the facility?

There were only two key things wrong, either of which should have been sufficient grounds to stop closure of HPLMC.

First, the Senate’s own rules promulgated in accordance with the Louisiana Open Meetings Law LA 42:19(B), which says that notice of all such meetings must be posted no later than 1:00 p.m. the day prior to the meeting and if notice is posted after 1:00 p.m., the agenda item may not be heard the next day. (emphasis added)

Second, in a 1986 case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that:

A concurrent resolution…makes no binding policy; it is ‘a means of expressing fact, principles, opinions, and purposes of the two House (House of Representatives and Senate).” (emphasis added)

Attorney J. Arthur Smith, III of Baton Rouge argues that Article III, Paragraph 14 of the Louisiana Constitution provides that the style of a law “shall be ‘…enacted by the Legislature of Louisiana’” and Paragraph 15(A) which says rather bluntly, “The legislature shall enact no law except by a bill introduced during that session…” (emphasis added)

Smith said, “The Legislature cannot amend Louisiana statutes by resolution” because an enacting clause “distinguishes legislative action as law rather than a mere resolution” as held in First National Bank of Commerce, New Orleans v. J.R. Eaves in that “failure to include a significant portion of the enacting clause renders the law unconstitutional.”

To put all that in plain English, Smith is simply pointing out case precedents which hold that a concurrent resolution is not the same as a legislative bill and therefore, is not binding.

That’s pretty straightforward and something that a first-year law student should be able to comprehend.

Yet, when the state appealed the ruling of State Judge Pro-Tem Robert Downing of June 23, 2014, which granted plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction because the Senate committee violated the Open Meetings Law and provisions of Article III of the Louisiana Constitution, the First Circuit managed somehow to overlook the violations.

Instead, it ruled the state’s appeal as moot since HPLMC closed on June 30, 2014, seven days after Downing’s ruling and the First Circuit did so without even bothering to address the issues on which Downing’s ruling was based.

Moreover, the state appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court on the basis of the declaration of the unconstitutionality of SCR 48. On Jan. 13, 2017, the Supreme Court denied the state’s appeal as moot but on Feb. 24 of this year, granted a rehearing to the First Circuit.

So now, a three-judge panel comprised of Judge John Michael Guidry, Judge John T. Pettigrew and Judge William J. Crain will hear arguments on the constitutionality of SCR 48 and of violations of the Open Meetings Law.

Interestingly, the state argues that notices to the public “need not contain anything other than a bill number” and that the Senate “has no obligation to inform the public of the nature or substance of the legislative proposals it will be considering.”

Now that’s a damned interesting concept. Who knew we, the public, had no right to be informed of what our elected representatives are up to? Who knew the people we elect and send to Baton Rouge have “no obligation” to let us know what they’re cooking up in the House that Huey built? Who knew the Bobby Jindal administration could push a concurrent resolution through the Senate and call it a law? Who knew such upright public servants as Jindal and members of the Senate committee would flim-flam us?

Louisiana R.S. 42:24 authorizes the courts to void “any action taken in violation” provided a lawsuit to void any action “must be commenced within 60 days of the action.”

The Baton Rouge firm of Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips is representing the State in the HPLMC litigation.

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Long before he took an oath of office to serve first in the Louisiana Legislature and later in the U.S. Senate, Bill Cassidy took the Hippocratic Oath.

But one would never know that from the abomination called the Cassidy-Graham Bill that, if passed would replace the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

This is not a defense of Obamacare. I know little about the ACA other than (a) it has provided health care for millions, including about 400,000 in Louisiana who otherwise would have no health care insurance, and (b) it’s far from perfect.

From what little I know about it, a single-pay plan seems to be the best alternative—if there must be an alternative plan for one that could probably be rescued with a little bipartisanship and a common-sense approach to correcting and improving existing problems. (I know, bipartisanship and cooperation in politics have gone the way of the telephone booth and Life magazine.)

That said, it’s pretty obvious that the Republicans in Congress are far less interested in the welfare of poor Americans, particularly those with pre-existing conditions, than they are in beating down anything with the Obama name attached to it.

And that’s the issue in a nutshell: Obama. They couldn’t get him on his citizenship or his religion, so they (with apologies to Fed-Ex) “absolutely, positively” have to erase all evidence that he ever existed. In a Congress hopelessly gridlocked on everything, it’s the one issue on which most Republicans are fixated: Get rid of Obamacare if we don’t do anything else—and we probably won’t (do anything else, that is).

Cassidy and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are just the latest to attach their names to that list of Republicans who would defeat Obamacare at all costs, no matter the consequences to millions of working poor Americans.

That said, their latest attempt at tearing down Obamacare would leave those with pre-existing conditions the most vulnerable. Both senators claim that no one would lose coverage under the latest plot against Obamacare disguised as an alternative, but in reality, their premiums would be unaffordable.

Scott Adams, creator of the popular Dilbert comic strip read daily in hundreds of newspapers, has his own take on Cassidy-Graham, which would transfer responsibility to the states.

“The responsible approach,” Adams says, “would be to test some healthcare ideas in a few states or counties and then work with what we learned. A wholesale change such as transferring responsibility to the states is reckless and, in my opinion, unethical. The unethical part is that moving funding to the states is little more than a political trick to protect Republicans in the 2018 elections. It has nothing to do with helping citizens.

“…I am forgiving of politicians who intentionally exaggerate and ignore facts, so long as their intentions appear to be directed at the greater good. But shifting money for healthcare to the states is for the benefit of Congress, not the greater good.

“My bottom line is that I can support a government plan that involves testing small before going big. But going big on an untested idea is not leadership. It is just bad management, or worse.”

Isn’t it interesting that a cartoonist would have such a firm grasp on the obvious when our elected officials can’t seem to come to grips with reality? But then it was a cartoonist (Thomas Nast) who helped bring down New York City’s William M. “Boss” Tweed.

The issue long ago ceased to be about health care: it’s all about Obama, plain and simple. Nothing else. And whether you like him or not, that should not be the focus—but sadly, it has become an obsession with Republicans, particularly those who identify with two of the most divisive Americans of the 20th century—Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh, with honorable mention to Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and a few others.

It has reached the point that Republicans in Congress are crawling over each other to be the one who can make the claim in his re-election campaign that he was the one who delivered us up from the evils of Obamacare.

And that’s a damn poor excuse to embark on a crusade of destruction.

Cassidy, in taking the HIPPOCRATIC OATH, swore, among other things, to the best of ability and judgment to:

  • Apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required;
  • Remember that…warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife of the chemist’s drug;
  • Not be ashamed to say, “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are need for a patient’s recovery;
  • Tread with care in matters of life and death;
  • Remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems;
  • Remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the inform.

There is another PRINCIPLE taught in health care providing classes that often is mistakenly thought to be part of the Hippocratic Oath but in fact, is not.

It is the Latin phrase primum non nocere.

Translated, it says, “First do no harm.”

The point of “first do no harm” is that, in certain situations, it may well be better to do nothing rather than intervening and potentially causing more harm than good.

Dr. Cassidy appears to have forgotten a lot that he learned.

Or perhaps he was just absent on those days as he was on those occasions when he billed LSU for teaching classes while in he was in Washington.

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