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Archive for the ‘Health Care’ Category

First and foremost, there is nothing in the job description requirements that says the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) must—or should—be a physician.

Nor does the state receive any benefit from the secretary’s maintaining a medical license or credentials and board certifications.

So, why should the head of the state’s largest department devote so much time, effort, and manpower on attempts to secure her professional credentials outside her state job?

Dr. Rebekah Gee was appointed Secretary of LDH by Gov. John Bel Edwards in January 2016 as he came to office. Prior to that, she was employed by the LSU HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER (LSUHSC) in New Orleans where she served as an obstetrician/gynecologist and as assistant professor of health policy and management.

So, it stands to reason that any attempt by LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee to pursue negotiations with LSU to retain her medical license, credentials, and board certifications through continued part-time employment as a physician at LSUHSC would be done on her own behalf and at her personal legal expenses.

Certainly, rank-and-file state employees must adhere to strict guidelines regarding the use of state computers, email addresses and telephone numbers—not to mention the taboo of calling on state attorneys to do private legal work on state time and state equipment.

Instead, following her appointment as secretary, she apparently directed the department’s legal counsel to pursue negotiations with LSU on her behalf on state time and using his state email address and signing off on his email correspondence with LSU as the executive counsel for the department.

Included in the email thread were negotiations on Dr. Gee’s behalf for her to retain her tenure at LSU (pretty difficult, considering her status was reduced to unpaid volunteer) and for LSU to pony up the premiums to keep her medical malpractice insurance from lapsing—a pretty generous financial windfall in its own right.

And all that doesn’t even address the apparent conflict of interest in her performing work for an agency overseen by—and which receives funding from—the department which she now heads.

As they say, rank does have its privileges and the series of emails back and forth between executive counsel Stephen Russo and LSU officials appears pretty rank.

Gee’s APPOINTMENT was announced on Jan. 5, 2016, and before she could even get settled into her office, the email campaign by Russo had begun in earnest.

At 3:12 p.m. on Jan 13, Russo emailed LSUHSC Chancellor Dr. Larry Hollier to ask “if there is anything you need from us regarding Dr. Gee. My understanding is that she will not be receiving compensation for providing services at the LSU clinic. If that is the case, that is a good starting point to make sure we are well clear of any issues…”

At 5:15 p.m. that same day, Hollier responded: “Dr. Gee will receive a ‘gratis appointment’ and will not receive compensation from LSUHSC. She would like to still see patients to maintain her medical licensure; we are happy to have her see patients. Would there be any ‘conflict of interest’ or other issues since, as Sect. of DHH (since renamed LDH), she ‘oversees’ Medicaid payments to LSUHSC?”

The following day, Jan. 14, LSUHSC General Counsel Katherine Muslow emailed Russo at 1:36 p.m. to say, “In addition to the prohibitions provided in the Governmental Code of Ethics, the incompatibility provisions of (state statutes) should also be reviewed for applicability.”

She then went on to list six “incompatibility provisions” which she seemed to feel would prohibit Dr. Gee from working even as a volunteer for an agency partially funded by the department that she headed.

On Jan. 15, Russo, still on the state clock at 1:28 p.m. and still on a state computer, wrote LSUHSC General Counsel Katherine Muslow and others from his state email account to ask that “y’all email or telephone us and let is (sic) know the legal relationship today between y’all and secretary gee (sic).”

At 1:40 p.m., Dr. Hollier emailed Russo to reiterate that Dr. Gee “is our gratis faculty with no compensation.”

Two minutes later, Russo, apparently having not fully digested the content of Muslow’s list of reasons why Dr. Gee could not work for LSU (and too excited to bother with punctuation), responded to Hollier: “Super so she is not contract or anything but like any other faculty just not compensated?”

He finally got around to responding to Muslow at 6:32 p.m. that day: “Good deal. I am sending to my ethics folks. I have not been talking with the attorney general and have not sought a formal ethics opinion.”

On Jan. 19, Russo was back at it early, emailing Hollier at 8:33 a.m. to discuss the termination of the contract between LDH and LSUHSC for the Medicaid Medical DIRECTOR position, the position Dr. Gee had held at LSUHSC. “Before we date and send the contract termination,” he wrote, “the Secretary (Dr. Gee) would like for me to confirm the following:

  1. Her current LSU title;
  2. Her tenure status;
  3. The dates when she can begin clinic.”

At 9:48 a.m., Hollier responded: “She is an Associate Professor, gratis appointment. She had tenure but loses that since she is not Full Time; but whenever she returns to FT (full time), I will simply restore her Tenure. She will arrange to see patients two half-days a month, starting I believe after the special session. I am waiting for final clearance from LSU System Counsel.”

The news about Gee’s loss of tenure must’ve thrown Dr. Gee and by extension, Russo, into a tizzy. On Jan 21 at 2:54 p.m., Russo emailed Hollier: “Can yall’s (sic) lawyers look at this tenure issue again? It is obviously a little worrisome that she would be ‘losing’ tenure. Personally, your word is good as gold to me but what if you have moved to greater adventures.”

“I am happy to have it reviewed again,” answered Hollier at 3:48 p.m., “but regs say tenure only for full time employees. I will see what other options might be available.”

So, bottom line, what we have here is the secretary of a state department:

  • Working for an agency over which her department has jurisdiction;
  • Attempting to retain tenure from her old job even though state regulations clearly say an employee must be full time to earn or keep tenure;
  • Attempting to have the state pay for her medical malpractice insurance;
  • Instructing a subordinate (legal counsel Stephen Russo) perform private legal work on state time and on state equipment on behalf of her efforts to retain private part time employment.

As the late C.B. Forgotston would say, you can’t make this stuff up.

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Physicians Health Foundation (PHF), which for years has abetted the Louisiana Board of Medical Examiners in targeting vulnerable medical practitioners in a manner reminiscent of the tactics employed by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry, now finds itself in the crosshairs of State Sen. John Milkovich (D-Shreveport).

Both boards have for years flown under the radar of governors, legislators and the media but more and more, attention is being given to their near-autonomous rule by intimidation and extortion.

PHF, also known as the Healthcare Professionals’ Foundation of Louisiana (HPFL), is located on Bluebonnet Boulevard in Baton Rouge and it currently is about halfway through a three-year, $1.35 million contract with the Board of Medical Examiners to run a “Statewide Operations of Physicians Health Program.”

And, since the Board of Dentistry has been mentioned, it might be worth noting that PHF also is just over a year into a three-year, $287,000 contract with that board to “develop, create and administer the Dental Health Professional Monitoring Program.”

By its own admission in a lawsuit to be discussed later in this post, it is not a treatment facility. So, just what does PHF (or HPFL) do to earn its money?

Well, for the Board of Medical Examiners, it appears to extract huge fees from medical professionals (which includes doctors, physician assistants, podiatrists, medical psychologists, dentists and dental hygienists) who are found to have addiction problems or who the board deems to have committed other transgressions.

And since its contract with the Board of Medical Examiners includes dentists, it is unclear why there is a need for a separate $287,000 contract with the Dentistry Board.

But like the Dental Board, the Board of Medical Examiners has set itself up as accuser, prosecutor, judge and jury in investigating complaints and handing down its decisions. Again, like the Dental Board, the Board of Medical Examiners even conducts its own hearings whenever a doctor appeals one of its decisions.

And the board remains a stellar undefeated record in 20 years of reviews of its decisions that are appealed.

Which probably is the reason Sen. Milkovich feels the need for his SB 286, which would establish a Physicians’ Bill of Rights designed to protect their rights whenever they are brought under the scrutiny of the board. More about that shortly.

In addition to its ability to suspend licenses of medical professionals, the board wields a big stick in its ability to coerce licensees into signing consent agreements to enter into rehab.

And those consent agreements often come with large price tags in the form of fees and penalties. Many state regulatory boards, the Board of Medical Examiners and the Dentistry Board included, receive their budgets not from legislative appropriations but from membership fees and financial penalties assessed against members accused and convicted of violations, some of which, though minor, still carry large fines.

Doctors and other medical practitioners apparently are referred to the rehab centers by PHF (or HPFL) whose spokesperson indicated to LouisianaVoice that it has a list of approved facilities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, among others.

PHF’s $1.35 million contract with the Medical Board runs from Aug. 1, 2016 through July 31, 2019.

One of those rehab centers is PALMETTO Addiction Recovery Center in Rayville.

That facility became involved in a lawsuit in 2009 after one of its staff members. Dr. Douglas Wayne Cook became sexually involved with one of the center’s patients. The husband of the victim sued Cook, who is no longer with Palmetto but who does continue to have a private practice in Richland Parish.

 

Milkovich’s bill, already reported out of committee favorably, is scheduled to be brought before the entire Senate on Monday.

“Under Louisiana’s current board system, physicians often face an uneven playing field, rigged proceedings, and a stacked deck,” Milkovich said. “Licensed, dedicated and highly qualified professionals may have their licenses threatened, suspended, or revoked, based on false accusations, anonymous complaints, and spurious charges. Doctors are often administratively charged by the board without even being informed of the identity of their accusers, the evidence against them, or even the substance of the accusations brought against them. This injustice is compounded by the heavy-handed and inequitable tactics employed by some Board staff.

“We understand that there must be a fair and sound disciplinary process for physicians, to protect the public. However, the goal of board proceedings for physicians should be impartiality, fairness, and integrity—not intimidation, falsification, and inequity.

“The aim of SB 286 is to level the playing field, un-stack the deck and render the Board’s adjudication of doctors more transparent. Everyone deserves Due Process. And that includes doctors.”

The bill, according to the BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE, would require stricter communication requirements during board investigations and would require that the board provide physicians under investigation written notice of complaints within 10 days or receipt. Moreover, the bill would require that the board reveal the identity of the complainant and would prohibit ex parte communications by board members prior to a hearing on the pending investigation.

One critic of the board, Dr. Greg Stephens said criminals and terrorists receive “more due process than we give doctors.” He and his former boss, Dr. John Gianforte, said they were coerced into consenting to voluntary license suspensions and mandated substance abuse treatment without either being allowed to give their side of the story.

They were suspended following claims that Stephens allowed unqualified staff members to write and sign prescriptions in his name while serving as medical director at a clinic in Shreveport when in fact, the prescription pad was stolen by two employees and Stephens’ name forged. Gianforte said the two employees were fired and one was later charged by law enforcement authorities.

Milkovich even cited a case where a New Orleans physician practicing at Tulane Medical Center committed suicide last November. His license was summarily suspended in June following an investigation but was reinstated in October. By then, however, the doctor had lost privileges, positions and future opportunities as a result of the investigation, the senator said.

In another case, the family of another doctor filed suit against PFL when the doctor, informed that he had had tested positive for drug use, committed suicide a few hours later. The doctor’s family was told by PFL that its programs and personnel had statutorily qualified immunity from legal liability regarding their activities and that they were further protected by a release and a hold-harmless agreement with the Physicians Health Program.

RAMEY V. DECAIRE

PHF was successful in getting the Louisiana Supreme Court to rule that it was exempt under the peremptory exception of no cause of action and the family’s lawsuit was dismissed. PHF, apparently not satisfied with merely winning, then went after the family for legal sanctions, claiming their suit was frivolous and without reasonable good faith. The trial court denied PHF’s motion and PHF appealed. The First Circuit Court of Appeal upheld the trial court and assessed costs against PHF.

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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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