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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

There’s an old saying from back in the days of my long-lost youth that sometimes you have to hit a mule in the head with a two-by-four to get his attention,

And before I start getting bombarded by animal rights activists, I’m not advocating hitting mules or any other animal with anything.

And I’m not calling the good folks at WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge mules. But a $2.5 million preliminary default judgment levied against the station and its investigative reporter after the station failed to answer a defamation LAWSUIT against it and reporter Chris Nakamoto was the club that got the station’s attorneys’ attention.

The two-page JUDGMENT, signed in chambers by 21st Judicial District Court Judge Doug Hughes of Denham Springs, isn’t likely to stand for a number or reasons put forth by station attorney Stephen Babcock of Baton Rouge.

But the main point to be taken from this litigation is that it may well be the first volley fired across the bow of Baton Rouge media as part of a growing trend toward the filing of the so-called SLAPP lawsuits.

SLAPP is the acronym for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation and that’s precisely what it means: lawsuits filed not to win a judgment, but to discourage legitimate questions about official misconduct lest citizens asking the questions—or in this instance, the reporter and his news medium—be forced to shell out tens of thousands of dollars defending themselves.

In this case, WBRZ, as opposed to an ordinary citizen like Welsh City Alderman JACOB COLBY PERRY, has legal liability insurance and can well afford to defend itself. Still, such lawsuits call a station’s and reporter’s integrity and credibility into question and can conceivably injure the reporter’s career opportunities.

An editor in my professional past once told me, “If you haven’t been sued, you aren’t doing your job.” Well, that’s a form of validation I can live without. It’s not unlike being pecked to death by a duck.

I’ll leave it to WBRZ, Nakamoto and their legal team to explain why they never bothered to answer the lawsuit filed by Livingston attorney Wyman Bankston on behalf of State Police Lt. Robert Burns of Livingston Parish—if they care to put forth an explanation. But I will say from my layman’s viewpoint, it’s unwise to ignore litigation. People are trying to get into your pocket and it’s prudent that you defend yourself.

In this case, Nakamoto had done a perfectly legitimate STORY, which it based in its entirety on public records obtained from LSP, on the 64-hour suspension imposed on Burns by Louisiana State Police (LSP) following an Internal Affairs investigation into his conducting 52 illegal computer searches on his ex-wife, her fiance and a former boyfriend over a period of almost three years—from November 2013 to October 2016.

Burns, in his defense—which LSP investigators, by the way, didn’t buy—said that in 46 of those occasions, he was conducting a search of his own license plate and that the “spin-off” searches of his wife were a result of “unintended inquiries generated by an automated system.”

That explanation, however, does not explain the two searches on his former wife’s current fiance and the four searches on her ex-boyfriend. Those searches, besides vehicle and driver’s license records, also included computerized criminal histories on the two men. You can’t explain that away by saying you were doing a search on your own license number. And the obvious question: why was it necessary to conduct 46 searches of his own license number anyway?

Nor does it explain why he subsequently disseminated some of the information he had found (according to WBRZ’s belated response) or why he texted his ex-wife to request that she not report his actions because he “could get fired for doing so.”

Why could he have been fired? Because the searches were “for non-law enforcement purposes, in violation of (LSP) department policy and federal law,” according to a letter from LSP notifying him of an impending suspension.

When neither WBRZ, Nakamoto, nor their legal counsel filed an answer to the lawsuit and when they failed to appear in court on Sept. 28, and without the plaintiff’s submitting any evidence of his claims that Nakamoto had not read the entire LSP report as Burns claimed in his petition, Judge Hughes—in chambers—ruled that the station and Nakamoto were at fault and awarded $1.5 million to Burns and $1 million to his wife, Hilary Burns.

That got WBRZ’s attorney’s rear in gear. On Oct. 12, Babcock filed a 19-page (10 pages longer than Burn’s original petition) MEMORANDUM in support of a motion for a new trial.

In that motion, the station’s attorney argued that a default judgment can be handed down only if the plaintiff presents “competent evidence that convinces the court that it is probable that he would prevail on a trial on the merits” and that he “must prove each element of his claim as fully as if each of the allegations of the petition had been specifically denied by the defendant.”

“Plaintiff is required to adhere to the rules of evidence despite there being no opponent to urge objections,” Babcock wrote in his motion, and that the “trial judge should be vigilant to assure that the judgment rests on admissible evidence.”

Babcock cited a decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in which the court said:

  • Judges, acting with the benefit of hindsight, must resist the temptation to edit journalists aggressively. Reporters must have some freedom to respond to journalistic exigencies without fear that even a slight, and understandable, mistake will subject them to liability. Exuberant judicial blue-penciling after-the-fact would blunt the quills of even the most honorable journalists.

On Monday, Judge Hughes signed a one-page ORDER setting 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 11, as the time and date that Burns must show cause why a new trial should not be granted.

Burns would probably be wise not to buy that beachfront property in Gulf Shores just yet.

And WBRZ, you just got scooped on your own story.

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No sooner had I posted a story earlier today lamenting the depth of political corruption and chicanery in Louisiana than up pops yet another story about which every single one of the state’s 4.5 million citizens should be irate.

While this is not a call for the pitchforks and torches, the citizenry should be up in arms over a letter to State Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) from a New Orleans teacher named Gwendolyn V. Adams.

It’s a letter that should go viral because it hammers home once again the question of one of the best examples of political corruption in the state.

Legislator’s Tulane scholarships.

Tulane is one of the biggest tax scams going. Act 43 of the 1884 legislature obligated Tulane to give scholarship waivers to state legislators and to the mayor of New Orleans and they in turn select the recipients of the scholarships.

Altogether the 145 scholarships cost Tulane something on the order of $7 million per year, based on current tuition costs. https://admission.tulane.edu/sites/g/files/rdw771/f/LegislativeScholarshipFAQ.pdf

So, what did Tulane get in exchange for such a legislative requirement?

Tax exemptions. Specifically, property tax exemptions totaling about $25 million per year. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/10/22/deja-vu-all-over-again-house-clerk-butch-speer-denies-public-access-to-tulane-legislative-scholarship-records/

The scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in legislators’ respective districts who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education. Instead, they quickly became a form of political patronage whereby family members, judges and political cronies shoved deserving students aside, taking the scholarships for their kids. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm

I first wrote about the issue way back in 1982 and it has been written about by numerous publications and reporters since but the abuse persists as legislators continue with their “in-your-face practices of doling out scholarships to family, friends and political hacks.

The story I wrote was about then-State Sen. Dan Richie awarding his scholarship to the relative of Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport who gave his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The practice has continued unabated ever since with scholarships going to recipients like family members of former Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie, who received some 34 years’ worth of Tulane scholarships valued at about $750,000, based on 1999 tuition rates. The son of former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed received a scholarship valued at about $172,000 over four years. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_13a.htm

The latest to come to light is Rep. Moreno who, although she represents a district in Orleans Parish, awarded her scholarship to the son of her Jefferson Parish political consultant Greg Buisson, whose company, Buisson Creative, was paid nearly $14,000 by Moreno in 2010.

She is currently a candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large.

Here is Adams’s letter to Moreno:

Dear Rep. Morano (sic):  

I write to you as an educator for 27 years as a classroom teacher, 4.5 years as a professional development educator for teachers, and private tutor/LEAP tutor at  a local charter school, and express my profound disappointment in your decision to award $150,000 to the son of a Metairie-based political consultant on your payroll.  

For the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, you gave your Tulane University Legislative scholarship – worth over $150,000 in free tuition – to the son of your paid political consultant, Greg Buisson. Greg Buisson, a resident of Metairie, is a long time controversial fixture in Jefferson Parish politics.

According to the New Orleans Advocate (October 24, 2013), “State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has awarded her scholarship for the last two years to Collin Buisson, son of Greg Buisson, a veteran political consultant who has been handling Moreno’s campaigns and communications since she quit television journalism and went into politics in 2008.”

Greg Buisson has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his Jefferson Parish political connections and Buisson could certainly afford to pay his son’s Tulane tuition. For a number of years, Buisson has been on Moreno’s political payroll, earning thousands of dollars as her political consultant. In fact, I understand he ran your unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2008. 

Rep. Moreno, are you now the Queen of Cronyism in regional politics? 

Further, the following article discusses your dismal record that includes awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students outside of New Orleans.

Rep. Moreno, you do not deserve promotion to New Orleans City Council At-large. You’ve proven yourself to be disloyal to the thousands of hardworking families and deserving students in your own Legislative District 93 – qualified students from McDonough 35, Joseph S. Clark, St. Augustine and other schools in the district you are supposed to represent. You’ve passed over these students to award much more than $150,000 to your privileged political consultant – a Metairie, Jefferson Parish resident! It’s just beyond insulting!  

What is your excuse? Were these scholarship monies awarded to the family of your political consultant in lieu of payment for services that should have been recorded in the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Disclosure Forms? Is the only way to get your attention: pay for play?  

We don’t need this corruption in New Orleans city government.  

I cannot imagine you serving as New Orleans City Council President. Maybe the Jefferson Parish School Board? Do not reward political cronyism. 

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn V. Adams

 

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You would think a room full of lawyers wouldn’t have to be told the legal definition of a public meeting as it pertains to cameras. But then again, members of the Louisiana State Law Institute’s Children’s (LSLI) Code Committee aren’t used to media coverage.

So, it might be somewhat understandable that they were a little surprised when blogger Robert Burns showed up with a video camera. But freaked out to the point that members demanded that Burns turn off his camera? Seriously?

It’s a poor reflection on a committee, whose membership includes a judge and a ton of lawyers, to even suggest, let alone demand, that Burns, who publishes the video blog Sound Off Louisiana, shut his camera off during its meeting on Friday. And it’s even more astonishing that one member, an attorney, would tell Burns that his interpretation of the open meeting laws entitled him to record the meeting on video was incorrect.

Judge Ernestine Gray, a judge of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court since 1984, should certainly know better than to chirp, “As an individual, I have a right not to be on there (the video).”

Um…sorry, your honor, but you do not have that right. This was an open meeting of an official state government body and the open meetings statutes clearly contradict your claim. And it’s a sad indictment of our judicial system that you, a sitting judge, should lay claim to such blatantly inaccurate privilege.

The committee was meeting pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 79 of the 2016 legislative session in which State Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge) requested that LSLI “study and make recommendations to the legislature regarding abuse of incentives in the adoption process.”

The full text of HCR 79 can be seen HERE.

LSLI was to have a report to the legislature “no later than 60 days prior to the 2018 regular session of the legislature.” That would put the committee’s deadline somewhere around Jan. 18, 2018 and more than a year after passage of HCR 79, nothing had been done by the committee, which found itself up against an imposing deadline when it convened last Friday.

In fact, member Isabel Wingerter kept repeating during the meeting that there was no way the committee could have a report completed in time for proposed legislation to be introduced in 2018.

Edmonds, however, told members that while he had gone through the committee out of respect, there would be legislation filed for the upcoming session and that he already had a number of co-sponsors for his anticipated bill.

Abuses in the child adoptive process is a subject that Burns has already done extensive work on and, with his assistance, LouisianaVoice is going to be taking a long look at those who broker adoption deals between birth parents and adoptive parents and how those individuals can sometimes become part of a “bidding process,” playing one set of adoptive parents against another in order to broker a better deal.

It’s a murky area, virtually unknown outside the immediate circle of those families actually involved in the process of adoption and frankly, those involved would like to keep it that way. While LouisianaVoice is coming in a little behind the curve already established by Burns, we feel strongly that the entire process deserves a thorough investigation—from the aforementioned so-called “bidding process,” to the shirking of responsibility for investigating same by various state agencies who consistently punt when the subject of a possible criminal enterprise is brought to their attention.

All that probably explains the sensitivity to video on the part of the committee members but it certainly does not excuse either their attempted evasion of the open meetings law or of their trying to make up new law on the fly.

The meeting started with LSLI staff attorney Jessica Braum can be heard on the video whispering to Burns to turn his camera off. “It’s a public meeting,” Burns responds, “and I’m going to videotape it.

Burns said Braum made her request after being prodded to do so by fellow LSLI member attorney Todd Gaudin.

Moments later, Burns was again confronted, this time by committee member Isabel Wingerter who asked if he was videotaping the meeting to which Burns responded, “Clearly, yes.”

“We are not sure that’s appropriate,” Wingerter said. “What would you do with the film?”

Burns responded with a question of his own: “Is this or is this not a public meeting of a public body?”

“Yes, it is.”

“That’s all I have to explain,” Burns said, “and I’m not going to explain any further.”

It was at this point in the exchange that Judge Gray said she had a right not to be on video. “Not if you’re part of a public body,” Burns said. “Not if you’re attending a public meeting.”

Baton Rouge attorney Todd Gaudin inquired of Wingerter if Burns would be publishing the video. When Wingerter relayed the question to Burns, he again responded, “Is this a public meeting?” When she again affirmed that it was, Burns said, “It has every right to be republished.”

And this was when it really got interesting. Gaudin, whose practice primarily is in the area of adoption services and who served as the attorney for a prospective adoptive couple who ended up losing the child to another couple at the last minute, told Burns, “I don’t agree with your interpretation of the statute.”

That’s quite a statement coming from someone who is supposed to know the law.

Burns, digging his heels in, told the committee, “I have a right to videotape these proceedings and short of law enforcement coming in here and dictating it be turned off and escorting me out, the camera stays on.”

The camera stayed on.

And for Gaudin’s erudition, it can be found in R.S. 42:13. Here is the link: Public policy for open meetings.

And just in case he’s too busy to read the entire statute, here are the relevant parts:

  • “Meeting” means the convening of a quorum of a public body to deliberate or act on a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. It shall also mean the convening of a quorum of a public body by the public body or by another public official to receive information regarding a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.
  • “Public body” means village, town, and city governing authorities; parish governing authorities; school boards and boards of levee and port commissioners; boards of publicly operated utilities; planning, zoning, and airport commissions; and any other state, parish, municipal, or special district boards, commissions, or authorities, and those of any political subdivision thereof, where such body possesses policy making, advisory, or administrative functions, including any committee or subcommittee of any of these bodies enumerated in this paragraph.
  • Every meeting of any public body shall be open to the public unless closed pursuant to R.S. 42:16, 17, or 18. (R.S. 42:16, 17, and 18 give very specific reasons under which a public body may enter into executive session—that that is a moot point since the committee never entered into executive session.)

And there is this statute which addresses the right to video record public meetings:

23. Sonic and video recordings; live broadcast

  • A. All or any part of the proceedings in a public meeting may be video or tape recorded, filmed, or broadcast live.
  • B. A public body shall establish standards for the use of lighting, recording or broadcasting equipment to insure proper decorum in a public meeting.

Again, it’s worth mentioning that the members of the LSLI Children’s Code Committee are law school graduates.

Could it be that Gaudin, Wingerter, Judge Gray, and Braum were all absent on Videotaping Public Meetings day?

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Former Director of the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter was acquitted of all the dubious charges brought against him by the Jindal administration after Painter refused to bend the rules for granting alcohol permits to a vendor for Tom Benson’s Champions’ Square in New Orleans. (See our original story HERE.)

But now, three years after his hard-fought battle to clear his name, events are only now coming to light that illustrate just how far the Jindal administration was willing to go in violating Painter’s Fourth Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure in order to build what it thought would be a slam dunk criminal case against him.

Instead, the state ended up having to pay Painter’s legal fees of $474,000.

Documents obtained by LouisianaVoice also show that investigators lied—or at least distorted the truth beyond recognition—about Painter and that the state tampered with and/or destroyed crucial evidence, much of it advantageous to Painter’s case.

Benson, after all, was a huge contributor to Jindal campaigns and the state’s agreeing to lease office space from Benson Towers at highly inflated rates apparently was not enough for the owner of the Saints; that liquor permit needed to be approved, rules notwithstanding, and when Painter insisted on playing by the book, he was called before the governor and summarily fired and federal charges of sexual harassment were doggedly pursued by an administration eager to put him away for good.

But he fooled them. He was acquitted, and he filed a civil lawsuit against his accuser, which he won at the trial court level but lost on appeal (See story HERE). He currently has another civil lawsuit pending against the Office of Inspector General (OIG).

Now the state is dragging that litigation out in the hopes that with his limited finances and the state’s ability to draw on taxpayer funds indefinitely, he can be waited out until he no longer has the financial resources to seek the justice due him.

Briefs, motions, requests of production of documents, interrogatories, continuances—all designed to extend the fight and to keep the lawyers’ meters running and the court costs mounting—are the tactics of a defendant fearful of an adverse ruling. If that were not the case, it would be to the state’s advantage to try the case ASAP.

And never mind that every brief, every motion, every interrogatory, every request for production, and every continuance means the state’s defense attorneys are getting richer and richer—all at the expense of taxpayers who are the ones paying the state’s legal bills.

But all that aside, LouisianaVoice has come into possession of documents that clearly show the state was in violation of Painter’s constitutional rights and that an investigator for OIG simply colored the truth in the reports of the OIG “investigation” of complaints against him.

That investigator, who now works for the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office, was inexplicably dismissed from Painter’s civil lawsuit against the state by the First Circuit Court of Appeal. Painter has taken writs on that decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court as that civil litigation rocks on in its sixth year of existence. I’ll get back to him momentarily.

The events leading up to Painter’s firing and subsequent federal indictment began innocently enough with a March 29, 2010, letter to Painter from then-Department of Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges. She was writing pursuant to a complaint lodged by ATC employee Kelli Suire who would later the catalyst in Painter’s firing. Bridges, however found no violations by Painter regarding the complaint of “unprofessional” behavior toward Suire, but said concerns about his management style would be left “to the proper authority to discuss with you at a later date.”

Then on Aug. 13, 2010, more than four months following Bridges’s letter, Baton Rouge television station WBRZ reported that Painter “resigned” and the OIG’s office simultaneously raided ATC offices, seizing Painter’s state desktop and laptop computers, three thumb drives, notes, affidavits, reports, maps, ATC documents, telephone reports, and a 2010 Dodge Charger assigned to Painter.

 

There was only one problem with the timing.

Bonnie Jackson, 19th Judicial District Judge, did not sign the search warrant authorizing the raid and search of Painter’s office until Monday, Aug. 16.

That would appear to have made the previous Friday’s raid—pulled off three days before a judge had signed the search warrant—illegal and a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment which says, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Emphasis added.)

The second violation, the destruction of evidence was not learned until three years later when Painter’s computer was finally returned and he found that some 4,000 files had been deleted. Much of that, of course, would have been routine state business related to ATC operations but there was other information contained in the files, Painter says, that could have helped exonerate him from the charges that were lodged against him by the Jindal administration. It is not only illegal to destroy evidence, but also to destroy state documents—even if they do not constitute evidence.

The third violation, this one by OIG, involved the apparent misrepresentation of testimony given in interviews by an attorney and his assistant who had experienced difficulty in obtaining a liquor license on the part of his client, a business with multiple out-of-state owners, a situation which made the licensure procedure more involved.

The attorney, Joseph Brantley, and Painter had exchanged emails whereupon Painter invited Brantley to come to the ATC offices so that the problem could be worked out. “Why don’t you come by here around 3:00 p.m. or 4:00 if that works for you tomorrow and we will go over ours versus yours,” Painter said in his email at 12:26 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 14, 2008. Brantley responded three minutes later, asking, “Is it OK if I bring the lady that has been doing the primary work (on the file)?”

OIG investigator Shane Evans, who now works for the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner’s office as its chief investigator, then laid the groundwork for the sexual harassment charges to be brought against Murphy when he wrote in a report of his interview with Brantley on Oct. 13, 2010:

“Mr. Brantley advised that Toby Edwards was a former assistant (paralegal) of his, that she is an attractive woman, and that after the meeting in late 2008, Mr. Painter granted the permit immediately.”

In his report of his interview with Edwards, also on Oct. 13, 2010, Evans wrote:

“During the meeting with Mr. Painter, he told Ms. Edwards that he had run her driver’s license and looked at her photograph. He said that was the only reason that he had granted them the meeting. (That is blatantly false: Copies of the Dec. 14, 2008, email exchange between Painter and Brantley obtained by LouisianaVoice clearly show that Painter invited Brantley to a meeting before he ever knew of Edwards’s existence.) She took his statement as the only reason he decided to meet with them is because he thought she was attractive. Ms. Edwards said his statement and demeanor made her very uncomfortable. She said she was very glad Mr. Brantley was present.

“She also said that she found it unusual that the permit had been repeatedly turned down but once she met with Mr. Painter face-to-face, her client immediately received the permit.”

Another report by OIG, the result of a second interview with Edwards on Nov. 5, 2012, described both Brantley and Edwards as “uncomfortable” during the meeting with Painter.

A second interview of Brantley on Nov. 7, 2012 produced yet a fourth OIG report that said, in part, that Edwards wore a “professional,” semi-low-cut shirt. “Mr. Brantley noticed that Mr. Painter noticed and glanced at Ms. Edwards’s chest during the meeting.

“…According to Mr. Brantley, Mr. Painter ‘clearly looked at’ Ms. Edwards’s chest,” the report says. Mr. Brantley even told Ms. Edwards that Mr. Painter was attracted to women, maybe more ‘than the average guy.’ Although Ms. Edwards would have attended the meeting anyway, Mr. Brantley took her to the meeting ‘for effect.’ He thinks that the meeting was more successful than it would have been otherwise if Ms. Edwards had not attended.

Pretty damning stuff, right?

Well, it would be except for affidavits signed and sworn to by Brantley and Edwards (now Pierce), which provide quite a contrasting version of events.

Brantley, after reviewing the OIG reports, flatly denied ever telling Evans or any other OIG investigator that Edwards took part in the meeting with Painter because Painter was fond of females.

“I brought her because she had more knowledge about the file than did I and she was more capable of answering any questions that may have arisen.”

Edwards pointedly noted that the meeting took place in a room “with all glass windows and doors.” She said she also learned at the meeting that Painter was a long-time acquaintance of her father, a former deputy sheriff in East Feliciana Parish and joked to her that he didn’t know her dad “had a daughter that was so pretty.” She said he then excused himself for a few minutes and later returned with a license for Brantley’s client.

Here are both of those affidavits:

 

So, with a little tweaking of the facts, a man’s career was ruined, his occupation stripped from him and his finances gutted—all because he insisted that a major campaign contributor submit the proper forms before obtaining a liquor license for his Sunday parties outside the New Orleans Superdome.

This is Louisiana at its worst, folks, and it’s a clear example of how the political establishment can crush you if you don’t have the right contacts and sufficient financial resources to match those of the state’s taxpayers.

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Karma, you gotta love it.

A lawsuit brought by a Houma couple against Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has been settled for an undisclosed amount, according to a story posted online by the Houma DAILY COURIER.

The couple, Houma police officer Wayne Anderson and wife Jennifer, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans after Larpenter obtained what was quickly determined an unconstitutional search warrant in order to carry out an equally unconstitutional raid on the couple’s home and to cart off computers and cellphones while investigating ExposeDAT, an anti-corruption website that was critical of Larpenter.

Also named as defendants in the Anderson’s lawsuit were Parish President Gordon Dove, the Terrebonne Parish government, the Terrebonne Levee District and levee board member and local businessman Tony Alford. Alford and the levee district were subsequently dismissed by the Andersons and U.S. District Judge Lance Africk dismissed Dove and the parish as defendants after the parties reached a $50,000 settlement, the newspaper said.

The order signed by Africk dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice, which means the suit can be re-instituted should Larpenter not honor the settlement terms.

Wayne Anderson, whose blog was critical of Larpenter and which prompted the illegal raid, told New Orleans WWL-TV, “I think the sheriff’s finally learned that he can’t bully people and violate people’s constitutional rights. In our case, he stepped on the wrong people’s constitutional rights because we knew our rights. Hopefully, he thinks twice the next time he gets his feelings hurt.”

The paper said that Larpenter filed a request in May to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds of qualified immunity.

That has to go down as one of the more ironic twists in the entire episode: Larpenter, ignoring the Constitutional guarantee of free speech of citizens as laid out in the First Amendment, took offense at criticism contained in a web blog and raided a person’s home on no more substantial probable cause than that and yet thinking he was protected by qualified immunity.

Judge Africk correctly denied that motion on July 19 and Larpenter, seeing the handwriting on the wall, chose to settle rather than go to trial and most likely subject himself to another judicial lecture on the Constitution.

Terrebonne, this is your sheriff.

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