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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

The real injustice in the July 2015 death of Michael Sabbie at the hands of LaSalle Corrections personnel at Texarkana’s Bi-State Jail, in addition to the death itself, lies in the fact that the SETTLEMENT of the family’s lawsuit against LaSalle was allowed to be sealed, thereby forever shielding from public view the punishment imposed on the private prison for its gruesomely abusive treatment of Jones during his short time in custody leading up to his death.

Were it not for a 169-page March 6, 2019, ruling from FEDERAL MAGISTRATE CAROLINE CRAVEN denying defense motions for a dismissal of Teresa Sabbie’s lawsuit, some of those unimaginable acts by guards and nurses employed by LaSalle might never have been known. To read her lawsuit, click HERE.

That ruling also revealed that LaSalle routinely took shortcuts in falsifying certifications that employees had required training and experience when in fact, they did not.

Sabbie, 34, was arrested by Texarkana City Police on July 19, 2015, for a domestic disturbance and taken to Bi-State. Three or four days later (the exact date is uncertain because of the haphazard manner in which prison guards checked on Sabbie in his cell), he was dead after:

  • He was denied medication even though nurses knew he suffered from hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart problems;
  • He was beaten by guards even though they later admitted he had made no hostile motions and offered no resistance to them;
  • Was pepper-sprayed despite his known respiratory condition and was subsequently inadequately decontaminated;
  • With his hands cuffed behind him, video showed that his hands were forced up and over his head until his hands ended up in front of him while still cuffed, actions that a doctor testified would have caused severe damage to his joints, muscles, tendons and shoulders – stress that should have triggered an immediate medical evaluation, though none was ever done.
  • Guards falsified reports indicating they checked on him every half-hour – even though one of the times logged in was 15 minutes after the guard had already ended his shift and gone home.

Judge Craven noted in her ruling that officers employed by LaSalle at the facility “testified (that) LaSalle gave them no training on recognizing potential signs of medical distress or signs that an inmate may need medical care.”

Guard Stuart Boozer, she said, testified that LaSalle provided no training on when to summon medical care for inmates and guard Robert Derrick added that “LaSalle did not train them they had an ‘obligation to secure medical care for inmates with series medical needs.’”

Officer Simone Nash “had only been working at the jail for about three weeks on July 21,” Judge Cravens said, quoting from Nash’s own deposition in which she testified that she had received only five days (40 hours) of classroom training even though she was required to receive a minimum of five days of on-the-job training before working alone but in fact had only two days’ experience working alone.

But the most damning testimony showed LaSalle’s willingness, even its insistence on having employees sign documentation attesting they had completed all necessary training when they had not. In fact, testimony showed, the employees were instructed to sign the documentation that they had completed training classes when such classes had not even begun.

Correctional Practices expert Capt. Kenny Sanders testified that his review of data revealed that LaSalle did not conduct training, training was being falsified, employees were given credit for training they did not attend and the training program “was not property supervised.”

And when all else fails, it seems that LaSalle is not above employing a bit of subterfuge – except it didn’t work.

Besides the individual guards and nurses named in Teresa Sabbie’s lawsuit, other defendants included Bowie County, Texas, the City of Texarkana, Arkansas, Southwestern Corrections, dba LaSalle Corrections, LaSalle Southwest Corrections and LaSalle Management Co.

LaSalle Management in its motion for summary judgment (dismissal), did so on the assertion that it had no involvement in the suit because it “merely provides accounting and payroll services for the other LaSalle entities.”

That claim relied on an affidavit of Rodney Cooper and a February 2013 Facility Operation and Management Services Agreement between Southwestern Correctional, LLC, dba LaSalle Corrections, and Bouie County, Texas for the operation of the Bi-State jail.

It turned out, however, that LaSalle Management’s motion was a tad incomplete in that it somehow neglected to include a “highly-relevant final page (or addendum) to that agreement,” Judge Craven wrote. That omitted page contained an acknowledgement that LaSalle Management was the “Parent Company” of Southwestern Correctional and as such, “LaSalle Management itself explicitly and ‘unconditionally’ guarantees ‘performance of all obligations and duties under and pursuant to’ the jail operations contract with Bowie County.”

After 168 pages of reviewing facts surrounding the incarceration, abuse and death of Michael Sabbie, Judge Craven wrote on the final page that LaSalle Management’s motion for summary judgment was denied.

LaSalle has managed to fly under the radar of the news media preoccupied with the spoiled brat behavior of the Trump administration, a drawn-out fight for the Democrat nomination of a candidate to oppose him, impeachment, claims and denials of Russian interference in our election process and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic.

But recent revelations about a whistleblower complaint of unsolicited HYSTERECTOMIES of female illegal immigrants at one of its facilities in Georgia has brought renewed attention to the Ruston-based company said to be worth upwards of $300 million and which operates several facilities in Louisiana, Texas and Georgia.

LouisianaVoice will continue its series about the company in the coming days.

 

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The Reconstruction era ended in 1877. Seven years earlier (150 years ago), with ratification of the 15th Amendment, black males were granted the right to vote.

Seventeen years before that, The Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863 said that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

So, by 1880, blacks were not only free, but they had the right to vote. Federal troops had been withdrawn, so the time seemed right to restore the old order of white supremacy in the South.

But how?

Well, the Louisiana legislature had an answer that appeared to solve two problems at once.

Split jury verdicts.

Only one other state, Oregon, had the split jury conviction law on its books, and while still based on race, it had nothing to do with slavery. In that state, the law had been used to convict a Jewish defendant.

LOUISIANA took the lead over its sister Confederate states by passing a law that year which said a person could be convicted of a crime by a jury vote of 9-3. The Louisiana Constitution Convention of 1898 made it official and even went so far as to boast that the stated purpose was “to establish the supremacy of the white race in the state.”

The split verdict law withstood a legal challenge in 1972 when it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court but in 1973, the Louisiana Constitution Convention did scale back the law a bit when it revised the law to require at least a 10-2 vote in favor of conviction—or acquittal. For capital murder cases, the requirement for a unanimous jury verdict has always remained in effect.

The dual effect was not only to discourage blacks from voting (only eight states allow convicted felons to vote—Louisiana is not one of them), but it also helped alleviate the “hardship” imposed on those poor plantation owners who, suddenly deprived of their slave labor, found themselves short-handed for harvesting cotton and sugar cane.

But a literal reading of the 13th AMENDMENT provided the all-important legal loophole:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. (emphasis added)

Blessed with rare economic foresight, the legislature saw an opportunity to pioneer what would evolve into lucrative prison work-release programs more than a century ago. (It would be the last time any Louisiana legislature would be accused of possessing the gift of economic foresight—except in cases of individual graft and corruption.)

The more inmates the state could crowd into its prison system, the greater the number of warm bodies available to be leased out to the plantation owners to harvest those crops to be shipped downriver to New Orleans and on to the world market.

Of course, a prison facility large enough to house a sufficient number of slaves prisoners was needed.

So, in 1880 (the same year the split-verdict law came into effect—coincidence?), ANGOLA STATE PRISON was erected on an 8,000-acre plantation in West Feliciana Parish, drawing its name from the African homeland of its former slave population. The prison was run by a private firm until reports of brutality against inmates prompted the state of Louisiana to take control of it in 1901. Today, it covers 18,000 acres, making it the largest maximum-security prison in the U.S.

But in October 2018, a brash, young judge up in Sabine Parish, hard on the Texas border, ruled that the split verdict in Louisiana was unconstitutional.

Judge Stephen Beasley, of the 11th Judicial District that borders Toledo Bend Lake on the Texas-Louisiana border, ruled as unconstitutional the case of Melvin Maxie who, by a jury verdict of 11-1, received an automatic life sentence by virtue of an 11-1 conviction of second-degree murder.

Beasley, who had presided over Maxie’s 2017 trial, also ruled that Maxie deserved a new trial on the grounds that prosecutors improperly struck three prospective jurors because of their race. His ruling was challenged by District Attorney Don Burkett.

His ruling came only three weeks before an election on a statewide constitutional amendment which would have struck down the split verdict in favor of unanimous verdicts for non-capital offenses. That proposed was easily approved by 64 percent of the vote.

And though the case decided by the Supreme Court was one out of Orleans Parish where District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro obtained a 10-2 conviction of second-degree murder, the high court opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and supported by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, cited Beasley’s ruling twice in its first three pages. Both Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are appointees of Donald Trump.

Others siding with the majority were justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas. Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Elena Kagan.

The immediate effect of the decision is to void dozens—perhaps hundreds—of split jury verdicts in Louisiana and Oregon.

And perhaps create a manpower shortage in work-release programs throughout Louisiana.

 

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Last July I published my book Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

Now, it looks as though a book about district attorneys and judges might well be in order.

Somehow, it seems the ones we elect to protect us and to administer justice evenly and fairly are running amok with no regard for the law, ethics, propriety, or for the citizens they are elected to serve.

This is by no means a blanket condemnation of all DAs or judges but the behavior of the few is beginning to take its toll on the public image of the many and there needs to be a cleansing.

DAs have gone to jail, they have initiated frivolous disputes with judges, they bring in hired guns from elsewhere to do jobs they should be doing [if they and their staffs aren’t qualified to perform their jobs, they should get out and leave the work to those who can] and some even are said to use their offices as leverage to obtain property and businesses from defendants in exchange for a dismissal or reduction of pending charges.

Louisiana judges have been accused of:

  • Hiring his GIRLFRIEND to review medical records for his office;
  • Presiding over his girlfriend’s DWI case;
  • Molesting TEENAGE GIRLS;
  • Texting RACIST REMARKS in a jealous dispute with a sheriff’s deputy with whom she was having an affair (the judge submitted her resignation today);
  • Engaging in SEXUAL MISCONDUCT which led to his resignation;
  • Interfering in a female friend’s APPEAL which resulted in his suspension from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal and which has thrown the 2nd Circuit’s overturn of a $20 million award into turmoil.
  • Accepting kickbacks which resulted in the impeachment and REMOVAL from the federal bench.
  • Accepting bribes from bail a bail bondsman which resulted in his conviction, along with 13 others convicted in the FBI’s OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE

There are others, of course. But add to that the unique idea that a Baton Rouge attorney who has been SUSPENDED FROM PRACTICE for a year is a candidate for a vacant city.

Donald Dobbins says the law requires only that he hold a law license to qualify for judicial office but not to be a judge because judges cannot practice law. He qualified exactly three weeks before he was suspended by the State Supreme Court for failure “to provide competent representation to clients” and that he “neglected legal matters, failed to communicate with clients, failed to refund unearned fees and unused costs, failed to properly supervise his non-lawyer start, resulting inf false affidavits being filed in the court record, failed to reduce a contingency fee agreement to writing, forged client signatures on settlement checks and failed to place disputed funds in his trust account.” He says he has no intention to withdraw.

One Supreme Court justice called the one-year suspension “overly lenient,” saying he preferred “no less than a three-year actual suspension, if not disbarment.”

And then there are the judges in Terrebonne and St. Tammany parishes who took it upon themselves to issue warrants that were in direct violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of expression.

In the Terrebonne case, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter prevailed upon an obliging JUDGE RANDAL BETHANCOURT to issue a search warrant so he could raid the home of a blogger who hurt Larpenter’s feelings. That ended up costing the sheriff’s office about $250,000 in a federal lawsuit stemming from the illegal raid.

That was in August 2016. Three years later, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith arrested a former deputy who sent an email to the family of a murdered woman in which he was critical of the sheriff’s office for not making an arrest in the 2017 murder of Nanette Krentel.

The warrant was signed by DISTRICT JUDGE RAYMOND CHILDRESS District Judge Raymond Childress. After the local district attorney recused himself and referred the case to the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, the AG’s office promptly washed its hands of the entire affair after noting that the Louisiana Supreme Court had held that criminal defamation (the justification for the warrant) was unconstitutional insofar as statements made in reference to public figures engaged in public affairs.

No story about law enforcement and the judicial system would be complete without a story from Iberia Parish where Louis Ackel turned the word sheriff into a term of fear and dread.

Bo Duhé, 16th JDC District Attorney, crossed swords with Judge Lori Landry by accusing her of making accusatory remarks to the effect that the DA’s office “deliberately incarcerate African Americans more severely and at a higher rate than others” and that the DAs office knew or should have known about misconduct at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office that eventually led to the convictions of several deputies in a civil rights case.

Her remarks prompted Duhé to seek her honor’s removal from more than 300 criminal cases throughout out the 16th JDC which includes the parishes of Iberia, St. Martin, and St. Mary.

Duhé, of course, claimed that Judge Landry’s remarks were unfounded. He further argued that Landry, the 16th JDC’s first African-American judge, was “biased and prejudiced” against his office to such an extent that “she cannot be fair or impartial.”

After considerable posturing disguised as testimony in court subsequent hearings, Duhé and Landry kissed and made nice, declaring that they were recommitted to working together and the DA’s office rather unceremoniously dismissed the recusal motions.

Just another day in Louisiana’s hallowed halls of justice.

[You may order Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption ($30) by clicking on the yellow DONATE button in the column to the upper right of this post or by sending a check to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, LA. 70727.]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Southern learned its lesson, right?

Not quite.

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

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

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

 

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

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

Especially stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid.

 

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