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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

Anyone remember Allyson Campbell?

If not, that’s understandable. After all, it’s been a couple of years since we had a STORY about her exploits in the 4th Judicial Court in Monroe. She’s the Monroe News-Star society columnist who showed up occasionally at her supposed full-time job as law clerk for 4th JDC Judge Wilson Rambo (gotta love that name; wonder if they have a judge named Rocky?).

On Wednesday, 12 of the 13 judges of the First Circuit Court of Appeal (only Judge Curtis Calloway did not hear arguments) dealt the self-promoting columnist/clerk a major setback when it ruled in an en banc (full court) decision that she does not enjoy “absolute immunity” from her actions in destroying court files and that a lawsuit against her may go forward.

But it was the dissenting opinion of one of the three judges who gave written opinions that makes for the best reading.

The ruling comes nearly two years after Louisiana Inspector General STEPHEN STREET found there was no “sufficient cause” to bring charges against Campbell for what witnesses said were repeated instances of her destroying or concealing trial briefs. For that matter, Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office also declined to pursue the matter, leaving only one state official, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, with the integrity and courage to call Campbell out for her actions.

She was also the central figure in:

  • The controversy that erupted when the Ouachita Citizen made a legal request for public records from the court—and was promptly sued by the judges for seeking those same public records.
  • The filing of a lawsuit by Judge Sharon Marchman against four fellow judges and Campbell over Campbell’s claiming time worked when she was actually absent—including time when she was in restaurants and/or bars for which she claimed time—and the four judges who Judge Marchman said were complicit in covering for her.
  • A complaint by Monroe attorney Cody Rials that Campbell had boasted in a local bar that she had destroyed Rials’ court document in a case he had pending before Judge Carl Sharp so that Sharp could not review it. One witness interviewed by Judges Sharp and Ben Jones quoted Campbell as saying that she had “taken great pleasure I shredding Rials’ judgment” and that she had given Rials a “legal f—ing.”

Now a DECISION by the First Circuit Court of Appeal, in overturning a lower court’s 2015 decision, has held that a lawsuit by Stanley Palowsky, III, against Campbell for damages incurred when she “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly handled” his petition for damages against former business partner Brandon Cork may proceed.

At the same time, the First Circuit ruled that the five judges he added as defendants—Stephens Winters, Sharp, Rambo, Frederic Amman and Jones—for allowing Campbell “free rein to do as she pleased and then conspiring to conceal (her) acts” enjoyed “absolute immunity” from being sued and were dismissed as defendants despite their repeated denials that any documents were missing from the Palowsky file.

Palowsky argued that Campbell undertook her acts with malice and to obtain advantages for his opponents in the lawsuit. Moreover, he argued that Campbell’s supervising judges, Amman and Rambo, “did not just sit back quietly and let Campbell commit such acts, they actively worked and schemed to cover up her actions.”

Palowsky also said that Campbell’s wrongdoings “have been reported time and again by different attorneys in different cases and investigated time and again by defendant judges but have nevertheless been allowed to continue. It is now painfully apparent that not only has Campbell been unsupervised and uncontrollable for years, but defendant judges have actively schemed to allow her conduct to continue unabatedly (sic).”

Campbell, who doubles as a society columnist of sorts (if one really stretches the definition of the term) for the News-Star, is obviously her own biggest fan—unless you count her stated infatuation for Cork’s attorney Thomas Haynes, III, about whom she wrote in one of her columns that he…had the “IT” factor, “a somewhat undefinable quality that makes you and everyone else around stand taller when they enter the room, listen a little more closely, encourage you to take fashion or life risks, make each occasion a little more fun and generally inspire you to aim to achieve that ‘IT’ factor for yourself.”

If they taught that method of courtroom coverage in my Louisiana Tech journalism classes, I must have been absent that day.

Needless to say, the First Circuit upheld the lower court in expunging that paragraph from Palowsky’s petition.

In fact, the lower court struck 46 paragraphs from his lawsuit against Campbell and the five judges, but the First Circuit restored 21 paragraphs to the petition. The 25 it allowed to remain removed involved matters not directly related to Campbell’s alleged destruction of files, the judges said.

In 2014, Campbell published a column entitled, “A Modern Guide to Handle Your Scandal,” in which she wrote, “Half the fun is getting there, and the other half is in the fix.” She then went on to advise her readers to “keep the crowd guessing. Send it out—lies, half-truths, gorilla dust, whatever you’ve got.” She told readers, “You’re no one until someone is out to get you.”

(There’s a line in there somewhere about Trump, but it’s just too easy.)

In July 2015, she wrote in her column, “It’s not cheating if it’s in our favor.”

That paragraph was removed from Palowsky’s petition as was one that noted that on one occasion, 52 writ applications went missing for more than a year before it was discovered that Campbell had used the applications as an end table in her office.

Say what?!!?

One paragraph left in the petition was one in which Palowsky pointed out that the five judges might not be out of the woods yet, if the Louisiana Judiciary Commission does its job. The Louisiana State Constitution provides as follows: “On recommendation of the judiciary commission, the (Louisiana) Supreme Court may censure, suspend with or without salary, remove from office, or retire involuntarily a judge for willful misconduct relating to his official duty, willful and persistent failure to perform his duty, persistent and public conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, conduct while in office which could constitute a felony, or conviction of a felony.”

It would appear in consideration of the judicial protection of Campbell, a case could be made that the judges are guilty at least of slipshod management at best and criminal malfeasance at worst.

All the judges in the 4th JDC recused themselves when Palowsky sued and his case was heard by Ad Hoc Judge Jerome Barbera, III, who cited in his Dec. 11, 2015, ruling dismissing the five judges as defendants an 1871 ruling that said, “It is a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.”

Even though Palowsky was claiming that the judges protected Campbell despite their full knowledge of what she had done, Barbera said, “Allegations of bad faith or malice are not sufficient to overcome judicial immunity.”

Another way of putting it is that the judges are untouchable and that their edicts, like those of the Pope, are infallible, divinely inspired.

Barbera extended the immunity to Campbell but the First Circuit opinion, written by  Judge Page McClendon, overturned Barbera on that point. While two of the Appeal Court judges, Vanessa Whipple and Guy Holdridge upheld immunity for the five district court judges in their written opinions, all three rejected the idea of immunity for Campbell and all three voted to reinstate 21 of the paragraphs in Palowsky’s petition.

But it was that third judge, William Crain, who wrote that none of the defendants deserved immunity from events in the 4th JDC.

“Judicial immunity is of the highest order of importance in maintaining an independent judiciary, free of threats or intimidation. But it is a judge-created doctrine policed by judges.” (emphasis mine)

He also said that when judicial actors “perform non-judicial acts, they are not protected by this otherwise sweeping immunity doctrine.

“The duty to maintain records in cases involves many non-judicial actors and can only be considered a ministerial, not judicial act,” he wrote.

“For the same reasons (that) the law clerk is not immunized for her non-judicial acts related to maintaining court records, the judges are not immunized for allegedly aiding, abetting, then concealing those acts. Failing to supervise a law clerk relative to a non-judicial act is not a judicial act for purposes of immunity.

“The doctrine of judicial immunity does not shield judicial actors from civil liability for criminal acts (and) while later cases suggest judicial immunity extends even to judicial acts performed with malice, those cases do not immunize judicial actors from criminal conduct grounded in malice or corruption.

“Extending the doctrine of judicial immunity to include civil liability for alleged criminal conduct, as in this case, risks undermining the public’s trust in the judiciary, which I cannot countenance.”

So, how, you might ask, has Campbell managed to withstand the barrage of charges of payroll fraud, absenteeism, records destruction, and critical audit reports and still keep her job?

And continue to flaunt her actions in a newspaper column?

That can be explained in one word: Connections.

Campbell’s father is George Campbell, an executive with Regions Bank. George Campbell is married to the daughter of influential attorney Billy Boles who was instrumental in the growth of Century Telephone and who is a major contributor to various political campaigns.

Allyson Campbell is also the sister of Catherine Creed of the Monroe personal injury law firm of Creed and Creed. Christian Creed, Campbell’s brother-in-law, contributed $5,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s 2015 campaign, which could explain, in part, why the AG backed off its investigation of Campbell the following year.

In a town the size of Monroe, those connections are sufficient, apparently.

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What do Louis Ackal and Jerry Larpenter have in common?

Well, among other things:

They’re both sheriffs of parishes they run with dictatorial methods—Ackal in Iberia Parish and Larpenter in Terrebonne;

Neither will hesitate to take whatever actions they deem necessary to silence any voice of dissent—from pulling off a RAID of a critic’s home in Terrebonne to turning DOGS loose on defenseless inmates of the Iberia Parish jail;

And both reportedly have the same legal counsel.

But the similarities go even further.

An Ackal critic who had the audacity to initiate a recall effort against the sheriff found himself ARRESTED for manslaughter after a single-vehicle accident in which he was not even involved. (Those bogus charges, brought by a cooperative district attorney, were very quietly dropped after LouisianaVoice’s story of the heavy-handed techniques.)

Larpenter, meanwhile, has taken a step to make it very costly for his critic (the one whose home he raided) to obtain what anywhere else would be routine public records—records that he or anyone else is legally entitled to see.

Wayne Anderson’s home was raided and his computers seized by Larpenter after Anderson posted internet blogs critical of Larpenter. That raid was quickly ruled unconstitutional by the federal courts and the Andersons sued and won a substantial monetary settlement from Larpenter believed to be in the neighborhood of $250,000.

Anderson submitted his request that included, among other things, all invoices and copies of checks paid to the Dood Law Firm, Seth Dodd, William Dodd, Bill Dodd, “or any Dodd,” from Jan. 1, 2016 through the present date.

Dodd is the legal counsel for Larpenter and, according to unconfirmed reports, also represents Ackal.

Soon after submitted his request, Anderson received an electronic communication from Richard McCormack, an attorney with the New Orleans firm of Irwin Fritchie Urquhart & Moore. McCormack informed Anderson that his firm had been “retained by the sheriff to coordinate the sheriff’s response to your public records request.”

 

As one with considerable experience in requesting and obtaining public records on behalf of LouisianaVoice, I can say that I find it quite unusual that the good sheriff would find it necessary to retain a high-priced legal team not to ascertain what is and what is not public record, but simply to “coordinate the sheriff’s response” when a clerical employee would be fully capable of performing such duties.

I’m just guessing here, but I would estimate their rate to be in the neighborhood of $300 per hour—and don’t think for one scintilla of a nano-second that they will put just one attorney on this project when they could put two or three and really run up the tab. From what we hear, the firm has two of its attorneys working on a way to make a routine public records request punitive.

And just what is Bill Dodd’s function, anyway? (Every time I hear that name, I think of Earl Long’s reference to another Bill Dodd during his 1959 gubernatorial campaign, the current Bill Dodd’s father, as “Big, bad, bald Bill Dodd.”)

As near as I can make out, his job was harassment, if reports coming out of Terrebonne are true. Dodd says emphatically that they are not.

When the Andersons asked the sheriff’s insurance company who issued their settlement check, things went south in a hurry. The Andersons say no one from the insurance company ever appeared on the court record on the sheriff’s behalf, leading them to believe Larpenter may have misled the insurance company about their claim.

Soon after they made their inquiry, they said Dodd called one of the couple’s supervisor and threatened to sue for tortuous interference and damage to his reputation.

Dodd, contacted by LouisianaVoice adamantly denied that. “I haven’t threatened to sue anybody,” he said. “I’ve been practicing law long enough that I don’t have to threaten to sue anyone, I just sue ‘em.”

C’mon, Dodd, you ain’t talking to someone who just fell off a turnip truck. There’s not a lawyer alive who won’t “threaten” to sue if a threat can achieve his purpose. The “threat” to sue is one of the most dependable arrows in an attorney’s quiver. I only wish I knew the number of times I’ve been “threatened” with a lawsuit if I published a story. Only twice have they followed through with an actual lawsuit and on both occasions, I prevailed.

Another big factor in both sheriffs’ success in maintaining a death grip on their jobs is a local press that seems reluctant to take them on. The Daily Iberian has denied that is less than aggressive in covering the exploits of Ackal but readers have expressed a general lack of in-depth coverage by the paper.

Unfortunately, the threads linking Ackal and Larpenter are the rule, not the exception. Those threads are strong, they link more than just these two sheriffs and that link runs straight through the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

I have just completed the manuscript for what I feel is a revealing book about Louisiana’s sheriffs and the muscle they flex in Louisiana politics.

The working title of the book is Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

It will probably be about a year before the book is actually published. I will keep you abreast of the schedule as I know more.

 

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This post is almost certain to earn me an invitation to never enter Iberia Parish as long as Louis Ackal is sheriff. That’s okay. I’ve received similar invitations from other sheriffs down through the years.

But the truth is, Ackal is a menace and is quite probably the last person in Iberia Parish who should be permitted to wear a badge and to carry a gun.

He not only presides over a department that abuses inmates, but when a local citizen, an African-American, initiated a recall effort against Ackal, he ended up arrested for manslaughter in connection with a one-car accident in which he was not even involved.

On July 8, 2016, Donald Broussard was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver In Lafayette Parish who minutes later collided head-on with an 18-wheeler and was killed in adjacent Iberia Parish. Yet it was Broussard who was indicted on a charge of manslaughter by an Iberia Parish grand jury on March 19, 2017.

And more recently, Ackal has settled two lawsuits against his department—one involving the deliberate shooting of a dog, a family pet, and the other involving the death of a prisoner while handcuffed in a sheriff’s department squad car.

Four years ago, on March 3, 2014, 22-year-old Victor White III was stopped by Iberia Parish deputies. The deputies said marijuana and cocaine were found on White but who really knows? Evidence planted by unscrupulous law enforcement authorities is certainly not unprecedented. I’m not saying drugs were planted in this White’s case. He was placed in a sheriff’s department patrol car, his hands cuffed behind his back. While cuffed, deputies said, he somehow managed to get a gun and “committed suicide” by shooting himself in the back.

A coroner’s report released five months later, however, said White shot himself in the chest, a feat that would seem to defy all laws of physics. That White’s hands were never tested for gunpowder residue only served to cast further doubt on the official version of events. Still, the parish coroner, Dr. Carl Ditch, insisted White’s death was a suicide.

Lloyd Grafton, an expert retained by White family, weighed in on the evidence. Grafton, of Ruston, is a veteran of twenty-one years as a special agent for the Justice Department’s U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and with the U.S. Treasury as a special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He also served on the Louisiana State Police Commission. Today, he serves as an expert witness in cases involving alleged excessive force by law enforcement.

He said the entry wound was more to the right side than frontal area and that the bullet exited from White’s left side. “There is no way he could have shot himself the way they (officials) described it, with his hands cuffed behind his back,” Grafton said.

On May 19, 2015, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana’s Second Congressional District, wrote a gut-wrenching three-page letter to then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in which he requested an investigation into mistreatment to the deaths of eight people who were in the custody of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office. In his letter, he cited several suspicious incidents that occurred at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office during Ackal’s tenure:

  • In 2008, a man alleged that a deputy beat him so badly during an arrest that he coughed up blood and then a muzzle was put over his mouth. The man later settled a suit with the Sheriff’s Office for $50,000.
  • In 2009, Michael Jones, a 43-year-old man who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died in the jail after an altercation with then-Warden Frank Ellis and then-lieutenant Wesley Hayes. This year, a judge ruled that two Sheriff’s Office employees were responsible for Jones’ death. The judgment in the case totaled $61,000.
  • In 2009, former inmate Curtis Ozenne alleged that officers began a contraband sweep by forcing him to remain in the “Muslim praying position” for nearly three hours. Mr. Ozenne alleged he was kicked in the mouth multiple times, threatened with police dogs and then his head was shaved. In his complaint, Mr. Ozenne also alleged that Sheriff Ackal threatened him with a dog and watched as an officer struck him with a baton for smiling. Mr. Ozenne’s suit against the Sheriff’s Office was later settled for $15,000.
  • In 2009, Robert Sonnier, a 62-year-old mentally ill man, died as the result of a fatal blow delivered by an IPSO Deputy in the course of a physical altercation. After Mr. Sonnier was unable to receive a psychological evaluation authorized by his wife, he was left in a wheelchair to stew in his own waste for several hours. He eventually became agitated which led to altercations with Deputies that resulted in Sonnier being pepper sprayed twice and eventually leading to the fatal blow.
  • In 2012, Marcus Robicheaux, an inmate at Iberia Parish Jail, was pulled from a wall and thrown to the ground as IPSO correctional officers ran a contraband sweep. A deputy’s dog then attacked Mr. Robicheaux, biting his legs, arms and torso, as the deputy stomped and kicked the prone inmate. The whole three-minute incident was captured on video from the jail’s surveillance cameras.

Ackal and several deputies were eventually indicted but when the judge showed up in federal court in Lafayette impaired, the case was transferred to Shreveport where, with the help of high-priced legal counsel, he was a acquitted, though several of his deputies were either convicted or copped pleas.

Federal Judge Donald E. Walter, who said he never liked sentencing those who appeared before him in court, told the deputies that they were “the worst.”

“So many law enforcement officials are out there risking their lives for little pay. All I can say is you had lousy leadership,” he said. “How sad this is for all concerned.”

Interestingly enough, the local newspaper, The Daily Iberian, reports precious little of the sheriff’s travails. Whether that is because of fear of reprisals on Ackal’s part or for other, less noble reasons is unclear. Either way, it’s a sad commentary when the local press can be cowed into submission by any politician—even one with a gun.

Take that settlement with the family of Victor White last month, for instance. As has become a disturbing trend in recent years, the terms of the settlement were sealed so the taxpayers of Iberia Parish who paid the tab will never know how much that monumental screw-up has cost them in terms not only of the settlement itself but the legal defense of Ackal and his deputies, as well.

And The Daily Iberian certainly isn’t going out of its way to learn how much the settlement was. In fact, search though you might, you won’t even find a story in The Daily Iberian about the settlement at all. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch. Nary a word. Way to uphold the integrity of the Fourth Estate, guys. But if you want to do something on this story, you can check out this Lafayette television station’s WEBSITE. At least they have some inkling of what a real news story looks like.

And then there is this April 4 STORY about Ackal settling yet another lawsuit last month, this one for $75,000 after one of Ackal’s deputies shot a two-year-old Presa Canario dog after deputy Lucas Plauche’s body cam recorded him saying to the animal, “Dog, you’re about to die, you understand me? You’re about to die.” Plauche could be heard chuckling but the video ended just before he shot the dog in its owner’s yard.

Oh, and that story, by the way, ran in The Shreveport Times, nearly 200 miles north of New Iberia. Nary a word in The Daily Iberian, however.

In most cases, public bodies are insured against such liability. Not the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, however. Its liability insurance premiums increased dramatically in recent years with the increasing number of complaints that were settled and its coverage was eventually dropped.

The citizens of Iberia Parish have a right to know the total cost of suits and settlements that Ackal is responsible for. The fact that The Daily Iberian, for whatever reason, makes no effort to perform even a scintilla of investigative reporting is irrelevant. Ackal owes Iberia Parish residents an explanation.

And then he owes it to them to resign.

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A lawsuit making its way through U.S. District Court in Lafayette alleges that a female employee, Jordan Carter, was dismissed from her job at Swiftships, LLC in Morgan City because she was pregnant and management did not want to grant her maternity leave.

The lawsuit, which also says Carter was promoted prior to her pregnancy but never received a promised increase in pay that was supposed to go along with the promotion, carries far more significance that your normal discrimination lawsuit, however.

Between fiscal year 2007 through 2016, Swiftships held seven federal CONTRACTS totaling $386 million. Those included $103.4 million in contracts with the U.S. NAVY for non-nuclear ship repair. The duration of those contracts ran from Sept. 22, 2014, through March 20, 2018.

Carter was employed by Swiftships for nearly 21 months, from April 22, 2013, to Jan. 9, 2015.

Prior to her termination, she was demoted. She said her supervisor told her she was demoted because of her pregnancy.

One witness told Smith that she was aware of two other pregnant women who were terminated by Swiftships prior to giving birth.

Federal contracting regulations strictly prohibit employee discrimination in any form.

  • Last April 24, Swiftships was awarded a $27.4 million modification to a previously-awarded contract “for the accomplishment of continuous lifecycle support for the Iraqi Navy.” The shipbuilding firm is providing TECHNICAL EXPERTISE in preventative and planned maintenance, repairs and platform overhaul support services for Iraqi patrol boats, offshore vessels, and defender boats. Work under the contract, which was scheduled for completion this month, was performed on Umm Qasr Naval Base, Iraq.
  • In October 2015, the U.S. Navy EXTENDED Swiftship’s contract to operate and upgrade a repair facility for Iraqi patrol boats built in Morgan City. The one-year extension was worth almost $11 million for Swiftships.
  • Swiftships has delivered almost 300 vessels through Foreign Military Sales, (FMS) the preferred method for selling defense systems abroad.

Under FMS, the Department of Defense procures defense articles and services for the foreign customer using the same acquisition process used to procure for its own military needs.

Recent policy changes in the U.S. Government’s Federal Acquisition Regulations have opened the door to foreign governments, allowing them to participate in FMS procurement negotiations. In general, the government-to-government purchase agreements tend to ensure standardization with U.S. forces; provide contract administrative services that may not be available through the private sector; and help lower unit costs by consolidating purchases for FMS customers with those of DoD. DCS allows the foreign customer more direct involvement during the contract negotiation phase; may allow firm-fixed pricing and may be better suited to fulfilling non-standard requirements.

The President designates countries and international organizations eligible to participate in the FMS program. The Department of State makes recommendations and approves individual programs on a case-by-case basis. Currently, around 160 countries are eligible to participate in FMS.

The Carter lawsuit is not the first litigation in which Swiftships was named as a defendant.

  • In 2015, Swiftships found LIABLE for $2.1 million in unpaid fees owed to MTU America, plus more than $400,000 in legal fees.
  • Last month, Swiftships, with annual revenues of $50 million, was found liable for $689,000 plus legal interest and legal fees for BREACH OF CONTRACT.
  • In June 2015,Valerie Landreneau, a female employee of Swiftships’ Morgan City facilities, filed suit in state district court against Swiftships after claiming that a former co-worker attacked her after learning about her SEXUAL HARASSMENT complaints against him.

If Carter or Landreneau should prevail in either or both of their harassment lawsuits, an adverse decision could result in the cancellation of hundreds of millions of federal contracts currently held by Swiftships.

Carter is represented by attorney J. Arthur Smith of Baton Rouge who has also claimed (though not in the lawsuit itself) that he has been informed that Swiftships “raids employees’ 401K accounts in order to remain afloat (no pun intended) but has failed to repay the money. Smith says a witness has informed him that Swiftships employees have had their 401K funds “borrowed” and used “to run the company,” and that “many of the employees did not get their money reimbursed as promised.”

Federal law also prohibits companies from raiding employee retirement and/or insurance funds.

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State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) sometimes seems to be Louisiana’s answer to California Gov. Jerry Brown, aka Moonbeam.

Claitor can sometimes be an example of what we should expect from our legislators but far more often than not, fail to get. He also can do a spot-on Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation.

For instance, it was Claitor who filed a lawsuit to stop fellow Sen. Neil Riser’s sneakier than sneaky attempt to (illegally) inflate then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement by, it eventually turned out, some $100,000 per year.

Points for Dan Claitor.

Claitor also filed a bill way back in 2012 that would have prevented legislators from leaving the House or Senate and taking six-figure political jobs in order to boost their retirement. That bill caused Sen. Daniel Martiny (R-Metairie) to practically go slightly ballistic—possibly because he could see an opportunity slipping away for himself.

The impetus behind Claitor’s doomed bill was Bobby Jindal, who was handing out those jobs like a lecherous old man giving candy to little kids

Claitor’s bill was defeated even as it became known that Jindal had appointed former legislators to lucrative jobs for which they possessed few, if any, qualifications.

Cases in point included:

  • Noble Ellingtonof Winnsboro, appointed to the second position in the Department of Insurance at $150,000 per year;
  • Jane Smithof Bossier City, appointed to position of Deputy Secretary in the Department of Revenue at $107,500 per year;
  • Troy Hebertof Jeanerette, appointed Commissioner of the Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control Board at $107,500per year;
  • Kay Katzof Monroe, named member of the Louisiana Tax Commission at $56,000 per year;
  • Nick Gautreauxof Meaux, named Commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles at $107,000;
  • Tank Powelland  J. “Mert” Smiley, both named to the pardon board at $36,000 per year—Smiley to serve only until he took office as Ascension Parish tax assessor;
  • Former St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis, named Director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness at $165,000, and
  • Former St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, new Director of Hazard Mitigation and Recovery at $150,000per year.

Points for Claitor for his quixotic tilting at windmills.

So, what’s with his SENATE BILL 276 in the current legislative session? Is he now acting out his Mr. Hyde role?

Claitor, who will be 57 later this year, is trying to push through a constitutional amendment that, if passed by voters, would bar anyone who is 70 or older from serving in the legislature or from holding statewide elective office.

In a magnanimous gesture of goodwill, however, his bill does stipulate that any officeholder who reaches age 70 while in office would be able to complete his term.

Wow. Thanks, I guess, from the Old Geezer Gallery. Claitor can certainly expect a Christmas card from State Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon this year (he’ll be 74 by that time).

It’s uncertain, without time-consuming research, just how many legislators would be disqualified to hold office under terms of Claitor’s benevolent bill, but my State Representative, J. Rogers Pope will be 77 later this year and I kinda like the job he’s done for the citizens of Livingston Parish. Senate President John Alario, considered the most able legislator whether or not you agree with him, is 74 (15 days older than yours truly but don’t worry: I’m not running for office).

And there is a gaggle of legislators well under Claitor’s self-imposed age of demarcation who, based on their collective performance in addressing the state’s fiscal problems, should already be out the door well before reaching their septuagenarian years. As a group, they’ve proven themselves to be inept, greedy, ambitious, petty, obstructionist, partisan hacks—and that’s sugar-coating it.

Apparently, Claitor, an attorney, has never heard of the AGE DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT ACT. Which forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older (did I mention that Claitor is 56?).

Initially, I thought Claitor, in a snit of self-righteousness, might be aiming his bill at Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who is embroiled in a dandy sexual harassment lawsuit by a former employee (Schedler admits having sex with the plaintiff, but says it was consensual, which she denies). The entire affair (poor choice of words) has more or less captured the interest of political junkies in Baton Rouge who thought Schedler ran one of the more upstanding, scandal-free agencies until this story broke.

But a quick check reveals that Schedler is 68. He will be 70 on Jan. 24, 2020, only days after the new terms of office for state officials and legislators begin which would mean that Schedler, if he remains in office and is re-elected, would be able to complete his next term under Claitor’s proposed guidelines.

Regardless, Claitor has royally ticked off a few senior citizens who are aware of his bill. Among them is former State Budget Director Stephen Winham of St. Francisville, who just happens to be 70. The bill wouldn’t affect Winham unless he plans to run for office, but he nevertheless was rankled by Claitor’s attempt at slamming the door on those who do aspire to office but have reached the magic age of 70.

“I do not live in your district,” Winham said in an email to Claitor. “I am 70.  I take offense at this bill and I am sure I am not alone. Is this one of those bills where you are trying to punish an individual elected official or do you really believe ALL of us who have reached age 70 are senile or otherwise incapable of serving in public office?”

Claitor was less than diplomatic in his response to Winham:

“I am glad you take offense to SB 276. I will assume that you also take offense to requiring judge’s (sic) to retire at age 70. Please stay tuned to the debate. Thank you.”

Besides his apparent inability to correctly spell the plural of judge despite holding a law degree (it doesn’t take an apostrophe, Dan), Claitor also appears to have a propensity to be a bit snotty with critics. Not a good trait for an elected official.

Stay tuned, folks. The “debate” should be interesting.

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