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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

In the 10 years that Louis Ackal has served as sheriff of Iberia Parish, his office has paid out more than $2.8 million in lawsuit settlements or judgments, a staggering average of more than $23,000 per month, according to an ASSOCIATED PRESS story.

Abuses and negligence attributed to Ackal, a retired Louisiana state trooper, and his office range from turning VICIOUS DOGS loose on prisoners for the apparent entertainment of deputies to forcing clubs down prisoners’ throats in a simulation of oral sex to the shooting death of a HANDCUFFED PRISONER in a sheriff’s department vehicle which was ruled a suicide despite the his being shot in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind him.

In the latest case, a woman and her two children were awarded in excess of $41,000. That decision stemmed from an incident in which a pregnant Lakitha Wright was thrown to the ground and pepper-sprayed in April 2012.

During the confrontation that ensued after deputies were summoned by neighbors who reported that two of Wright’s relatives were fighting, deputies allegedly shouted racial slurs and erased a cellphone video of the confrontation.

It is unclear whether or not the erasure of the cellphone would constitute evidence tampering but the Wright case was just the latest in a long string of legal setbacks that have plagued the sheriff’s office since Ackal took office in 2008 following his election in November 2007.

And the $2.8 million is only for cases in which the judgment or settlement amounts were revealed. In the case of Victor White, the 22-year-old who was said to have (a) gotten hold of a gun (b) and shot himself in the chest (c) while his hands were cuffed behind him, details of the settlement conference were sealed by the court.

The SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE ORDER, held March 15 in Lafayette federal court, gave both parties 60 days in which to come up with a settlement, which is believed to have been several hundred thousand dollars, although no official announcement has been made to that effect and the local news media have done little to ascertain the final settlement amount. There is, however, a DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE, which meant if a reasonable settlement was not reached, the lawsuit could be re-instituted.

Also unknown is whether the sheriff’s office even continues to have liability insurance coverage either because of the cost of premiums associated with a high risk or because companies may simply refuse to underwrite such a loose cannon as the IPSO.

The Victor White death has had other ramifications for the department. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond wrote a lengthy LETTER to then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in which he requested an investigation into mistreatments and the deaths of eight people while in custody of the IPSO.

When DONALD BROUSSARD initiated a recall of Ackal, he found out just how serious opposition to a powerful man like the local sheriff can be. Broussard found himself on the short end of a NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE indictment in connection with a fatal auto accident in which he was not even involved.

The charges were in obvious reprisal against Broussard for his opposition to Ackal and even though the charges were subsequently dropped, it served as an object lesson as to just how all-powerful a sheriff can be and how willingly some are to abuse that power.

Yes, Ackal was tried and acquitted of all charges. That could be because he was successful in throwing a few deputies under the bus who weren’t so fortunate. Guilty pleas and convictions resulted in the cases of several deputies. It could be because the original judge scheduled to hear his case in Lafayette showed up in court impaired and the case was moved to a different judge—in Shreveport. It could be because he hired a high-dollar defense counsel. Or it could have been a combination of all those things.

And despite Ackal’s acquittal, more than 100 criminal cases involving IPSO deputies dating back to 2008, the year Ackal took office, had to be tossed.

Not all the stories about sheriffs are horror stories. There’s the legendary story of a DC-9 loaded with bales of marijuana being smuggled into the country from Colombia which, in 1977, crashed onto a rural chicken farm just south of Farmerville in Union Parish, Louisiana.

The pilot of the aircraft was killed in the crash but two other Colombian smugglers wedged themselves between the bales of weed and were cushioned as the aircraft sawed off the tops of pine trees and crashed into the farm. (The owner of the farm is said to have sued over the crash because, he claimed, his chickens were traumatized by the crash and stopped laying—although it is unclear whom he would have sued if, indeed, he did.)

As federal, state and local law enforcement officers swarmed the area to investigate the crash and to search for the two survivors, a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy, who apparently had not retained much from his high school geography class, spotted one of the smugglers. He stopped his patrol car and called the man over. “Where you from?” he asked.

“Señor,” answered the still dazed man, “I am from Colombia.”

“You know John McKeithen?” the deputy asked, confusing the South American country for the northeast Louisiana Delta town of Columbia, home of the former governor about 50 miles south-southeast of Farmerville.

“No…”

“Get in th’ car, boy, you’re under arrest. Everbody in Columbia knows John McKeithen.”

Whether that story is true or not, it should be.

But one fact remains: Ackal is still in office and he is still the political power in Iberia Parish—just like any other sheriff is—or was—the political power in his parish: Frank Clancy and Harry Lee in Jefferson, Jerry Larpenter in Terrebonne, Noah Cross in Concordia Parish, “Cat” Doucet in St. Landry Parish, John Grosch and Martin Gusman of Orleans Parish, Gilbert Ozenne of Iberia Parish, and “Dutch” Rowley of St. Bernard Parish, to name just a few past and present.

Or, if you care to venture outside Louisiana, Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona; Lee Baca of Los Angeles County; Pat Kelly of Athens County, Ohio; Lawrence Hodge of Whitley County, Kentucky; Chuck Arnold of Gibson County, Tennessee; Tyrone Clark of Sumpter County, Alabama, or Mike Byrd of Jackson County, Mississippi.

It’s enough to leave our ears ringing with that ole cliché: “You’re in a heap-a trouble, boy.”

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Editor’s note: The following (with added comment) is a guest column provided to LouisianaVoice by the Healthcare Alliance for Regulatory Board Reform (HARBR):

By Christian Wolff

Louisiana Senate Bill 286, dubbed the Physician’s Bill of Rights, fell into a “coma” before the Louisiana Legislature on last Wednesday but not before an outburst over the testimony of the bill’s author.

Sen John Milkovich (D-Shreveport) was in the middle of explaining the obvious conflict of interest on the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners when he was interrupted by New Orleans attorney Jack Stolier who twice shouted that Milkovich’s testimony was a “bald faced lie.” (Milkovich’s testimony and Stolier’s off-camera interruption can be heard beginning at the 7:15 MARK of this video of the House Health and Welfare Committee.)

Milkovich had just referenced an “affair” between Dr. Cecilia Mouton, then an investigator for the board of medical examiners, and Stolier, who represented physicians before the board in disciplinary matters.

But hey, the brief flareup was by far the most interesting—and probably the most intelligent—moment of this session sadly marked by legislative ineptitude, indecision, and concerted efforts to bow to the will of special interests st the expense of constituents and Louisiana (See the disgraceful Senate passage of the Payday Loan bill. How anyone can hold out one scintilla of hope for this bunch is beyond comprehension).

After Stolier was escorted from the committee room by Capitol security personnel, Milkovich read from a March 18, 2016, LouisianaVoice post which alluded to the relationship between the two. He also cited a letter from a board director which acknowledged a “personal relationship” between the two. Mouton, now Director of Operations for the board, and Stolier have since married but Milkovich called the romantic link between Mouton, who was prosecuting doctors, and Stolier, who was defending them, a blatant conflict of interest.

This, folks, is typical of the manner in which both the Board of Medical Examiners and the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry disregard due process and run roughshod over members of the medical profession who are charged and deemed guilty without even a nod at procedure. Guilty until proven innocent turns legal procedure on its head and is the very reason why some sort of checks and balances are desperately need to bring these rogue board under control.

But instead, the board, without objection, agreed that the bill be involuntarily deferred, meaning that for all practical purposes, it is dead for this session. (This, by the way, is the same Board of Medical Examiners that has defied a court order and continues to refuse to allow the legislative auditor to see its records so the auditor can do his job.)

Typically, the House does not entertain motions to override/hear bills that were involuntarily deferred in a committee.

This is the same legislature that is on the verge of approving (the Senate already has, by a 20-17 vote) an increase to 167 percent in interest rates payday loan predators can charge, along with doubling loan origination fees. Looks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been busy this session—as it has in past years.

Advocates of SB 286 praised it on May 2 as an excellent piece of legislation. It was referred to it as “landmark” bill with implications for the due process reforms of healthcare licensing boards in every state in the nation.

Legislators’ indifference—not unlike their indifference to solving the state’s fiscal ills—could open the state up to litigation, leaving it to Attorney General Jeff Landry to try and defend the state, an interesting proposition in itself. Such potential litigation already has a precedent: a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v Federal Trade Commission. In that decision, SCOTUS laid out conditions by which licensing and regulatory boards could and could not act as agents of their respective states.

In order to be considered a “state agency,” boards now need to show that they have a voting minority of “market place participants” in the profession being regulated. The other means by which a state regulatory or licensing board may come into compliance with the SCOTUS decision, and now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandate, is to have demonstrable and meaningful state oversight by an entity or entities which are not marketplace participants in the profession regulated by the board over which they are providing oversight.

The concern of SCOTUS and the FTC is that without meeting at least one of these two conditions, licensing and regulatory boards might act in their own interests rather than in the interest of the public. Moreover, SCOTUS and FTC, are concerned that beyond acting in the interest of their own professions over the interest of the public, boards may act in the interest of boards themselves over the fair and equal interest of given licensees or classes of licensees. This might be called “market capture via regulatory capture” and would be to the detriment of patients, the public, and licensees alike.

States whose regulatory boards do not comply with the conditions set forth in North Carolina Dental Board leave every member of every board including administrative staff and legal counsel legally exposed in their professional capacities and as individuals. Suits might be based in the violation of anti-trust laws, or on injury against persons (such as licensees) who were harmed without the benefit of due process of law.

Healthcare licensees in every state across the nation are being awakened to the injustices which have befallen physicians, and increasingly, other healthcare providers, since the passing of the short-sighted Healthcare Quality Improvement Act in 1986.

Louisiana is not alone by any stretch. It was foolish and immature for the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee to put SB 286 to rest in the way it did. When the Physicians’ Bill of Rights awakens from its “Involuntary Deferment” it may well be in a different state already positioned to make the proper move. The first state will set the landmark precedent and if the precedent does not affect national policy, it will be followed by every state in the nation.

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To some readers, this will come under the heading of extremely old news.

To others, it will be a revelation well worth the time to read if for no other reason than to remind us how those in positions to do so tend to take care of their own.

I’m talking about House Bill 1351 of the 2004 legislative session—14 years ago.

It was what insiders to the legislative process sometimes refer to as a snake because it is sneaked into the process as an apparently innocuous piece of legislation. In reality, however, it is a self-serving bill that does nothing to benefit the general population but which serves the purposes of only a small minority, a mere fraction of the population: those in control of the system.

Signed into law by Gov. Kathleen Blanco after passing both chambers unanimously (with five absences—four in the House and one in the Senate), and authored as HB 1351 by then Rep. Taylor Townsend, the bill gave sweeping powers to legislators and staff members to literally snub their collective noses at the authority of state courts.

Should you ever be subpoenaed as a witness or a defendant in a civil or criminal matter, you had best be in court clad in the proper attire, with a respectful attitude and at the appointed time lest you bring the wrath of the presiding judge down upon your spinning head. Try to ignore that subpoena or otherwise buck the system and you’re likely to be shown your new quarters in a local holding cell and with a special new nom de plume, courtesy of the occupants already there: “Fresh Meat.”

Unless you serve in the legislature or are employed by same.

In strict legalese, Act 873, which is formally referred to as R.S (for Revised Statute) 13:4163, is an “Ex parte motion for legislative continuance or extension of time, legislators or employees engaged in legislative or constitutional convention activities.”

In plain English, it’s a doctor’s excuse to skip class for extended periods of time.

With a not from appropriate authority, i.e. the clerk of the House or secretary of the Senate, a legislator or a legislative staff member, when subpoenaed for a court proceeding, may thumb his or her nose at the judge because the STATUTE gives them that authority over a court order.

It says so, right there in the second paragraph: “A member of the legislature and a legislative employee shall have peremptory grounds for continuance or extension of a criminal case, civil case, or administrative proceeding…The continuance or extension shall be sought by written motion specifically alleging these grounds.”

The statute also says the continuance (legal term for delay) is for the benefit of the legislator or legislative staff member “and may only be asserted or waived by a member or employee.” It even applies of the legislator is an attorney who enrolled as counsel of record in the court matter.

In other words, someone with important business before the court will just have to cool his heels while his attorney/legislator tends to more important matters, i.e. taking care of campaign contributors like oil and gas companies, nursing homes, pharmaceutical firms, banks and members of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) by making sure they are not overburdened with silly requirements to pay their fair share of taxes.

And you surely wouldn’t want your legislator missing out on a fine supper at Sullivan’s or Ruth’s Chris, a gala crawfish boil or some other after-hours function because he was hung up in court representing some poor nobody in a criminal case or civil lawsuit.

Boy Howdy, talk about rank having its privilege.

This exemption even extends to legislative committees and/or subcommittees in addition to legislative sessions and constitutional conventions (the last one of those, by the way, was in 1974 but hey, why take chances?).

So next time you’re required to be in court as a plaintiff, defendant, legal counsel for either side, or a jury member, just be thankful you aren’t a legislator so heavily burdened with the state’s pressing business that you would have to decline the judge’s invitation to attend.

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The powers that be in state and local government, i.e., agency and departmental heads, like to give the impression that personal activities on the job, particularly as they might involve office computers and personal email messages, are strictly verboten.

That’s not to say, of course, that while the lowly peons are held to this higher standard of professional excellence, supervisors don’t shop Amazon.com or book cruises or Disney vacations while at work.

But, hey! Everyone fudges on those restrictions. It’s the rare employee indeed who doesn’t sneak in a little self-time on state computers and telephones.

But the Hon. JIMBO STEPHENS, newly-elected judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeal, or at least Rayville attorney John Hoychick, Jr., acting on his behalf, has taken the practice to new heights with an email blast to a gaggle of attorneys seeking campaign contributions for Stephens.

Hoychick included in his email at least five attorneys working on the public dime, either for the City of Monroe, the University of Louisiana Monroe, or the gret stet of Looziana as well as no fewer than seven barristers in the employ of CenturyLink, the telecommunications company headquarter in Monroe.

Louisiana agencies some of the recipients work for are employed by include the Department of Social Services and the Department of Children and Family Services (where the rank and file workers are chronically short-staffed and overworked but not, apparently, the attorneys).

Stephens, who defeated 4th JDC Judge Sharon Marchman in last October’s ELECTION, apparently wishes to retire his campaign debts and Hoychick is not the least bit shy in calling on some 140 attorneys in his email blast to do just that.

And while it may be a breach of protocol to solicit contributions from them at their taxpayer-funded jobs, it nevertheless serves as a classic illustration of how judges tend to lean on attorneys who might at some time in the future appear before them to argue a case or two—and woe unto one who has not paid his dues (at least that seems to be the mindset).

A “Sponsor Couple” can buy in for a mere 500 bucks while those on a tighter budget can get by for $150 as a “Supporter Couple,” according to Hoychick’s email solicitation.

(I just hope Stephens’s fundraiser doesn’t cut into LouisianaVoice’s ongoing fundraiser.)

Curiously, the email (or at least the one forwarded to LouisianaVoice) doesn’t give a date, time, or location for the highly anticipated “kickoff event.” But not to worry: checks, “payable to Judge Jimbo Stephens Campaign Committee,” can be brought to the event (wherever) “or mailed to Judge Jimbo Stephens Campaign Committee.”

Surely, the State of Louisiana, ULM, the City of Monroe, or CenturyLink won’t mind if their staff attorneys take a little time to write a check to the good judge. After all, if there’s important legal work to be done, it can be pawned off on an overworked paralegal or legal secretary.

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Something happening here,

What it is ain’t exactly clear

 

The 1967 Buffalo Springfield Vietnam War protest song, For What It’s Worth could be applicable to just about any scenario in Louisiana politics but probably never more so than with HOUSE BILL 727 by State Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads).

Thibaut, posing as a Democrat but appearing to be anything but, apparently wants to repeal the FIRST AMENDMENT which guarantees American citizens the right of peaceful assembly.

HB 727, which has 50 additional co-authors in the House and 14 in the Senate, would amend an existing statute in accordance with the dictates of the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC), which long ago wormed its way into the Republican mindset as a means of advancing its agenda.

That agenda, of course, works hand-in-hand with that of corporate America—big oil, big banks, big pharma, charter schools, and private prisons, among others—to the overall detriment of those who ultimately foot the bill—the working stiffs of middle America who continue to convince themselves that their interests are compatible.

The bottom line is this: if the corporate giants are shelling out millions upon millions of dollars to lobby lawmakers and to finance their campaigns, you can bet they’re in bed together. And when they whisper sweet nothings in each other’s ear, they ain’t discussing how to make your life easier.

And that’s HB 727 and ALEC are all about. While the seemingly innocuous bill appears only to lay out penalties for trespassing onto “critical infrastructure,” and to include “pipelines” or “any site where the construction or improvement of any facility or structure…is occurring” to the definition of critical infrastructure, the wording of the bill includes subtle landmines designed to discourage otherwise legal protests.

For instance, while criminal trespass and criminal damage has long been considered a violation of the law, the bill adds this provision:

“Any person who commits the crime of criminal damage to a critical infrastructure wherein it is foreseeable that human life will be threatened or operations of a critical infrastructure will be disrupted as a result of such conduct shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not less than six years nor more than 20 years, fined not more than $25,000, or both.”

There’s a man with a gun over there

Telling me I got to beware

The key phrase here is “wherein it is foreseeable…”

This is a pretty subjective call on someone’s part. Just who decides what is “foreseeable”?

And then there is the conspiracy clause that’s added to the bill.

HB 727, which passed the HOUSE by an overwhelming 97-3 vote with five members absent, provides if “two or more” person conspire to violate the statute, each “shall be imprisoned with or without hard labor for not more than five years, fined not more than $10,000, or both.”

Just what would constitute a “conspiracy” in this case? Well, it could mean the simple discussion of possible trespass. Whatever it is, the word “foreseeable” is thrown into the mix again. So, a protest in the proximity of pipeline construction could conceivably be construed by an ambitious prosecutor as “conspiracy” and any discussion during such a protest could become a conspiracy.

Besides being yet another windfall for the private prisons, this bill is nothing more than a means to discourage protests over pipeline construction through sensitive areas such as the Bayou Bridge Pipeline, a joint venture of Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 (keep those names in mind; they’ll come up again later).

It’s also an obvious effort to placate ALEC and the oil and gas industry that has held this state, its governors and legislators captive for a century. The political leaders of this state, from the governor on down, won’t go to the bathroom without permission from Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, which boasts on its WEB PAGE that it is “Louisiana’s longest-standing trade association” (read: lobbying arm of the petroleum industry).

There’s battle lines being drawn;

Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong

What’s not difficult to believe is the motivation behind nearly half of the bill’s sponsors.

Of the 51 representatives and 14 senators who signed on as co-authors of the bill, 31 (23 representatives and eight senators) combined to rake in $62,500 in contributions from Transfer Partners and Phillips 66 since January 2011.

ENERGY TRANSFER PARTNERS CONTRIBUTIONS

PHILLIPS 66 CONTRIBUTIONS

Phillips also gave $3,500 to Senate President John Alario and Energy Transfer Partners chipped in another $4,000. Additionally, Energy Transfer Partners gave $4,000 to then-Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish who was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards as Executive Director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority, $2,000 to then-Rep. Jim Fannin of Jonesboro who served as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee at the time.

Energy Transfer Partners also contributed $5,000 to Edwards, who is on record as SUPPORTING the Bayou Bridge project, and Phillips 66 added another $5,500.

Thibaut was not one of those. But he did specialize in accepting campaign contributions from more than 40 political action committees—including several aligned with energy interests. In all, he pulled in $105,000 from PACs since 2008, campaign records show.

Those PACs included such diverse interests as dentists, bankers, payday loan companies, optometrists, insurance, student loans, pharmaceutical companies, sugar, realtors, and nursing homes, to name only a few.

EASTPAC, WESTPAC, NORTHPAC, and SOUTHPAC, four PACs run by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) combined to $13,750 to Thibaut, records show, while the Louisiana Manufacturers PAC gave $11,000.

With that money stacked against them, the Bayou Bridge pipeline opponents are fighting an uphill battle, especially with leaders like Edwards already having publicly endorsed the project.

The end game, of course, is to head off a repeat of STANDING ROCK, the largest Native American protest movement in modern history over the construction of a 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline, of which the BAYOU BRIDGE project through the Atchafalaya Basin is a part. Opponents of the 162-mile Bayou Bridge project—from St. James Parish to Calcasieu Parish—say would harm the area’s delicate ecosystem.

Standing Rock was an ugly scene, further illustrative of how this country has time after time ripped land, basic human rights and dignity from the country’s original inhabitants, inhabitants who weren’t even recognized as American citizens until 1924 even though more than 12,000 fought for this country in World War I.

Standing Rock apparently was such a national emergency that St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne, at the time President of the National Sheriffs’ Association, found it necessary to visit Standing Rock in 2016 and to write a lengthy self-serving account in the association’s online PRESIDENT’S PODIUM of the carnage he witnessed at the hands of the protestors whom he described in less than glowing terms.

His article prompted a lengthy REBUTTAL by Cherri Foytlin, state Director of BOLD LOUISIANA in Rayne and Monique Verdin, a citizen of the UNITED HOUMA NATION, who also were at Standing Rock. It’s difficult to believe, after reading the two missives, that they were at the same place, witnessing the same events play out.

What a field day for the heat;

A thousand people in the street

Singing songs and carrying signs

Mostly saying, “hooray for our side.”

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