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A little more than five years ago, we launched LouisianaVoice in an attempt to bring political corruption in Louisiana into sharper focus. Two years ago, The Washington Post named Bob Mann’s Something Like the Truth and LouisianaVoice as two of the top 100 political blogs in the nation.

While we were quite proud to have been recognized by such a prestigious publication as the Post, that pride was tempered somewhat by the knowledge that we could never have achieved such a designation had political corruption not permeated all levels of government in Louisiana— from Shreveport to New Orleans, from Lake Charles to Monroe.

Now we learn that researchers Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, have been conducting a “one-of-a-kind” corruption survey over the past two years.

“The survey is designed to construct perception-based measures of different forms of corruption in American states,” Dincer wrote us recently. “We surveyed more than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across (each state).

“…We were able to construct measures of illegal and legal corruption for each (branch of) government in 50 states,” Dincer said, adding that the results of the survey “quickly drew extensive and positive attention from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Fortune Magazine, FiveThirtyEight, and a number of regional newspaper and broadcast stations.”

The results of that 2015 study were published by Illinois State University and the researchers are now in the process of conducting an updated survey. https://about.illinoisstate.edu/odincer/Pages/CorruptionSurvey2015.aspx

So just what is legal corruption as opposed to illegal corruption? Isn’t corruption just corruption without the adjectives? Dincer explained the difference. “We define illegal corruption as the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

Legal corruption, on the other hand, is defined as political gains in the form of campaign contributions to or endorsements of a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups by “explicit or implicit understanding.”

“According to several surveys, a large majority of Americans, both liberals and conservatives, think that donations to super PACs, for example, by corporations, unions, and individuals corrupt the government,” the researchers’ report said.

The 2014 report indicated that the leading states for moderately to very common illegal corruption in the executive branch of government were Arizona, New Jersey, Georgia, Kentucky and Utah. States identified as “very common” in illegal corruption in the legislative branch included Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Legal corruption was found in many more states. Kentucky and New Jersey were identified as states where legal corruption in the executive branch was “extremely common,” while those where it was “very common” included Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York and Texas.

Legal corruption in the legislative branch was far more discouraging on a nationwide basis. States where legal corruption in the legislative branch was “extremely common” included Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

States where legislative branch legal corruption was called “very common” included Alaska, Arkansas, Hawaii, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

When all factors were taken into consideration, the states leading in overall illegal corruption were Arizona, California, Kentucky, Alabama, Illinois, New Jersey, Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana, Rhode Island and Texas.

Setting the bar for overall legal corruption were Kentucky, Illinois, Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey, Alabama, New Mexico, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

States that showed up as most corrupt in both legal and illegal corruption were Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.

So, where did Louisiana rank in all these studies?

“Surprisingly enough, we received no responses from Louisiana, which is historically one of the more corrupt states in America,” the report said. http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/measuring-illegal-and-legal-corruption-american-states-some-results-safra

We knew there had to be a logical explanation. There just had to be.

Which brings us to the current survey.

“We are conducting the third wave of the survey this year and we would like you to take part in a short (5 minute) survey that will gauge your perception of government corruption in Louisiana,” Dincer wrote. “We will again be contacting as many news reporters/journalists as possible in this endeavor to ensure that our results are as reliable as possible. The responses are entirely anonymous and cannot be related to specific participants or institutions.”

So, to all political reporters—and that includes local government beat reporters and political bloggers—in Louisiana who may be reading this, here is the link to their survey.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KYNN5FC

Now that the legislative session is over and there is no gubernatorial election on the near horizon, there’s no reason for you not to participate.

Be completely truthful, candid and forthright and we can return Louisiana to its rightful spot at the top of the rankings.

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Apparently Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has never read the First Amendment. Neither, apparently, has 32nd Judicial District Court Judge Randal Bethancourt. Nor does it seem that either has ever checked into the constitutional status of Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute.

Larpenter made national news last Tuesday (August 2) when he sent a posse of six deputies to the home of a suspected blogger and hauled away two laptop computers because the blogger said bad things about the high sheriff. Somehow, six men to confiscate two laptop computers approaches overkill, but perhaps that’s the way things are done in Terrebonne Parish. After all, the laws that apply to the rest of us don’t seem to hold much water with Larpenter and Bethancourt. https://theintercept.com/2016/08/04/sheriff-raids-house-to-find-anonymous-blogger-who-called-him-corrupt/

The blogger, after all, had said some really bad things about Larpenter and Parish President (and former State Rep.) Gordon Dove and Dove’s business partner Tony Alford, who landed a huge benefits package brokerage contract for Larpenter’s office, and their jointly-owned trucking firm, and Dove’s former legislative assistant Debbie Ortego who was given a $79,000-a-year job as Dove’s new officer manager, and Debbie’s husband Dana who is Dove’s Risk Manager, and Dana’s nephew Parish Attorney Joe Waitz, III, District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr.’s son, and Sheriff Larpenter’s wife Priscilla who has a six-figure job as manager of Tony Alford’s office, and Jackie Dove who is married to Assistant District Attorney Sye Broussard. There were a few other names in the organizational flow chart compiled by the publisher of the Internet blog http://exposedat.in/wp/ but it gets complicated and somewhat confusing after that.

But the gist of the story is that certain connected entities have successfully evaded their responsibility to pay nearly $400,000 in parish taxes, malfeasance on the part of local officials for not pursuing the collection of the delinquent taxes with, in the words of the late John F. Kennedy, “great vigor,” nepotism, ethics violations, and violations of environmental regulations.

To give you a bit of background, LouisianaVoice had a post two years ago about Dove and his trucking company which got into trouble with the environmental watchdogs in Montana who, unlike their counterparts in Louisiana, tend to do their jobs with no consideration given to oil company political contributions and highly paid oil and gas lobbyists milling around the State Capitol’s rotunda with steak restaurant vouchers for famished legislators. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/06/01/gordon-dove-fox-in-the-house-natural-resources-committee-henhouse-or-perhaps-its-just-louisiana-jindaltics-as-usual/

As we read through the mystery blogger’s most recent post about Terrebonne Parish (the one that got him into trouble with Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt), we couldn’t help but be impressed with the detailed thoroughness with which he laid out his case, supported by document after document.

He had documents and links to documents to support every claim in his post and yet all that made no difference to the two officials who went after the presumed publisher of the blog, one Wayne Anderson who just happens to be a police officer for the City of Houma and who formerly worked as a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s deputy.

Despite his denials that he is the owner of the blog, he was placed on paid leave a little more than an hour after the raid.

Regardless whether or not Anderson is being truthful in denying authorship of the blog, the entire thing should be a moot point. The blogger, Anderson or whomever, has a right to free speech guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. It’s not that there hasn’t been an effort to thwart freedom of speech. Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute comes immediately to mind.

http://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2013/code-revisedstatutes/title-14/rs-14-47

That law was passed way back in the beginning of John McKeithen’s last term as governor. It was also the start of the final four-year term for Attorney General P.F. “Jack” Gremillion of whom former Gov. Earl Long once said, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book.”

Bethancourt said he had to stay within the “four corners” of the warrant and affidavit (whatever that means) and that he was unable to discern if Alford was a public official (under the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Sullivan v. New York Times which ruled that for a public official to claim libel, he must prove not only malicious intent but “reckless disregard for the truth”)—despite Alford’s status as a member of a local levee district. Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute, he said, is “pretty broad” and that he would the state to have a “look-see” at what was contained on the computers that might have defamatory statements on them.

The only problem with the judge’s interpretation of the state’s “pretty broad” defamation statute is that it is non-existent.

David Ardoin, Anderson’s attorney, correctly pointed out that Bethancourt made a mistake in approving the warrant to raid his client’s home because in 1981, the second year of former Gov. Dave Treen’s term of office, the law was declared unconstitutional. http://www.lsli.org/files/unconst_report2016.pdf

Just to put things in their proper perspective, that was 35 years ago. Way to stay current on the law, Judge. And Judge, one more thing: since the law was held unconstitutional, it would seem that neither your nor the sheriff—nor anyone else, for that matter—has any right to have a “look-see” at what is contained on Anderson’s computers. That, yer honor, is invasion of privacy.

I happened to run into former Gov. Edwin Edwards last Friday when we each were guests on different hourly segments of the Jim Engster Show in Baton Rouge. I asked him if he remembered the defamation law and he immediately responded, “Of course. It was later declared unconstitutional.” A pretty sharp mind for a man who turned 89 on Sunday (August 7).

When I explained what had occurred in Terrebonne Parish, he said, “It sounds to me like the sheriff has some very serious legal problems. I would love to be that blogger’s attorney in that civil litigation.”

Sheriff Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt have greatly overstepped their authority and their responsibility to the citizens of Terrebonne Parish. So much so that the local newspaper, the Houma Daily Courier, took a big risk in alienating the local power structure when it took the sheriff to task in a sharply worded EDITORIAL on Sunday (Aug. 7). The paper, however, stopped short of condemning Judge Bethancourt for going along with the sheriff’s Gestapo-like tactics.

Just a cursory read of ExposeDat makes it abundantly and undeniably clear that there are some cozy—too cozy—relationships that border on political incest in Terrebonne Parish. Too much authority and power is vested in the hands of too few people to allow for a workable system of checks and balances. Those few control how millions upon millions of public dollars are spent. Whenever that occurs, there is no oversight and invariably, greed becomes the motivating factor that drives virtually every action.

And it is the citizens who are the ultimate losers.

Local media are subject to economic realities, they can be—and are—squeezed by those in power so that any real investigative reporting is tempered by whatever financial pressure (read: advertising revenue) can be applied by those with the most to lose.

Because of that, bloggers like ExposeDat who are not beholden to the Chamber of Commerce or the local banks are more important than ever before.

Whenever a blogger draws the ire of a public official or is referred to as a “chronic complainer (as in the case of LouisianaVoice recently), it only means that blogger has struck a nerve. Whenever someone says “They’re just a blogger” like a State Trooper ally of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson recently said in an attempt to discredit LouisianaVoice, we just smile and say, “Yep. We are ‘just a blogger’ who exposed an attempt by Edmonson to enrich his retirement benefits by about $30,000 a year—illegally, we might add—and stopped that little scheme in its tracks.

To ExposeDat, we strongly urge the publisher, whoever you are, to keep the heat on. You’ve already done the heavy lifting and we support your lonely vigil. Don’t relent. If you know you’re doing the right thing, then follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never, Never, Never.”

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Earlier this week, we posted our story about growing frustration over the fact that time after time, when official corruption and wrongdoing are exposed, nothing is done.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/25/in-a-state-where-graft-and-corruption-abound-honesty-and-law-enforcement-have-taken-a-permanent-leave-of-absence/

And it isn’t just the wrongdoing or questionable activities exposed by LouisianaVoice that feeds our exasperation. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a member of the media or a state agency, the fact is the vast majority of the cases are quietly ignored until they go away. Ignored, that is unless it’s some hapless inner city resident caught with a couple of joints or a civil servant fudging her timesheets because her agency’s budget has been cut to the bone, forcing shortcuts on her so she can maintain an overburdened caseload.

In those cases, justice is swift and severe.

But for those in positions of power and influence, it’s quite another story.

Only in Louisiana would a sheriff under federal indictment for beating defenseless prisoners and turning vicious dogs on them and who even threatened a federal prosecutor have the gall to petition the courts to give him his gun back. (Well, perhaps Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be so brazen, but we digress.)

http://addictinginfo.org/2016/07/20/violent-sheriff-who-threatened-federal-prosecutor-wants-gun-back-because-hes-scared-video/

Nowhere is Louisiana’s chronic case of legal periodontitis more evident than with the state’s “gold standard of ethics” presented to us way back in 1984. Because of his gutting state ethics laws, the Louisiana Ethics Commissions by all appearances is unable to collect more than $1 million in fines and penalties it has assessed against 248 political candidates. These candidates run the gamut—from sheriffs to current and former legislators and a member of the Board of Elementary and secondary Education.

Thank you, Bobby Jindal.

Jindal’s ethics reform was of such a high “gold standard” that it removed all enforcement powers of the Ethics Board and handed those duties to an administrative judge appointed by the governor—in this case, Jindal. The reform had the effect of making ethics enforcement just another political animal controlled by the governor in the same fashion as the Office of Inspector General, neither of which now have any real powers.

Ten of the 11 Ethics Board members immediately resigned in protest.

Perhaps it was only coincidence, but just 10 days after taking office—and before Jindal introduced his ethics reform bill—he was himself hit with a $2,500 ethics fine after failing to report that the Republican Party of Louisiana spent $118,265 on direct mail to promote his successful 2007 candidacy.

http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/01/jindal_to_pay_ethics_fine.html

Jindal spokesperson at the time, Melissa Sellers, said Jindal would pay the fine to avoid a public hearing. The only trouble was, she said his campaign would pay the fine, an ethics violation in itself. Ethics Commission regulations prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, including ethics fines.

Political consultant Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport remembers the backroom dealings in drafting the ethics reform of 2008. “By way of my pro bono consulting for the old Ethics Board, I knew details of what House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown), Rep. (later Senator) Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Jindal’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth, Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, and Ann Wise were concocting,” he would later write.

The new laws bestowed upon Wise, an unclassified employee serving at the pleasure of the governor, the responsibility of selecting administrative law judges who would hear and rule on future ethics cases. “She was, in fact, working with Tucker, Gallot, Kostelka, and one Jindal insider identified her as one of the first people Tucker brought aboard their operation,” Stonecipher said. “At the time all of this was going on, Bobby refused to meet with Hank Perret, Chairman of the Ethics Board, with whom I was working. Under pressure, Jindal finally agreed to a half-hour meeting but would not meet without Teepell there and (Jindal) ultimately used the thirty minutes to command the discussion—never allowing it to approach what Hank was there to tell him,” he said.

“The top players and designers (Tucker, Gallot, and Kostelka) had (at the time discussions were ongoing) active and serious ethics charges against them winding through the system,” Stonecipher said (emphasis added). “Tucker had two charges and Gallot had seven. When the smoke cleared after the new laws took effect, each of them beat the rap in all cases.” Stonecipher said the top political reporters in Louisiana were informed all those details. “None of them ever wrote a story,” he said. “My articles which went to them were never acknowledged.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/09/rep_rick_gallots_ethics_charge.html

http://www.thegramblinite.com/news/view.php/396049/Appeals-court-upholds-Gallot-ruling

So Gallot, Chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee and a key Jindal ally in pushing for changes in the state’s ethics laws, was the subject of seven conflict-of-interest charges involving his legal representation of a company in business dealings with Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on which his mother was simultaneously serving.

Ethics Board Chairman at that time Frank Simoneaux of Baton Rouge (he was not re-appointed by Jindal when his term expired) called the Gallot case the first real test of state ethics laws since the Jindal reforms went into effect.

Another case pending at the time was that of Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre. He was charged with a conflict of interest because he was part-owner of Smart Start of Louisiana. He was accused of using his office for financial gain by selling ignition interlock devices to drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated.

It’s interesting to note that neither Webre nor Gallot denied the facts laid out in the charges. Instead, each invoking a statute of limitations in claiming that the board had only one year to file the charges while ethics board attorneys said the time limit for prescription was two years.

In November 2009, a panel of three administrative judges dismissed the charges against Webre.

So, to recap:

  • Jindal’s campaign paid his fine for him.
  • Webre was exonerated.
  • Kostelka, Tucker and Gallot all “beat the rap.”

Tucker was chosen Speaker of the House during Jindal’s first term.

And Gallot?

Well, he went on to be elected to the State Senate and on Tuesday (July 26), he was unanimously chosen by the University of Louisiana System as the new President of Grambling State University. To be fair, though, at least his mother no longer sits on the board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_d8c82986-5350-11e6-b653-a7be43e9ff0c.html

Gallot even found the time to write an op-ed in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he addressed his close relationship to the state’s movers and shakers and outlined his plans for Grambling. Oddly, he never got around to discussing ethics in his column.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/article_24c4f454-55a4-11e6-8f90-93862ea22176.html

For now, Louisiana appears to be stuck with a real albatross: A State Ethics Board that is powerless to collect more than $1 million ethics fines from those 248 candidates, some of them dating as far back as 25 years. The amount represents an average fine of $4,252 per candidate, though of that 248, there were 20 who had fines in excess of $10,000. Of that 20, six had fines of $20,000 or more; four were on the books for $30,000 or more and one was for $41,440.

Of the $1,054,487 in fines assess since 1991, only $57,665, or a scant 5 percent, has been paid, records show.

Court records show that in the majority of cases, fines assessed prior to 2015 that have gone unpaid have resulted in the filing of lawsuits by the Board of Ethics and in many of those cases, judgments against the individuals have resulted.

To be fair, the recipient of that $41,440 levy, James Fahrenholtz, has paid nearly half ($19,342) of his fine. That’s not to say Fahrenholtz, a former member of the Orleans Parish School Board doesn’t have other problems. In an unrelated matter, he was arrested in April 2015 for theft of a lobbyist’s iPad tablet.

Besides Fahrenyholtz, those owing $10,000 or more include:

  • Donald Pryor, former candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar (paid $1,757 to date);
  • Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards and a candidate for Secretary of State: $31,000 (paid $5,453 so far);
  • Gary Wainright, former candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,200 (paid nothing on assessment);
  • Percy Marchand, former candidate for State Representative: $26,660 (paid nothing to date);
  • Thomas Robichaux, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $20,060 (paid $800);
  • James Perry, candidate for State Representative: $18,060 (paid nothing);
  • Edward Scott, candidate for U.S. Representative: $17,380 (paid nothing);
  • Robert Murray, candidate for State Representative: $17,080 (paid $160);
  • Jason Wesley, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $16,000 (paid nothing);
  • Isaiah Marshall, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council; $14,600 (paid $1,240);
  • Patrick Tovrea, candidate for Jefferson Parish School Board: $14,220 (paid nothing);
  • Joel Miller, candidate for Washington Parish Sheriff: $12,360 (paid nothing);
  • Melva Vallery, office unknown: $12,000 (paid nothing);
  • Marvin Frazier, candidate for Sabine Parish Sheriff: $11,800 (paid $4,031);
  • Myron Lee, candidate for State Representative: $10,900 (paid nothing);
  • Sandra Hester, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660 (paid nothing);
  • Remic Darden, office unknown: $10,600 (paid $350);
  • Thelma Brown, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $10,000 (paid nothing);
  • Ali Moghimi, candidate for Monroe Mayor: $10,000 (paid nothing).

Other notable personalities hit with ethics fines and the amounts paid on their fine include:

  • State Rep. John Bagneris: $4,680 (nothing paid);
  • Livingston Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff: $1,760 (nothing paid);
  • State Rep. Michael Jackson: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister: $1,260 (nothing paid);
  • Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Ernest Wooton: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kyra Orange Jones: $2,500 (nothing paid).

Here is a complete list of UNPAID fines assessed by the Board of Ethics

In January, the Ethics Board staff drafted an opinion on former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols and her job as a lobbyist for Ochsner Health System which typically, was not adopted by the full board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_22f710cd-dda5-5b79-9545-db933add8f6e.html

That opinion said state law would prohibit Nichols from advising Ochsner on any matter involving the Division of Administration (DOA) until October 2017. It also said she could not deal with legislators who handle the state budget (and that should include all 105 representatives and 39 senators because they all must vote on the state budget.

http://www.ethics.la.gov/AgendaAttachments/27389/PublicAgendaAttachment.pdf

Rather than making a definitive decision, which was—and is—its responsibility, the Louisiana Board of Ethics boldly postponed action—at the request of Ochsner—until February.

Well, February has come and gone and the Ethics Board has yet to post anything online and we are now back to our original lament: Nothing gets done.

 

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By Robert Burns

After Louisiana’s FYE books were closed on June 30, 2013, the Jindal administration touted the fact that 2,340 hospital employees had been laid off during that fiscal year. Nevertheless, one hospital, the Huey P. Long Hospital in Pineville, was proving particularly vexing for Jindal’s administration.

With much fanfare, Jindal’s folks called a news conference to announce that the hospital’s operations would be transferred to England Airpark with an estimated $30 million required to renovate the facility which was closed in the early 1990s. The money was said to come from $5 million pledged by the England facility and the remainder from state-issued capital outlay bonds issued during FYE ’13.

Despite all of the hoopla associated with the announcement of the transfer, the proposal ended up fizzling out, and Jindal’s administration had to conjure up a “Plan B.”

That turned out to be another iteration of the public/private partnerships for which the Jindal administration essentially could have qualified for a patent on crafting such arrangements. In this instance, the public/private partnership would entail Rapides Regional Medical Center and Christus St. Frances Cabrini Hospital taking over much of the workload of Huey P. Long.

Of course, the whole proposal had the

gnawing obstacle that it needed approval from those darn folks at the Legislature, and that’s where things got interesting.

To accomplish the goal, Senator Gerald Long obediently introduced

Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 48 in the regular session of the 2014 Legislative Session. On March 31, 2014, the Senate Committee posted an agenda for its meeting of April 2, 2014; however, that agenda was devoid of any reference to SCR-48.

On April 1, 2014 at 4:07 p.m., a revised agenda was posted in which SCR

-48 was posted and itemized to include a notation entailing its subject matter: “creating a new model of health care delivery in the Alexandria and Pineville area.” Amendments were added to SCR-48, and it ultimately passed both the House (66-28) and Senate (26-11).

Baton Rouge attorney Arthur Smith, III,

filed litigation on behalf of affected employees of the hospital and others alleging violations of Senate Rules of Order 13.73 and 13.75.

Also alleged was a violation of Louisiana’s Open Meetings Laws

, and relief was sought to have SCR-48 declared null and void (a relief available under Louisiana’s Open Meetings laws) based on that violation and also an assertion that SCR-48 was unconstitutional. A preliminary injunction was also sought to block the closure of the hospital with the ultimate goal of obtaining a permanent injunction.

The trial court granted the preliminary injunction, but it simultaneously suspended enforcement of the

preliminary injunction upon the defendants (the Louisiana Senate, LSU, and the State of Louisiana) perfecting an appeal.

It was initially believed that the Louisiana Supreme Court (LSC) would decide the matter because of the issue raised of the constitutionality of SCR

-48. However, the Supreme Court quickly refused to hear the matter in stating that it was “not properly before this Court.” The Supremes (no, not the singing Supremes) elaborated by ruling that it could consider only matters which had been declared unconstitutional in a court of law.

Since the trial court’s reasons for judgment only made reference to the

potential unconstitutionality of SCR-48 without making a definitive declaration that it was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court denied writs.

Meanwhile, the hospital was closed, and Smith took his case to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. That appeal was dismissed based

upon the fact there was no active injunction to prevent the hospital from being closed. That was the case because, expecting (wrongly) the Supreme Court to rule on the matter, Judge Robert Downing suspended the preliminary injunction. With no injunction in place to prevent the closure, the hospital was padlocked.

The First Circuit issued its decision on September 15, 2015. That ruling notwithstanding, the

declaratory judgment aspect of the lawsuit could proceed forward, and that led to a hearing in 19th JDC Judge Don Johnson’s courtroom on Monday, June 13, 2016.

During that hearing, much of what has been elaborated above was rehashed, but then co-counsel for the day’s proceedings, Chris Roy, Sr., of Alexandria, took center stage and converted what had been basically a snooze fest into a fireworks display.

Prior to Roy beginning testimony, Judge Johnson interjected a few points of his own into the arguments. First, Johnson indicated that, while he was a student at Southern University, he experienced a significant health issue and went to Baton Rouge’s local charity hospital

, Earl K. Long, and he said, “I sure was glad it was there to treat me.”

Earl K. Long was also shut down by the Jindal administration and subsequently demolished. Emergency room treatment of indigent patients was initially taken over by Baton Rouge General Midtown. But Baton Rouge General closed its emergency room more than a year ago. That forced low-income charity patients in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish to travel a much further distance to Our Lady of the Lake Medical Center in South Baton Rouge for treatment. That point was not lost on attorneys for the defendants who claimed that care would continue to be provided for the underprivileged, but such care would simply now take place under the new public/private venture.

Roy said that the closure of the

Huey Long Charity Hospital caused an enormous level of anxiety among the community’s population and also with the employees of the hospital. Johnson acknowledged that fact and said, “I’m aware of that fact. They didn’t like it at all.” Roy stressed that “125 employees lost their jobs and $11 million in wages were lost as a result of this episode.”

Roy focused most of his arguments on the fact that, contrary to defense attorney claims, the whole issue

of SCR-48 is not now “moot.” He emphasized that ordinary citizens are provided with only one mechanism for making their sentiments known about proposed legislation and that is through “showing up and testifying at committees and subcommittees of the Legislature.”

Roy then rhetorically asked how they were supposed to do that w

hen the Senate would engage in such a “flat-out violation” of posting an addition to the agenda at 4:07 p.m. the day before a hearing when the clearly-established deadline was 1 p.m. for such an addition. Roy then stressed his age, and even poked fun at the relative youth of one of his opposing counselors (who appeared to be in his late 20s at most), in indicating that he, Roy, was one of the participants in the formation of the present Louisiana Constitution.

Roy said, “One of our main objectives was to try and make everything as transparent as possible because there had been a prior governor, whom I won’t reference by name (a thinly veiled reference to Huey Long), who sought to keep the public from knowing

anything that was transpiring.” The irony of the subject matter of the suit being the closing of a hospital named for him seemed not to be lost on anybody in the room.

“Your Honor,” Roy continued, “the Senate basically said ‘to hell with the Constitution. We are the Senate of the State of Louisiana, and we decide what we will do and won’t do.’” Roy then emphasized that opposing counsel could not simply argue that the whole matter was “moot,” and assert a defense along the lines of “we won’t do it again.” Roy then emphasized that Louisiana Senate President John Alario is a good man with integrity and a close personal friend of his, but he then asserted that what Alario allowed to transpire in this instance was just “wrong.”

The State sought the granting of a Motion for Summary Judgment (MSJ) to dismiss the case, and the plaintiffs sought the granting of an MSJ declaring SCR-48 to be null and void. In the battle of the MSJs, Johnson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs: “SCR-48 of the 2014 Regular Session is declared to be Null and Void. The Plaintiff’s may seek attorney fees, costs, and expenses through post-hearing motion. The Joint Motion for Summary Judgment filed by defendants is denied.”

Now all that remains to be seen is whether the state will have to pay salaries and benefits retroactive to the hospital’s closing date to those 125 employees (the amount given was $11 million saved by closing the facility) or if there will be yet another appeal of a 19th JDC judge’s ruling to the First Circuit.

The smart money is on an appeal.

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By Robert Burns

With all parties acknowledging the need for an affirmation of her ruling Monday (June 13, 2016) by the First Circuit Court of Appeal, 19th JDC Judge Janice Clark denied multiple exceptions filed by the Louisiana State Office of Group Benefits (OGB) in response to a lawsuit filed by six retired state employees.

The lawsuit alleges that OGB, which provides health insurance coverage to nearly a quarter of a million state workers, teachers, retirees, and dependents, didn’t follow proper approval procedures calling for prior notice and public comment on significant changes to their health insurance coverage.

Winston DeCuir, Sr., who claimed in oral arguments before Judge Clark that the lawsuit was “moot,” explained that in June 2014, significant changes began to come under consideration for OGB benefits.

When an uproar began that the contemplated changes had not followed proper procedures, former Louisiana Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell’s Office issued a ruling on September 23, 2014 that, in fact, the rule-making process had been circumvented.

Pursuant to Caldwell’s ruling, DeCuir said, OGB sought an “emergency rule” to take effect because of the urgency of the situation. When Judge Clark inquired, “What triggered the need for the emergency rule?” DeCuir responded that the rapidly-shrinking balance in the reserve fund prompted OGB actuaries to say something had to be done as soon as possible.

DeCuir indicated that genuine concerns existed that, if the rate of decline wasn’t slowed, the system could literally deplete its reserve balance and be left with no funds with which to pay claims. He neglected to say the reserve fund was drawn down from its one-time high of $500 million by the reckless fiscal policies of the Bobby Jindal administration.

DeCuir explained that because of the looming impact the rule change would have on those covered by OGB benefits, on November 23, 2014, OGB issued the emergency rule but also provided simultaneous guidance entailing the additional costs to those covered.

He indicated that some costs would continue to be reimbursed until September 30, 2014 rather than August 1, 2014 as was originally planned.  He also emphasized that full implementation of the changes would not transpire until March 1, 2015 rather than January 1, 2015.

DeCuir noted that the final rule entailing full implementation was implemented on February 20, 2015 to replace the emergency rule. He said that with the required 180-day timeframe for going through normal procedures for rule changes, together with another 180 days to actually implement the changes, OGB’s reserves would have run a very serious risk of being fully depleted before the effects of the changes could take hold.

DeCuir said a public hearing was held on the changes but was “very, very poorly attended.”  He added, “In fact, I don’t know if any of Art’s (Smith, counsel for plaintiffs) clients were even present for the hearing.” Arthur Smith, III, dismissed the hearing as a “sham” designed to accomplish nothing but “window dressing with everything already done.”

Smith then focused his arguments on Jindal’s administration having “drained” OGB’s reserve balances. That statement prompted a sharp retort by DeCuir who said, “That statement simply is not accurate. There was not one dime transferred out of OGB’s reserves to the general fund. What transpired is that premiums charged to members declined. That, in turn, resulted in a decline in the State of Louisiana’s match in that it covers 75 percent of the cost of the coverage.  That is what caused the reserves to decline.”

Judge Clark then asked for reiteration of the fact that no funds were swept from OGB’s reserves to the general fund. Both DeCuir and Michael Adams, another defense attorney representing OGB, were emphatic in stating no such sweeps transpired.

What actually occurred was this: the administration lowered premiums so that its own 75 percent match would be reduced and the money saved from that maneuver was then used to cover some of the recurring budgetary shortfalls experienced by Jindal and a sadly incompetent but compliant Legislature for eight straight years. The decline in premiums, Mr. DeCuir, was not caused by fewer covered employees but by the clumsy shell game perpetrated by Jindal and Co. That statement, Mr. DeCuir, is accurate.

DeCuir indicated to Judge Clark that the plaintiffs may not be happy if they get what they’re ultimately seeking with their lawsuit. He explained that it’s conceivable that plaintiffs could end up owing OGB significant premium dollars if the plaintiffs do in fact ultimately prevail.

In making her ruling, Judge Clark stated: “The Court is of the opinion that plaintiffs have stated a valid cause of action within the four corners of the document.  It’s time for this matter to be presented to the First Circuit, which I understand is now returning from Sandestin, so that these plaintiffs can know whether they can move forward with their claim or have it drained.”

Adams then inquired about the prospect for him to assert Exceptions for Prematurity and Subject Matter Jurisdiction. Clark said that the Exception of Prematurity was too “intertwined” with DeCuir’s exception and therefore denied that exception as part of the day’s proceedings.  When DeCuir inquired if he could reassert the Exception of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Clark indicated he could “have another bite at the apple, but it needs to be quick.”

Smith wrapped up the proceedings by inquiring about a Motion to Compel he’d previously filed, but Clark said, “Surely that matter can be resolved between the parties.” Adams then indicated that Smith had modified his discovery requests to make it far more narrow and that he believed that a mere meeting between him and Smith ought to be able to negate the need for any hearing on a Motion to Compel.

Adams said after the day’s hearing that he would appeal Clark’s ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeal.

Judge Clark said if the whole matter proceeds to trial, “It will be a challenge to keep the jurors awake when all those actuaries start testifying.”

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