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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

Southern University has been hit with more than $14,000 in fines and fees as a result of an illegal executive session of the university’s system-wide grievance committee on March 18 involving four professors who were appealing the decision by Southern Executive Vice President/Vice Chancellor James Ammons to either fired, demote or reduce the pay of the four.

Nineteenth Judicial District Court Judge Richard “Chip” Moore awarded $5,000 to the four professors and to yours truly. In addition, he ordered Southern to pay $8,400 in attorney fees to Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III, and to pay $638 in court costs.

RULING ON SOUTHERN CLOSED MEETING

At the same time he ruled that any and all actions by the committee affecting the four professors from March 18 through the date of the ruling (May 13) were null and void, “said evidence being the unlawful fruit collected by the committee in contravention of the Open Meeting Law…”

The decision followed the May 6 trial in which the four professors—Elaine Lawnau, Christy Moland, Terrilynn Gillis and Marilyn Seibert—and Aswell said they were forced to exit an illegally-held closed-door meeting of the grievance committee on March 18.

In his ruling, Judge Moore said that prior to the committee’s convening in the committee room on the Southern campus, committee chairperson Marla Dickerson “met privately with all committee members to discuss whether the hearing should be open or closed to the public. Dickerson testified that the committee members unanimously and clandestinely agreed that the hearing be closed to the public (emphasis mine).

“Thereafter, Dickerson and the other committee members assembled in a boardroom and called the hearing to order with all plaintiffs being present. Dickerson then asked plaintiffs whether they desired the hearing be open or closed, and all plaintiffs moved that it be open to the public. Dickerson then posed the same question to Southern University, which advised through its counsel (Winston Decuir, Jr.) that the hearing be closed. Dickerson then authoritatively ordered the committee hearing be closed to the public, said action being taken without prior motion or vote from any committee member while the committee was in open session.”

The state’s open meeting law specifically says that (a) all votes to enter into executive session must be by a two-third majority vote and that the vote must be taken in open session and recorded in the minutes of the meeting, and (b) employee(s) filing the grievance or appeal have the final say as to whether the meeting is to be conducted in open or closed session.

The committee failed to meet either criteria.

Decuir, who appeared smug and self-assured at the outset of the trial, argued that because Southern’s handbook gives the committee the final say on executive sessions, the university was not required to comply with state law when in reality, the reverse order is true: state law trumps the school’s handbook, not the other way around.

But that did not stop Decuir from arguing that the committee “had no legal responsibility to comply with laws relative to public hearings,” Judge Moore noted.

Moreover, apparently disregarding the First Amendment, Decuir challenged my right to be a plaintiff in the matter, arguing that I had no standing even though I was there to cover the proceedings for LouisianaVoice. Under cross examination, he even asked me—as if the question had any relevance whatsoever—if I had ever covered a meeting at Southern before. Again, Mr. Decuir—I direct you to the First Amendment.

Judge Moore, who first was required to rule that Southern was a public body in order for the trial on the merits to proceed, noted that the recommendation to be made by the committee to Southern’s president/chancellor “was far too important to be made in a dark room, where no one other than committee members knew what facts and evidence it had considered…”

He said Dickerson’s own testimony “clearly established that prohibitory law was contravened when Dickerson improperly ordered the hearing go into executive session, closing the meeting to plaintiffs and the public.”

Moore also noted, “Generally, a party seeking the issuance of a preliminary injunction must show that he will suffer irreparable injury, loss, or damage if the injunction does not issue and must show entitlement to the relief sought. However, a showing of irreparable injury is not necessary when the act sought to be enjoined is unlawful, or a deprivation of a constitutional right is involved.”

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When four Southern University professors filed suit against the school over the manner in which the school’s system-wide grievance committee handled their grievance hearing, it didn’t take long for the name of James H. Ammons, Ph.D., to surface as the prime antagonist in the decision to fire, demote or cut the pay for the professors.

A trial was held on Monday of this week after the three, along with yours truly, filed suit for what we are claiming to be an illegal executive session called by the committee to handle the professors’ claims.

At issue is the university’s handbook which gives the committee final say over whether the hearing would be open to the public or closed versus state law which gives the professors the right to request—and be granted—an open meeting.

Also challenged in the lawsuit was the announcement by committee chair Marla Dickerson that the committee had voted prior to opening the meeting to enter into executive session.

The state’s Open Meetings Law expressly says that all such votes shall be taken in open session and the votes recorded in the minutes, neither of which occurred. A decision on the lawsuit, heard by 19th Judicial District Judge Chip Moore, is pending.

The grievances were filed against University Executive Vice President/Executive Vice Chancellor Ammons, whose decision it was to terminate or demote the professors.

Investigation by LouisianaVoice into Ammons’ professional background revealed a checkered past during his tenures at two other universities prior to his being hired by Southern in January 2018.

While serving as chancellor at North Carolina Central University in Durham, he was implicated in a satellite campus CONTROVERSY which skated the edge of violating state rules on program establishment and conflicts of interest.

Briefly, that involved the establishment of an unauthorized satellite campus in an Atlanta, Georgia, megachurch that had donated $1 million to the university.

The New L.I.F.E. College Program was established at the church of Eddie Long, a North Carolina Central University graduate who had been named to the university’s board of trustees two years earlier. Ammons, when questioned about the campus, professed to not remembering specifics, but said, “I accept full responsibility.”

He agreed to REPAY the federal government more than $1 million of the $3 million dispersed in financial aid for ineligible programs.

His next stop was at Florida A&M and more controversy.

At the same time his ouster was gaining momentum following the 2012 hazing death of the school band’s drum major, Robert Champion, he was negotiating $356,000 taxpayer-funded low-interest business LOANS to a company run by Ammons and his son, James Ammons, III.

At the time of the loan through the state’s Black Business Loan Program, he had just accepted and then walked away from the provost’s position at Delaware State University.

Corporate records listed Ammons as manager of Ammons Food & Beverage, LLC, and his son as registered agent. After rejecting the Delaware State job as the school’s number-two administrator, he signed a new contract to remain at FAME as a faculty member.

The loan represented the largest made through the program, representing more than 15 percent of the $2.225 million approved by the Florida Legislature to assist Florida’s black small business owners.

As pressure mounted for Ammons to resign, including a call from the governor that he step down, Rufus Montgomery, a member of the FAMU Board of Trustees, said, “This is not about hazing. This is about leadership or lack of leadership at FAMU. There have been more than 30 issues over the past year that have come before this board.

“This all came under the watch of the current president,” Montgomery said. “We have the FAMU students on trial this fall, we have no band this fall, we have a drop in enrollment coming and I read the other day that the Florida Senate is investigating the school.”

J.L. CARTER, writing for the HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) Digest on Ammons’ appointment as Southern’s new executive vice-president, said, “The last thing the (Southern) system seemingly wanted to do was to add a reason for negative speculation. But with Dr. Ammons, it did just that.”

In retrospect, his words, more than a year later, appear somewhat prophetic.

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There is only one word to describe the courts in the 4th judicial District: rancid.

It was bad enough when it was revealed that:

  • ALLISON CAMPBELL, a clerk for 4th JDC judges, had mis-filed, shredded, or otherwise destroyed records (52 different writ applications missing for more than a year turned up as being used as an end table in Campbell’s office.
  • Or that when the Ouachita Citizen sued to obtain public documents from the court, the court’s judges sued the newspaper and its publisher Sam Hanna, Jr. to prevent having to make the documents available.
  • Or that Campbell’s sister is a prominent Monroe attorney, Catherine Creed, her father George Campbell was an executive with Regions Bank and was married to the daughter of attorney Billy Boles.
  • Or that a “duty” or on-call JUDGE (Larry Jefferson) would alter bond instructions, allowing an inmate charged with five counts of aggravated crimes against nature to walk out of jail and disappear.
  • Or that Monroe attorney and former Monroe city council member ARTHUR GILMORE, JR., was sentenced to 24 months in prison and temporarily permanently disbarred by the Supreme Court for violations of the federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The disbarment was handed down as permanent but he petitioned and was approved for readmission in January.

But now, we learn that the Louisiana Supreme Court has suspended the law license of Monroe attorney DANIEL J. HUNTER for one year after an investigation by the Office of Disciplinary Council found that Hunter had mismanaged his client trust account.

(Yawn). So what, you say? Happens every day. Some lawyer dips into the account for a quick trip to the casino with every intention of repaying the money—until he loses it and then loses again in an attempt to win it back. Sometimes it’s for more sinister purposes. Many times it’s just sloppy bookkeeping and funds get co-mingled. Mismanagement could be many things but you get the idea.

But wait. Daniel J. Hunter isn’t just any old attorney.

He is the brother of current 4th JDC court judge and former Louisiana State Rep. Marcus Hunter.

Daniel and Marcus are the sons of former Louisiana State Sen. Willie Hunter.

Daniel Hunter also just happens to be employed by 4th Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew as an assistant prosecutor. He was recently demoted to prosecuting misdemeanor offenses.

So, there you have your state judicial district court in Ouachita and Morehouse parishes.

Be proud.

Remember the adage that you get the government you deserve.

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Editor’s note: Last year, LouisianaVoice published a couple of stories about the indictment of Iberia Parish Clerk of Court MIKE THIBODEAUX and the political circus that seems to be the norm for Iberia Parish. The 14-count indictment followed a 2016 investigative AUDIT by the Legislative Auditor’s office. Coming two years after the audit, the indictment would appear to be politically motivated by Thibodeaux’s FIRING of parish Assessor Ricky Huval’s son, Ryan Huval. Ricky Huval’s daughter, Rachael, it turns out, is employed by District Attorney Bofill Duhé, who brought the indictment against Thibodeaux. The excessive bail set by the presiding judge would, in itself, indicate the extent to which favoritism and cheap political theater are very much in play in Iberia Parish.

Bob Mhoon, a native New Iberian now living in Arlington, Texas, penned a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. But the Daily Iberian has appeared somewhat reluctant to publish his letter, so LouisianaVoice is doing so here.

In June of 2018 the headline was “Thibodeaux indicted.” “charges include racketeering, theft, malfeasance in office.”

Most everyone knows Mike Thibodeaux and, for the most part, they are happy with his exemplary accomplishments during twenty-two years in office. I’ve read the charges and studied the detailed audit upon which they are based. The audit and the Clerk of Court’s response to detailed findings were presented to the parish council and accepted without concern.

One of the major responsibilities of the Clerk of Court and his Chief Deputy Clerk of Court is to continually update their knowledge of all applicable laws and policies, including the periodic changes that must be added to internal policy manuals.  Interestingly, all past audits and corrective responses to items flagged were satisfactory.

What happened next? The state auditor requested a State Police investigation and that report was forwarded to the district attorney. His decision was to present to the grand jury which found charges were appropriate and Mike was formally charged.

What was the impetus for criminal charges? According to Louisiana State Auditor records, a formal complaint was made to their office by the ex-Chief Deputy Clerk of Court; someone equally responsible for managing the department during past audits. Retribution?

Not a single penny of parish money was misappropriated by the Clerk of Court or his office. True, funds were moved between accounts; simply because that was how it was always done. These oversights were quickly corrected before the charges were initiated.

The Clerk of Court was shocked when he was indicted and the judge set bail at $200,000. In setting bail the court considers; severity of charges, the likelihood of jail, and defendant’s community ties. The last factor alone should have negated all others. The likelihood of him fleeing charges is infinitesimal.  His entire life has been in New Iberia with a loving family, and a lengthy, exemplary, career in local government. The bond was excessive!

How does favoritism come into play? I reviewed a number of Louisiana Legislative Auditor cases involving functions of the governor’s office. No one involved in these oversights was charged with any crimes!

Here is clear evidence of unfairness and favoritism. Homeland Security Finding. We identified 81 reimbursement requests where $3,309,036 (31.89%) worth of expenses were not supported by sufficient documentation. March 31, 2008, through December 31, 2016, we analyzed expense reimbursements totaling $925,837,580. We noted exceptions totaling $250,074,672 (27.01%). Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness worked with the subgrantees to resolve $134,830,335 (53.92%) of the exception amount. Louisiana Department of Health; did not deposit approximately $2.8 million into the Fraud Fund between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 in accordance with state law. (Amount: $2,797,768), LDH incorrectly deposited $323,570 into the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 that should have been deposited into the Nursing Home Residents’ Trust Fund. (Amount: $323,570). Lastly, LDH spent $642,593 from the Medicaid Fraud Fund in fiscal year 2012 on software that could not be implemented due to system compatibility issues. (Amount: $642,593) There are hundreds more similar discrepancies available on the LLA website.

Mike has steadfastly supported the community and now desperately needs your help.  Make a quick phone call to the DA, expressing support for Mike. After seeing the Governor’s disorganization and auditor favoritism, Bo Duhe needs to exercise compassion and immediately drop the charges to free Mike from the unfair burden. Having to defend himself against unwarranted charges while paying an attorney large sums of money is simply wrong.

Why is the governor’s organization exempt from the law?

Bob Mhoon

Arlington, TX

 

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On March 27, 1998, barely two years after receiving his cadet appointment to the State Police Academy, Ben Johnson was terminated by State Police Superintendent Col. W.R. “Rut” Whittinton following a long string of disciplinary actions for infractions, including his off-duty altercation with a sheriff’s deputy over a woman Johnson was dating.

He next landed at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pineville as a police officer.

In March 2009, a WARRANT was executed for his ARREST for attempted forcible rape of a woman in Natchitoches. Here is a page from the POLICE REPORT.

And while he was stripped of his position as police officer for the VA, he still is employed there—in the Human Relations Department where he supposedly has access to employee personnel records, including home addresses and telephone numbers.

In October, the attempted forcible rape, a felony charge, was reduced to a misdemeanor by then-10th Judicial District Attorney Van H. Kyzar. Kyzar is now a JUDGE on Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal.

On November 13, 2009, Johnson SIGNED OFF off on an agreement that the charges would be dismissed upon the satisfactory completion of a pre-trial intervention program. (emphasis added.)

Several district attorneys’ offices were consulted and each one that responded said its policy is that those with felony charges are ineligible for pre-trial intervention programs. Click HERE to see the policies of one of those offices.

Of course, having a policy and adhering to that policy may well be two different propositions for some jurisdictions where favors are routinely awarded to friends of or contributors to the local power structure.

The pre-trial intervention (PTI) program must have been fast-tracked like no other in the history of PTIs, because he apparently managed to complete the crash course that same day. According to a DISMISSAL letter from district attorney investigator Danny C. Hall to to Barbara Watkins of the Veterans Medical Center in Pineville, charges against Johnson were dismissed that same day. Hall is no longer employed by the Natchitoches DA’s office.

One former district attorney said it was unheard of to dismiss charges on the same day an individual was assigned to a PTI, especially when the dismissal was contingent upon completion of the program. Moreover, he said, there was no way anyone could have completed such a program in a single day. “The person would have to know somebody,” he said.

A sitting judge said much the same thing. “He knew someone. It usually takes six months or longer for a case to be dismissed that way,” he said. At the same time, he said the district attorney could have seen it as a weak case, particularly in light of the fact the victim waited several days to report the incident. (The victim told police she was “embarrassed and ashamed,” and initially “just wanted to forget about the entire day” but her best friend convinced her to talk to police.)

An undated document signed by Johnson ACKNOWLEDGED that he had been arrested and charged “with the crime of attempted forcible rape, a felony,” that I freely admit my guilt and misconduct” and that the PTI program was established “to divert me from further criminal conduct.” (emphasis added.)

The victim told police that at one point prior their struggle, he told her she was safe with him because he was a POLICE OFFICER.

Johnson was first hired by Louisiana State Police on December 3, 1995 but by March 27, 1998, he was terminated because of repeated disciplinary problems.

Beginning in July 1996, barely seven months into the job, and virtually every month thereafter until his termination, he was reprimanded by his superiors for such things as:

  • Failure to be in his assigned parish for patrol;
  • Altering accident reports with white correction fluid;
  • Sloppy and error-plagued paperwork and accident reports, including incorrect dates, incorrect mileposts and even incorrect parishes and incorrect judicial districts;
  • Unauthorized attendance at a Northwestern State University football game in uniform while off-duty;
  • Altercations with fellow state troopers;
  • Rude treatment of females stopped for traffic violations;
  • Logging incorrect dates he worked on his time sheets;
  • Losing citations that he had written;
  • Allowing his patrol unit to run out of gas and then attempting to claim mechanical problems;
  • Losing his State Police badge and badge/identification card holder;
  • Failure to search and handcuff a prisoner later found to be in possession of a pocket knife;
  • Possession of radar equipment in his patrol car that had been missing and which caused considerable concern in efforts to locate the equipment.
  • Patrolling in the city limits of Alexandria and Pineville against troop regulations;
  • Calling in traffic stops before violations actually occurred;
  • Inability to locate accident he was directed to even though both vehicles were in the roadway;
  • Untimely submission of paperwork;
  • A five-day suspension for leaving his assigned parish to travel nearly 20 miles off his assigned route.
  • On April 27, 1997, barely four months after his designation as a State Police Trooper, he became embroiled in a confrontation with a Rapides Parish sheriff’s deputy after the deputy allegedly made disparaging remarks about him to a woman Johnson was dating. Johnson appeared at England Air Park where the deputy was assigned while off duty but in his state police vehicle and threatened the deputy with physical harm.

Normally, a State Trooper who resigns in lieu of dismissal can land a job with another law enforcement agency. But Johnson did not resign, he was fired, which makes it difficult to understand how he wound up as a police officer for the VA unless the VA did a rather slipshod of vetting his qualifications—or, a more likely bet, he had connections there.

And it’s equally difficult to understand how he retained his employment, his demotion notwithstanding, after such a serious offense as attempted forcible rape.

Even more baffling is why such a serious felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor and then how did he manage the “satisfactory completion” of a pre-trial intervention on the same day he was assigned to the program, allowing the charges go away instantly?

 

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