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There’s been a major rule change to Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier’s Monopoly game.

Defendants in the 14th Judicial District Court may no longer pass Go by purchasing Get Out of Jail Gift Cards.

Okay, in the parlance of the classic board game of my youth, that’s something of a mixed metaphor. Anyone over 65 who has played the game knows that you collect $200 for passing Go and a Get Out of Jail Free card comes with the luck of the draw when you land on Community Chest.

But as it applies to past practices of DeRosier’s office, the metaphor is justified—and appropriate because DeRosier does run something of a monopoly and cards were certainly involved.

You may recall the LouisianaVoice STORY of Nov. 6 in which we called attention to a Nov. 1 story in a slightly more widely-read publication, the WASHINGTON POST (sorry, but if you don’t have a subscription the Post has a pay wall that only allows subscribers to access its stories—so you’ll just have to take my word for it), which described an ongoing scam over in Calcasieu whereby those arrested in the parish could buy their way to a reduced sentence by purchasing gift cards and donating them to the DA’s office.

Well, after the Post story and after our punctuation mark five days later, the district judges of the 14th JDC have abruptly put the quietus to the practice.

While it would appear highly unlikely that the good judges could have been unaware of the ongoing practice, there’s nothing like a little publicity to bring everyone around to the realization that even the appearance of a little not-so-subtle coercion, i.e. extortion, is never a good thing, especially when carried out in the name of law and order.

So, the obvious thing to do would be to stand tall for right and justice—‘cause now, folks are looking.

In the wake of the Post’s story and two days before LouisianaVoice came along with our reminder, DeRosier sent out a one-sentence memo to parish probation officers.

The memo, dated Nov. 4, read:

  • “Any defendant on Misdemeanor Probation who desires to change or modify any terms Misdemeanor Probation will be required to present such request to the court for its consideration. Only after response from the court will this office take any action to modify any term or condition of Misdemeanor Probation.”

Well, not so fast.

Click HERE to read DeRosier’s memo.

On Monday (Nov. 18), 14th JDC Judge W. Mitchell Redd, in a letter to DeRosier on which all the 14th JDC judges were copied, wrote:

  • “This confirms our recent meeting in which you informed us of the District Attorney’s program that had been allowing criminal defendants to purchase gift cards and give the gift cards to your office as a means of reducing up to one-half of their community service obligation.”

(Notice how Judge Redd was careful to note that DeRosier had only recently “informed” the judges of the program. That might be construed as deniability by someone more skeptical than I.)

Judge Redd continued:

  • “You asked the Court to advise you on whether or not the Court wished this program to continue as to criminal defendants who have been sentenced by the Court to community service.”

One might normally think the DA would have cleared this with the judges before the program was ever implemented and not as an afterthought—or more correctly, after the bright glare of light shone on it by the Post.

One might also have reckoned that the good judges would not have waited more than two weeks after the Post story or waited until after their “recent meeting” with DeRosier to issue its directive.

Finally, Judge Redd concluded his letter to the DA:

  • “Please be advised that the Court has discussed the matter and agreed not to allow gift cards to be substituted to any degree (emphasis mine) for our court-ordered community service. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. We appreciate you taking your time to discuss this with us.”

Click HERE to read Judge Redd’s letter to DeRosier.

The only question not addressed by the judges is what to do about the gift cards defendants already purchased and gave to the DA’s office which were supposed to be used for charitable purposes such as purchasing toys and gifts for underprivileged children but which in some cases were used instead to purchase gifts for staff members, their grandchildren and other relatives—and to DeRosier’s friends and political supporters and even journalists.

But then, that little matter probably didn’t come up in DeRosier’s “recent meeting” with the judges.

 

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The saga of Mangham contractor Jeff Mercer is taking on all the ugly characteristics of a conspiracy between the state, the 4th Judicial District Court, and the 2ND Circuit Court of Appeal.

Mercer is the contractor who was forced out of business by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) when DOTD withheld more than $11 million he was owed when he resisted SHAKEDOWN EFFORTS by a DOTD inspector who demanded that Mercer “put some green” in his hand and that he could “make things difficult for mercer.”

He is also the man who dug his heels in and sued DOTD, eventually winning a staggering $20 million JUDGMENT after a jury trial in Monroe’s 4th JDC.

And he is the man who saw his verdict overturned by the 2nd Circuit.

It’s not like LouisianaVoice didn’t obtain INTERNAL DOCUMENTS from DOTD that supported Mercer’s claim that he was owed the money. They did. In spades.

But then, more information became public. This time, it was about 2ND Circuit Court Chief Judge HENRY N. BROWN, who assigned the case to himself despite his ties to DOTD.

Brown subsequently wrote the opinion which reversed the unanimous state district court verdict. Subsequent to that adverse opinion, Mercer learned of Brown’s ties to DOTD and filed an application for rehearing and a motion to recuse and vacate the panel’s opinion which, of course, was denied.

But then even more damning information surfaced, including reports of ex-parte communications, unauthorized computer accessing, and apparent falsification of discussion of an alleged DE NOVO REVIEW by Brown of Mercer’s trial court record.

A year after Mercer’s motion to recuse was denied, Brown and his law clerk were gone. Brown was FORCED TO RESIGN after being suspended for his alleged behavior toward colleagues who were considering an appeal involving a close female friend of Brown’s.

So, Mercer did what anyone so aggrieved would do: He filed a 71-page PETITION TO ANNUL the 2nd Circuit Court’s judgment.

And that’s when the appearance of a tight-knit conspiracy begins to take shape.

The petition to annul was filed in 4th JDC in Monroe on September 27 but now the 2nd Circuit Court, which is not even a party to the original lawsuit, has jumped into the fray in an effort to seal documents sought by Mercer.

If that seems a bit confusing, it is. The 2nd Circuit’s MOTION, itself under seal, seeks an ex parte order to seal documents of the 2nd Circuit which Mercer feels would demonstrate rampant corruption in the 2nd Circuit which would in turn, justify overturning the appeal court’s reversal of his trial court verdict.

In a head-scratching claim in its decision to reverse the lower court verdict, the 2nd Circuit said Mercer had not proven the DOTD official had acted with malice or had prevented him from submitting contracts to the state.

No malice? Shakedown attempts? Withholding $11 million owed Mercer (which had the effect of preventing him from bidding on future contracts).

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what would constitute the definition of “malice” in the eyes of the 2nd Circuit if such intimidation didn’t do the trick.

If all that isn’t bizarre enough, motions are scheduled to be heard Thursday by 4th JDC Judge J. Wilson Rambo.

Rambo, of course, was a central figure in another case involving the DESTRUCTION OF DOCUMENTS in a lawsuit by developer Stanley Palowsky, III.

The words of a judicial CONSPIRACY first appeared in connection to that case and nothing we have heard or read since then has removed the cloud over the entire 4th JDC.

Documents the 2nd Circuit seeks to seal include objections to jurisdiction as well as internal documents, bench memos, and drafts of opinions.

“If the judge (Rambo) seals it (the record), they’ll bury this,” Mercer said.

His words could well be prophetic.

Which would justifiably raise the question: What price justice?

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Iberia Parish continues to generate negative publicity that only serves to underscore the racial divide in that parish. This time, though, it’s not the sheriff’s office but the office of District Attorney Bo Duhé and instead of silencing African-American prisoners, Duhé’s office is attempting to undercut the authority of an African-American judge

Sarah Lustbader, writing for http://theappeal.org/, described on Tuesday the legal effort of the DA’s office to force the recusal of 16th Judicial District Judge Lori Landry from more than 300 criminal cases.

On Wednesday, Katie Gagliano, writing for the Acadiana Advocate, put a slightly different spin (the DA’s spin, as contained in Duhé’s office’s legal filings) on the same story.

While Gagliano’s STORY dealt with confrontations between Judge Landry and attorneys for the district attorney’s office, Lustbader chose to hard statistics that reflect harsher penalties for blacks who commit felonies than for their white counterparts. You can read that story by going HERE.

But there’s more to the story—as there nearly always is.

And it’s not that First Assistant DA Robert Vines, who is white, filed the recusal motion—the same Robert Vines who was named LEAD PROSECUTOR in a case involving alleged illegal manipulation of the Cypress Bayou Casino’s employee and payroll databases.

Cypress Bayou Casino is run by the Chitimacha Indian Tribe in St. Mary Parish and in June 2016, the tribe’s chairman, O’Neil Darden, Jr., was arrested by State Police on charges of felony theft, accused of stealing from the tribe by tinkering with the casino’s data bases that resulted in his receiving an “annual bonus” of several thousand dollars to which he was not entitled.

The only problem with Vines serving as lead prosecutor in that case is that Darden hired Vines in January 2016, six months before his arrest, as prosecutor for the Chitimacha Tribal Court.

Apparently, the question of recusal never came up in that case.

Of course, the Cypress Bayou Casino case is not related to the latest controversy arising in the DA’s office, but it does illustrate how the district attorney’s office—along with the office of Sheriff Louis Ackal—operates as a law unto itself.

As further illustration of the manner in which justice has been turned on its ear in Iberia, there is the case of DONALD BROUSSARD. In July 2016, Broussard, who had begun a drive to recall Sheriff Ackal, was rear-ended in adjacent Lafayette Parish by a hit-and-run driver named Rakeem Blakes.

Broussard followed Blakes, getting close enough to read the license number, which he gave to a 911 dispatcher before falling back. Moments later, after entering Iberia Parish, Blakes was killed when he collided with an 18-wheeler.

Broussard was subsequently indicted for manslaughter by Duhé and sentenced to four years hard labor. Thus, the message was sent loud and clear: Broussard, a black man, should have known better than to initiate a recall of Ackal.

So, there is obvious acrimony between Judge Landry and Duhé’s office, but when one looks beyond the legal motions filed by Vines and analyzes the data provided by Lustbader, it’s easier to understand why there might be some undercurrent of resentment in Iberia Parish’s black community.

There is a real disparity in the manner in which justice is meted out and there has been little effort to address that disparity.

The Appeal is a non-profit media organization that produces original journalism about criminal justice that is focused on the most significant drivers of mass incarceration, which occur at the state and local level.

Its job is to address that disparity.

Duhé’s job, apparently, is not.

 

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John Paul Funes walked into federal district court in Baton Rouge on Thursday, not in an orange prison jump suit but in a dark business suit with a nicely-pressed blue shirt accented by a pink tie, for his sentencing in connection with his EMBEZZLEMENT of nearly $800,000 from a Baton Rouge hospital foundation—a children’s hospital foundation at that—and received a whopping 33 months in prison.

Funes, 49, was already receiving more than $350,000 per year in salary from the foundation he headed but that, apparently, was not enough.

He could have been sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for his transgressions but U.S. District Judge John deGravelles, who earlier accepted Funes’ guilty pleas, apparently felt that 33 months was punishment enough for the white-collar crimes of wire fraud and money laundering.

Contrast that, if you will, with the sentence handed down to one BERNARD NOBLE, an African-American not pulling down $350 thou a year.

Back in 2010, he was arrested while biking in New Orleans—a bicycle, mind you, not a Lexus or BMW—for possession of three grams of marijuana. It would be seven years before he saw his family again.

Sentenced to 13 ½ years in prison at hard labor without the possibility of parole as a habitual offender—he did have previous drug arrests, none of them violent and none which involved stealing from cancer-stricken children—he spent seven years behind bars before being finally freed on parole, thanks in large part to the efforts of billionaire New York hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb who spent years lobbying courts and Louisiana elected officials to reverse Noble’s sentence.

Three grams. Enough for two whole joints.

Meanwhile, Funes pilfered gift cards intended for cancer patients. He flew family and associates to LSU and Saints football games on charter flights he labeled on the books as “outbound patient transports,” and funneled nearly $300,000 to the parents of two former LSU football players–$107,000 to the mother and sister of former quarterback Rohan Davey (they kicked back $63,000 to Funes) and $180,000 to James Alexander, father of former LSU offensive lineman Vadal Alexander.

But for DEREK HARRIS of Abbeville, an unemployed Gulf War veteran, things didn’t turn out so well. He’s currently serving life imprisonment for selling $30 worth of weed to an undercover agent.

After posting bond following his 2009 arrest, Harris, who also happens to be African-American, waited three years for his trial to start. He chose a trial by judge rather than facing a jury. On June 26, 2012, the judge found him guilty and imposed a 15-year sentence.

But that apparently wasn’t enough for the district attorney, who then filed a habitual offender bill of information based on Harris’s prior arrests and on Nov. 15, 2012, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole—his service to his country be damned. For $30 worth of marijuana, which shouldn’t rise to the level of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a foundation intended for children suffering from cancer and giving it to football players’ families.

Did I mention that Funes got just 33 months for that? Or that he was making $350,000 a year when he went off the rails?

Noble was riding a bicycle and Harris was unemployed and were sentenced to 13 ½ years and life, respectively, for pot. Funes stole from sick babies. And he’ll serve maybe half of those 33 months before he’s a free man again. Maybe.

Following Noble’s conviction, two district court judges attempted to lower his sentence to five years because of his lack of a violent record but Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro put the kibosh on those attempts. Loeb, a major supporter of criminal justice reform efforts, eventually learned of his case and became involved.

Appeals to then-Gov. Bobby Jindal fell on deaf ears and it wasn’t until John Bel Edwards became governor and efforts were begun to reduce maximum sentences for marijuana possession. Finally, through the combined efforts of Loeb, Nobel’s attorney Jee Park of the Innocence Project of New Orleans (IPNO), Cannizzaro finally relented and he was re-sentenced to eight years.

Funes, however, received 33 months for embezzling from a charitable foundation to which people contributed in good faith in the belief they were helping sick children, some of them terminally ill.

Of course, Funes did help a couple of LSU football players and he did make restitution of $796,000, which is equivalent to little more than two years’ salary for him, so that must make it all right.

 

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It’s been a busy last couple of weeks, to say the least:

  • Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards was forced into a runoff with millionaire businessman Eddie Rispone who had never run for office before and who offered no specific solutions to Louisiana’s problems other than to say he was going to “fix it,” a-la the late Ross Perot and that he would lower taxes a-la Bobby Jindal.
  • In the all-important races for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the big money was the big winner. Seven candidates backed by LABI and its PAC money won seven seats on the board, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that it’s not who has the best ideas and who is the best-qualified, but who has the money that determines who gets elected in Louisiana. Voters continue to listen to the sound bites and to read the brochures that clutter our mailboxes instead of educating themselves on the issues. Perhaps the completion of an intensive civics course, complete with a required essay on all the candidates should be a criteria for voting.
  • Two Soviet-born emigres managed to penetrate the White House’s inner circle by cozying up to Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump by pouring $350,000 into federal and state Republican campaigns and contacted Ukrainian officials at the behest of Giuliani in his efforts to dig up information on Democrats. No word if any of that $350,000 went into the Rispone campaign.
  • Trump threw erstwhile allies Kurds under the bus by pulling out American forces, using has his excuse the somewhat dubious claim he wanted the U.S. out of the mess in the Mideast even as he was committing more troops to Saudi Arabia to aid that country in its fight against Iran.
  • LSU won a classic heavyweight match-up with Florida and moved into the number two spot in the national rankings.
  • The Hard Rock Café Hotel in New Orleans that was under construction in the French Quarter collapsed, leaving at least two dead and raising questions about construction inspections similar to those raised in a similar incident in Baton Rouge more than 40 years ago. That’s when a building undergoing construction on Airline Highway collapsed, killing three workers and injuring three others. The building had recently undergone its “final inspection” which pronounced it “ready for occupancy.”
  • In a textbook SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuit, the Ascension Parish Council responded to a public records request from former employee Teleta Wesley by filing a lawsuit against her. The same course was taken by the 4th Judicial District Court (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes) judges against The Ouachita Citizen newspaper and by the Welsh Town Council against town council member Jacob Colby Perry. Similar action was also threatened but never taken by Lake Charles attorney Russell Stutes, Jr. in response to public records requests submitted by Billy Broussard who was never paid by Calcasieu Parish to remove debris from Hurricane Rita in 2005. Such lawsuits are filed for the sole purpose of shutting up critics who generally don’t have the resources to fight such nuisance lawsuits.

Several surveys came out recently that revealed some interesting facts.

  • Louisiana, with a poverty rate of 18.6 percent in 2018 (down from 19.7 percent the year before), improved somewhat to the fifth-poorest state in the nation. The state came in ahead of (in order) New Mexico, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia.
  • Monroe, meanwhile, ranked as the 28th poorest metropolitan area in the U.S. with a median household income of $44,353 and a poverty rate of 20.7 percent and with 12.2 percent of households with incomes under $10,000 (both among the 10 highest rates). Not to be outdone, the Shreveport-Bossier City metro area was 14th-poorest with a median household income of $41,969 and a poverty rate of 20.4 percent.
  • Louisiana’s state retirement system, often criticized by the numbers-crunchers, while not on the best financial footing, was nevertheless, in “only” the 20th worst shape (putting the state not very far from the middle of the pack) with a funded ratio of 65.1 percent and a total pension shortfall of $18.2 billion (19th highest). That compares favorably with Kentucky’s funded ratio of only 33.9 percent and its $42.9 billion shortfall (the worst in the nation) and next-door neighbor Mississippi, which had a funded ratio of 61.6 percent but a total pension shortfall of $16.8 billion, two spots better than Louisiana’s.
  • Finally, a survey of the worst colleges in each state was done using U.S. Department of Education, Niche and College Factual (college ranking services) data based on graduation rates, costs of the university, salaries post-graduation, average student debt, and return on investment. Grambling State University near Ruston was deemed the worst in Louisiana. Grambling has a anemic graduation rate of only 10 percent and students leave with an average student debt of $27,656. With a median post-graduation salary of only $28,100, the default rate on student loans is 16.1 percent. By comparison, the worst college in Mississippi is Mississippi Valley State, which has a graduation rate three times that of Grambling at 29.8 percent and a loan default rate of 18.9 percent on average student loans of $32,252. In Arkansas, the worst is Philander Smith College in Little Rock which has a graduation rate of 39 percent but a default rate of 20.1 percent on average student debt of $26,616. The worst school in the nation is DeVry University. While it operates in nearly every state, its physical location is Illinois, so it was ranked as the worst in that state with a graduation rate of only 20.6 percent and average debt of $30,000 per student.

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