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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal’s travails (largely of his own making) continue with the filing of yet another in a series of legal actions, this one a federal LAWSUIT filed by a former female deputy.

As is usually the case, no matter how the trial (or settlement, which is more likely) eventually turns out, the real winners will be the attorneys who will have managed to drag out legal proceedings for a minimum of 18 months, barring any further delays in the trial tentatively set for June 4, 2018.

If the case follows the all-too-common trend, however, there is almost certain to be unforeseen delays and continuances that will push that date back even further as attorneys (and there is a gaggle of those) continue to rack up billable hours.

Candace Rayburn, a deputy sheriff for more than five years, claims she was unceremoniously and summarily terminated after she spoke up in the defense of a female co-worker filed an EEOC sexual harassment charge against a male deputy.

Rayburn’s is another in a string of lawsuits filed against Ackal, who was recently acquitted in Shreveport federal court of criminal charges of abusing black prisoners of his jail. Those charges included beatings of prisoners and turning a police dog on a helpless prisoner, a gruesome scene that was captured on video and posted by LouisianaVoice earlier.

Ackal is also being sued for wrongful termination by another former deputy and by the family of a prisoner who died of a gunshot wound while handcuffed and in the custody of Iberia Parish Sheriff’s deputies. The official coroner’s ruling was that the prisoner, Victor White, died of a self-inflicted wound.

The sheriff is also indirectly involved in the manslaughter arrest of a man instrumental in starting a recall of Ackal over the White shooting. https://louisianavoice.com/2017/03/21/man-indicted-for-manslaughter-after-he-is-rear-ended-by-man-later-killed-in-separate-accident-his-sin-was-recall-of-sheriff/

Rayburn initially named both Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office as defendants but recently amended her petition to include Ackal as the only defendant.

Ackal, who paid premium fees in his criminal defense, in a classic case of fiscal overkill, has opened up the parish bank in hiring not one, not two, not three, not four, but five defense attorneys, all from the same law firm.

That’s right. Because he’s being sued in his official capacity as sheriff, Iberia Parish taxpayers will pick up the tab for his legal bills—all of them.

Rayburn, who was employed as a Sheriff’s Deputy for IPSO from July 21, 2008 to November

15, 2013, says she received “overwhelmingly positive reviews from her Supervisors” and was even named “Employee of the Year” in 2012.

But when Deputy Laura Segura filed a sexual harassment complaint against Chief Deputy Bert Berry, she voiced her support of Segura. Within two weeks, she says, she was brought before the department’s disciplinary board which recommended a one-year probationary period and that she be offered remedial training. Instead, she claims in her suit, Ackal fired her for “multiple (uncited) policy violations,” actions she claims were committed “with malice.”

Rayburn is claiming loss of pay, loss of benefits, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

She is seeking reinstatement, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

To say Ackal has lawyered up would be an understatement. He has retained half the Lafayette law firm of Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais: Allison McDade Ackal, Homer Edward Barousse, III, Kyle Nicholas Choate, Joy C Rabalais, and Taylor Reppond Stover.

Rayburn is represented by Justin Roy Mueller, also of Lafayette.

The calendar, rules, and SCHEDULE set forth by the court are simply mind-boggling and serve to illustrate why our courts are so backed up—and why justice is only for those who can afford it.

The court, invoking something called Rule 30(a)(2)(A), placed a limit of 10 on the number of depositions that may be taken in the case, limiting each to one seven-hour day—absent written stipulation of parties to the suit or of a court order.

Should the parties participate in the maximum 10 depositions with each one running the full seven hours allowed, that’s 70 hours of legal fees for which the parish must stand good.

Applying an arbitrary rate of $200 per hour (which most likely is considerably less than the hourly rate the parish paid his attorney in his criminal trial), that comes to $14,000—and that doesn’t count the costs of court reporters, expert fees, filing fees and countless other hours the five attorneys will be billing the parish for, or the Segura settlement which reportedly cost the parish in the ballpark of $400,000.

All in all, with all the legal expenses incurred by Ackal and his deputies in all the lawsuits and criminal charges, the folks in Iberia Parish must be asking themselves about now if they can really afford to keep such a financial liability in office.

Some might even call him high maintenance.

Others might call him a genuine physical threat.

By anyone’s definition, though, he is a loose cannon.

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While much has been written lately here and by other news outlets about overtime abuse by Louisiana State Police (LSP), particularly on that infamous trip to San Diego back in October, there is a program whereby State Troopers may legitimately accrue overtime through an agreement with local district attorneys

The Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) detail is a program established pursuant to an agreement between LSP and the district attorneys whereby fines collected by the local criminal court fund may be used to pay State Troopers overtime pay for additional highway patrols for traffic enforcement.

Prior to implementing a LACE program, the local law enforcement, judges and district attorneys must agree to implement the program, and the criminal court fund authorized by Louisiana R.S. 15:571.11(L) may be used to fund the overtime pay off-duty police officers to provide law enforcement services.

In 2011, the latest year for which figures are available, Louisiana State Police issued 120,437 speeding citations on LACE and 68,932 on regular duty, according to the 2012 annual report of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. With these combined resources, Louisiana experienced a 10.46 percent decrease in speed-related fatalities in 2011.

The program has not been without controversy as LouisianaVoice has found troopers, particularly in Troop D in Lake Charles, who were allowed to work LACE while suspended from regular duty for disciplinary reasons.

But what happens when a local district attorney signs on to the program and then doesn’t pay State Police for the overtime?

Well, since the troopers performed the work, they must be paid so the money comes from the LSP budget instead of from fines collected by the local jurisdiction as was the original intent.

That’s exactly what has happened in St. Landry Parish where the parish is in arrears by more than $290,000 for 11 months, from March 2016 through January of this year.

Because of the district attorney’s failure to pay, LSP has suspended LACE activity for St. Landry Parish.

The monthly amounts owed LSP by St. Landry District Attorney Earl Taylor range from $17,870 for August 2016 to $39,392 for January of this year, according to a month-by-month accounting provided by LSP pursuant to a LouisianaVoice public records request.

Charles Cravins, formerly the regional director for the Fourth Congressional District, serves as Taylor’s Chief Administrative Officer, lending credence to the idea that he would be the one to see that the bills are paid. The District Attorney’s Web page boasts, that Cravins’ “extensive administrative experience” and his background in public service “makes him well equipped to handle the day-to-day operations of the D.A.’s office.”

So how did St. Landry manage to get 11 months in arrears (not counting February or March of this year)?

“I have no idea,” said LSP public information officer Maj. Doug Cain.

Could it be because so many cases are nolle prossed?

“No way,” says a retired State Trooper. “With the income they generate from tickets, they have plenty of money to pay LSP.”

He’s probably right, considering I-49 runs through St. Landry which provides a ready-made money machine for traffic courts from Lafayette to Shreveport.

Perhaps a better question is why did LSP allow Taylor to ignore his obligations for long while continuing to assign troopers to LACE duty in St. Landry?

Perhaps Taylor is about to make efforts to finally bring his account current.

In a two-page letter to Taylor dated March 22—two days before State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson’s retirement took effect—LSP Assistant Secretary and General Counsel Gene Cicardo referenced a payment schedule the district apparently has agreed to. Cicardo asked that Taylor sign and return a copy of the letter “to memorialize our agreement” so that LSP may be paid for its work and so that it may reinstate the LACE program for St. Landry.

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A question for Public Service Commissioner Mike Francis:

How much is enough?

And that’s not a rhetorical question. We really want to know what your limits are.

According to Francis, a wealthy man in his own right, he should be entitled to a free lunch.

Literally.

You see, the political campaigns of Public Service Commission (PSC) members, the Louisiana Insurance Commissioner and judges at every level are financed in large part by the very ones they regulate or do business with on a daily basis.

But apparently that association is not cozy enough for Francis, who wants to remove all restrictions on accepting free meals from representatives of utilities, motor carriers, and others regulated by the PSC.

Granted, the PSC purports to hold itself to a higher standard than actual ethics rules allow. Legally, elected officials are allowed to accept up to $60 per day in food and beverage under the guise of “business” lunches or dinners. But, as Baton Rouge Advocate columnist and resident curmudgeon JAMES GILL writes, the PSC, at the urging of members Foster Campbell and Lambert Boissiere, rammed through a rule barring all freeloading.

That didn’t sit well with Francis, who is financially solvent enough to daily feed the entire commission out of his petty cash account.

Saying he wanted the commission to be run like a business, he sniffed that a working lunch is “pretty standard procedure in the real work world.”

Our question to Francis then is this: since when is government run like a business? Businesses are run to make a profit; government is run to provide services for its citizens. The two concepts are like the rails on a railroad track: they never cross though they often do appear to converge.

And then there is our follow up question to Mr. Francis: isn’t it enough that you manage to extract huge sums of money from the industries you regulate in the form of campaign contributions? Why would you need a free lunch on top of that?

After all, your campaign finance reports indicate you received $5,000 from AT&T, $5,000 from ENPAC (Entergy’s political action committee), $5,000 from Atmos Energy Corp. PAC, $2,500 from the Louisiana Rural Electric Cooperative, $2,500 from Dynamic Environmental Services, $2,500 from ADR Electric, $2,500 from carbon producing company Rain CII, $2,500 from Davis Oil principal William Mills, III, $2,500 each from Jones Walker and the Long law firms, each of whom represents oil and energy interests. There are plenty others but those are the primary purchasers of the Francis Free Lunch.

LouisianaVoice would like to offer a substitute motion to the Francis Free Lunch proposal. It will never be approved, but here goes:

Let’s enact a law, strictly enforced, that will prohibit campaign contributions from any entity that is governed, regulated, or otherwise overseen by those elected to the Public Service Commission, the Louisiana Insurance Commission, judgeships at all levels, Attorney General, and Agriculture Commissioner.

  • No electric or gas companies, oil and gas transmission companies, or trucking and bus companies or rail companies could give a dime to Public Service Commission candidates.
  • Lawyers would be prohibited from contributing to candidates for judge or Attorney General.
  • Insurance companies would not be allowed to make contributions to candidates for Insurance Commissioner.
  • Likewise, companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and BASF, who control 75% of the world pesticides market, and Factory farms like Tyson and Cargill, which account for 72 percent of poultry production, 43 percent of egg production, and 55 percent of pork production worldwide, could no longer attempt to influence legislation through contributions to candidates for Agriculture Commissioner.
  • Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) could no longer accept contributions from individuals or companies affiliated in any way, shape or form with education.

While we’re at it, the Lieutenant Governor’s office oversees tourism in the state. In fact, that’s about all that office does. So why should we allow candidates for Lieutenant Governor to accept campaign contributions from hotels, convention centers, and the like?

This concept could be taken even further to bar contributions from special interests to legislators who sit on committee that consider bills that affect those interests. Education Committee members, like BESE members, could not accept funds from Bill Gates or from any charter, voucher or online school operators, for example.

Like we said, it’ll never happen. That would be meaningful campaign reform. This is Louisiana. And never the twain shall meet. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) would see to that.

But wouldn’t it be fun to watch candidates scramble for campaign funds if such restrictions were to be implemented?

We might even see a return of the campaign sound trucks of the Earl Long era rolling up and down the main streets of our cities and towns after all the TV advertising money dries up.

Ah, nostalgia.

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“No good deed goes unpunished.”

“Karma’s a bitch.”

“What goes around comes around.”

No matter how you say it, good intentions sometimes bring unjust punishment and sometimes those good intentions result in very bad results.

Just ask Donald Broussard of New Iberia.

Last July 8, Broussard was rear-ended in Lafayette Parish by a hit-and-run driver who minutes later collided head-on with an 18-wheeler in adjacent Iberia Parish and was killed.

Yet it was Broussard who was indicted by an Iberia Parish grand jury last week for NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE.

You are probably thinking about now that there has to be more to this story—and you’re right, there is more to it.

You see, Broussard did the unpardonable: On July 1, a week before the auto accident, Broussard was the impetus behind a RECALL of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Broussard was one of the organizers of the Justice for VICTOR WHITE III Foundation which filed a petition last July 1 to force a recall election.

White, you may recall, was the 22-year-old who died of a gunshot wound while in the back seat of a sheriff deputy’s patrol car in March 2014. The official report said the gunshot was self-inflicted. The coroner’s report said he was shot in the front with the bullet entering his right chest and exiting under his left armpit. White’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time.

Ackal, of course, skated on that issue and was later indicted, tried and acquitted on federal charges involving beating and turning dogs loose on prisoners, proving beyond any lingering doubts that he is a force to be reckoned with. But when you’ve got retired federal judge and family member FRED HAIK helping with the defense, you tend to land on your feet.

All of which brings us to the latest woes to beset Broussard.

The story in Sunday’s Daily Iberian reads, “A New Iberia man who was instrumental in the drive to recall Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal last year has been indicted for manslaughter in the aftermath of an alleged road rage incident that left a Bossier City man dead in July.”

Here’s the chronology of events:

Moments before the fatal crash, Rakeem Blakes, 24, rear-ended a Cadillac driven by Broussard at the corner of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and U.S. 90 in Lafayette Parish which is just up the road apiece from Iberia Parish.

Broussard said he followed Blakes after Blakes fled the scene when Broussard approached his car but denied that he chased Blakes. “The guy hit me,” Broussard said. “I got within 20 feet of him so I could get his license plate number. I gave it (the license number) to the (911) dispatcher and they told me to fall back, so I fell back.” Broussard said reports that he had a gun were ridiculous. “I don’t even own a gun, he said. “I told the State Police they could search my car. They just handed me my license and let me go on my way.”

Broussard said Blakes was driving erratically, causing a hazard for other drivers.

Sixteenth Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé said the case involving Broussard was turned over to his office for review in November following completion of the LSP investigation.

In what has to be one of the most convoluted reviews of any investigation, Assistant District Attorney Janet Perrodin presented the case and the grand jury last Friday returned a true bill indicting Broussard for manslaughter and “aggravated obstruction of a highway,” which led to Blakes’ death.

Unexplained in this bizarre episode was how Broussard created an “aggravated obstruction” when it was Blakes who rear-ended him and subsequently fled the scene. Duhé, in some pretty fancy verbal footwork, said state law allows a manslaughter charge to be brought when an offender “is engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person. Aggravated obstruction of a highway is the performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered,” he said.

That’s one helluva stretch, Mr. DA. It’s also one of vaguest laws ever cited in bringing an indictment against someone. I mean, go back and read it.

Manslaughter: when one is “engaged in the perpetration of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person.”

Aggravated obstruction of a highway: the “performance of any act on a highway where human life may be endangered.”

And we know that a district attorney can make a grand jury dance a ballet in a septic tank if he so desires. It’s all in what information is provided the grand jury and what is withheld. By those definitions, any one of us could be arrested, jailed, tried and convicted at just about any time for any perceived offense.

But we won’t be. This was tailored just for Mr. Broussard who had the temerity to take on a powerful sheriff who has shown his proclivity to exact revenge against those who would dare stand up to his authority.

Broussard’s bond on the manslaughter charge was set at $75,000 and bond for the aggravated obstruction charge was set at $10,000.

Given any semblance of justice, there’s not a chance in hell of a conviction.

But whoever said there was a semblance of justice in this ludicrous drama being played out in the heart of Acadiana?

Only the most naïve of the naïve would discount a good-ol’-boy, back scratchin’ network within the local power structure, especially if it benefits a powerful sheriff bent on revenge against an adversary. Even if that adversary  is, by all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing other than making the sheriff angry.

The recall effort eventually failed for a lack of sufficient signatures but that doesn’t mean that Ackal doesn’t have a long memory and the propensity to call in favors from friends in the right places.

And even if the charges are dropped or if Broussard is acquitted, it’s going to cost him plenty in legal fees.

And that’s how you spell revenge when you are a ruthless sheriff who can tweak the so-called justice system to do your bidding.

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Louisiana State Police (LSP) captains were called in to headquarters in Baton Rouge on Monday to hear the news that had already leaked out across the state that Superintendent Mike Edmonson was stepping down but officially, the head of LSP’s public information office said he knew nothing of reports that he said were “above my pay grade.”

But truth be told, after the way LouisianaVoice has latched onto the sorry story at LSP, had I been in Doug Cain’s position, I probably would’ve done the same thing. I hold no ill will toward him because he was in an unenviable position. On the one hand, his job is to inform the public but on the other, he had a boss to whom he answered. I’m old enough to grasp the realities of the situation.

That boss, while defiantly denying he would resign as late as last Friday when LouisianaVoice first said he was on his way out (and we did say it first), ended his 36-year career at State Police with a whimper today with his announcement that he would resign his position as the longest-tenured superintendent in LSP history.

Today’s online edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate carried the STORY of Edmonson’s announced retirement and in so doing, tied his decision to the “widening controversy” surrounding that San Diego trip taken by Edmonson and 15 subordinates to see him receive a national award.

But that trip, including the side trip taken to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon by four troopers in a state vehicle en route to San Diego, is not the story of what is really wrong at LSP. As one veteran observer of law enforcement noted, the San Diego trip is a mere symptom of a much larger problem festering in the bowels of State Police headquarters. It was never the story.

This was a story of a State Police Superintendent who once told a group of sheriffs at a roundtable meeting at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Baton Rouge that when it came to choosing between State Police and the sheriffs, his loyalty was with the sheriffs.

There are the ever-persistent rumors of parties, too many parties being held in conjunction with official functions. They simply did not coalesce with what the image of law enforcement is supposed to be about.

There are reports, growing in number even as this is being written, of junkets to New York in private jets paid for by a police uniform vendor, to the Washington Mardi Gras celebration paid for by a local contractor, to Cancun on the private jet of a north Louisiana supporter, and of trips to gaming conferences in the company of the owner of video poker machines (Edmonson is ex-officio member of the State Gaming Commission).

There were seemingly endless reports documented and posted by LouisianaVoice of inconsistent discipline of State Troopers, depending on whether or not the trooper was in the inner circle of the Edmonson clique.

A trooper with multiple prescriptions for a controlled narcotic, instead of being disciplined for showing up to work impaired, was promoted and made commander of Troop D in Lake Charles.

A married lieutenant who, along with a few buddies and a couple of single female “bartenders,” took a borrowed limo to a Vicksburg casino. At the casino, he took one of the girls, who was underage, onto the floor of the casino to play blackjack. He was apprehended by Mississippi gaming officials and tried to negotiate his way out of the situation by proclaiming he was a Louisiana State Police lieutenant and “can’t we work something out?” He was fined $600 by Mississippi officials and promoted to commander of Troop F by Edmonson.

A trooper who twice had sex with a female while on duty (once in his patrol car, no less), was barely disciplined at all.

Troopers at Troop D were given days off for making a minimum number of DWI arrests, no matter if the driver was actually drinking. Just make the arrest and let the district attorney dismiss the case—you’ll still get credit for the stop—that was the unwritten policy.

Another trooper at Troop D owned a daytime construction company. So, instead of working a full shift at night, he would work a couple of hours and then go home to sleep the rest of the night so he could work his private job during the day. This was allowed to go on for an extended period of time until LouisianaVoice revealed what was taking place.

Department of Public Safety (DPS) Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux was allowed to take a buyout for early retirement but stayed retired only a single day before coming back with a promotion and about $55,000 in early buyout money which she was ordered to return—but did not. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/08/24/edmonson-not-the-first-in-dps-to-try-state-ripoff-subterfuge-undersecretary-retiresre-hires-keeps-46k-incentive-payout/

When she finally retired for good, Edmonson, appearing before a compliant State Police Commission stacked with his supporters, pushed through the creation of a new lieutenant colonel position to take over her duties. In pitching the position, he told the commission that it would create no additional cost and that it was not being designed specifically for Maj. Jason Starnes.

Guess what? Starnes got the job, the promotion, and a $25,000 raise. Now he administers Management and Finance for LSP despite having no accounting degree or background. When member Lloyd Grafton asked about Edmonson’s promise of no additional expense, no one on the commission seemed to remember.

It was Grafton who first used the term “money laundering” when discussing how the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) funneled LSTA funds through the personal checking account of its executive director David Young so that political contributions could be made to key political candidates. Young subsequently submitted expense reports for reimbursement of the campaign contributions. Grafton should know a little about money laundering: he is a retired ATF agent.

The LSTA did refuse Edmonson’s request that the association pen a letter to Governor-elect John Bel Edwards recommending that Edmonson be reappointed superintendent. Edwards reappointed him anyway.

And, going back to 2014, there was that surreptitious amendment inserted onto an otherwise benign bill in the closing minutes of the regular legislative session. State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) did the honors in introducing the amendment. Passed overwhelmingly over the promise that it would have no financial impact on the state budget, it instantly awarded Edmonson a healthy bump in retirement income.

Edmonson had, years earlier, entered what was referred to as DROP, a special retirement plan that was said to be “irrevocable” which at the time locked in his retirement at about $76,000. At the time the amendment was approved, it would have meant an additional $55,000 to his retirement but with the recent pay increases pushing his salary to its current level of $177,400, it would have meant a retirement increase of a whopping $101,000.

LouisianaVoice was notified of the amendment via an anonymous letter. That was when Mike Edmonson first appeared on our radar.

Then State Rep. John Bel Edwards, who unwittingly voted for the amendment, subsequently called for House Speaker Chuck Kleckley to investigate the maneuver but the invertebrate Kleckley refused.

State Sen. Dan Claitor (R-Baton Rouge) then filed suit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge and a district court judge struck down the amendment.

Edmonson, true to form, at first denied any knowledge of the amendment but later admitted that one of “his people” came up with the idea and he gave the approval.

That was pretty much in line with the blaming of his secretary for using a signature stamp to approve overtime pay for that San Diego trip and his decision to throw the four who drove to San Diego under the bus for taking an unauthorized detour—even though it has since been learned by LouisianaVoice that he knew the route the four were taking and was in touch by text and phone the entire trip.

That’s the Edmonson persona. He has consistently shirked responsibility for actions that could cast him in a bad light and basked in the glow when things went well. He even is said to have told a retiring trooper—a veteran of two tours in the Mideast wars, no less—that he was a coward and a disgrace to his uniform in a late-night telephone conversation.

While other media have only recently joined in the investigation of LSP and Edmonson (and make no mistake, it was heartening to see them doing solid investigative work), LouisianaVoice has been there all along. This was not a sprint to LouisianaVoice, it was a marathon. And if this sounds a little vain and boastful…well, it is.

And it isn’t over. LouisianaVoice has pending numerous public records requests with LSP on other matters within the agency. We do not intend to let Edmonson’s resignation diminish our ongoing examination of why one man was allowed to bring a great department into such disrepute and disgrace.

The rank and file Louisiana State Troopers deserve better.

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