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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

A state district court last week knocked down action taken by the Vermilion Parish School Board for violations of the state’s Open Meetings Law. In what must surely be a first, I find myself in agreement with Attorney General Jeff Landry on the whole affair.

Suffice it to say, however, that Landry waited until there was a judicial ruling to take his courageous stand, a ruling 10 months in the making, while LouisianaVoice took a similar position on the removal of a teacher from a board meeting immediately.

For that matter, why the hell did it take 15th Judicial District Court Judge David Smith 10 months to issue a ruling on a matter that is supposed to be fast-tracked: the issue of public meetings of governmental bodies? To take 10 months to decide what was obviously a violation of state law is somewhat ludicrous.

Be that as it may, Smith not only ruled the school board violated the Open Meetings Law by having a teacher, Deyshia Hargrave, a Kaplan middle school English teacher, arrested and removed from the meeting because she questioned the board action of awarding Superintendent Jerome Puyau a $30,000 raise, from $110,190 to $140,188, while teachers have gone years without a pay increase.

Puyau, in an interview with a Lafayette television station, said, “By the time the teacher stood up in the audience to the time she was at the door, it was 53 seconds. During that 53 seconds, she was asked to sit multiple times, the gavel struck multiple times.”

Yes, she was asked to sit and yes, the gavel was struck multiple times in a desperate effort to keep Hargrave from further publicly embarrassing the board and Puyau. When the raise for Puyau came up on the agenda, Hargrave, the parish’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year, attempted to ask how the board could award Puyau a raise “when you’re basically taking from the teachers.”

Board President ANTHONY HARGRAVE, an Abbeville attorney who should have known better, rapped his gavel while informing Hargrave she was not on the agenda and the item being discussed was the superintendent’s contract.

Hargrave was quick to point out that she was addressing the very issue the board was considering, his gavel-rapping notwithstanding. “This directly speaks to what you’re voting on,” Hargrave said as a city marshal moved in to slap handcuffs on her and lead her from the meeting.

To view the complete video, click HERE.

The video prompted a flood of outrage from throughout the country. News organizations, from the Charlotte Observer, to The Washington Post, to The New York Times, to US News & World Report, to NPR, to NBC, to the La Crosse (Wisc.) Tribune, and even the Baton Rouge Tiger Droppings picked up on the school board’s action.

Meanwhile, Fontana, referring to Hargrave as “the poor little lady,” said, “If a teacher has the authority to send a student, who is acting up and she can’t control, out of the classroom to the principal’s office, under our policy we have the same rules.” Apparently, Fontana believed he could treat teachers as children and that getting arrested is the equivalent to being sent to the principal’s office.

And perhaps Fontana, after 25 years on the board, should have retired before deciding he was the final authority on open meetings and freedom of speech First Amendment rights.

And while Judge Smith took his time in issuing his ruling, he did take it to its ultimate conclusion in negating the school board’s approval of Puyau’s contract and his $30,000 raise—because the action was taken in what Smith said was a meeting held in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Puyau, obviously feeling he had been grievously wronged by the ruling (never mind the manner in which the board treated Hargrave—one of its teachers, no less), told Lafayette TV station KATC reporter Chris Wetly that he would appeal the decision.

“It has ruined myself and my family,” he sniffed. “It has broken me personally. It has changed me as a person…to understand that politics is ugly and they (whoever “they” is) will do anything they can to get rid of me as Superintendent.”

Hey, Puyau, trying getting arrested, being handcuffed, and led out a public meeting—for simply exercising your First Amendment right of free speech. Then you can talk about your life being “ruined” and your life “changed.”

And of course, there is Landry, always ready and willing to pick the low-hanging fruit. Here’s the headline from his news release on Monday:

Vermilion Ruling A Victory for Teachers, Public Declares Jeff Landry
AG Landry Pledges Continued Enforcement of Open Meetings Law 

“I applaud Judge Smith for remedying this injustice,” Landry said of the ruling, adding that Hargrave and her fellow teachers, “who have not received a pay increase in many years despite growing class sizes, should have absolutely been heard.”

Of course, that was an easy call to make for Landry, ever the politician on the prowl for votes wherever and whenever he can find them. “And I pledge to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” he said.

That’s a curious “pledge” for him to make. The Louisiana Constitution prohibits his intervention in parish affairs unless specifically requested to do so by the local district attorney. And as attorney general, he represents state boards, commissions, and agencies, meaning he is mandated to protect their interest, not ours. That means that in litigation over open meetings or public records, rather than enforcing the law, he defends state boards, commissions and agencies.

As ample illustration of that important distinction, observant readers will note that while LouisianaVoice WEIGHED IN on the controversy immediately, Landry, once a ruling had been made, had an opportunity to characteristically grab the spotlight with his news release. Prior to Judge Smith’s ruling, however, he had absolutely zero to say about the matter.

Nothing.

Nil.

Zilch.

So much for “diligent enforcement.”

 

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It was the end of February 1968 and John J. McKeithen was just completing his first term of office. (Unlike today, when statewide inaugurations are held in January, state elected officials then took their oaths of office in May.)

McKeithen had earlier upset long-standing tradition when he managed to change the State Constitution during his first term so that he could run for re-election. Previous governors could serve only a single four-year term before being required to (a) seek another office or (b) start raising funds and lining up support for a return four years hence. In other words, governors were barred from serving two consecutive terms.

But this isn’t about McKeithen’s savvy political machinations that allowed him to become the first modern-day governor to succeed himself. It is instead about another precedent set by the Caldwell Parish native: The invoking of gubernatorial powers under Article IX, Section 8 of the 1921 Louisiana State Constitution which resulted in the heretofore unthinkable act of suspending a sitting sheriff from office.

It’s about how the current State Constitution, adopted in 1974, removed that authority from the governor.

And it’s about how, given the freewheeling manner in which some sheriffs wield power in their respective parishes, it might not be a bad idea if that authority was reinstated if for no other reason than to serve as a constant reminder to sheriffs that their actions could have consequences.

Yes, sheriffs are elected officials answerable to their constituents and if they keep getting elected, what business would a governor have in being able to say otherwise, especially if the sheriff and governor were political adversaries?

And if the sheriff can fool the electorate, there are always the courts. But face it, the local district attorney and the sheriff are usually strong political allies who present a formidable team to anyone who would question their authority. There are exceptions, like DA Earl Taylor and Sheriff Bobby Guidroz in St. Landry, who don’t exactly gee-haw on much of anything.

But then there is Louis Ackal in Iberia Parish whose strong-arm tactics, especially where blacks are concerned, has become a source of embarrassment to the locals—or at least should be—and would be even more of a pariah if the local newspaper, the Daily Iberian, was courageous enough to call him out for his egregious flaunting of basic human dignity and his contemptuous trampling of constitutional rights.

In the case of Jessel Ourso of Iberville Parish, across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge, it was just a matter of a little Louisiana extortion that prompted McKEITHEN TO OUST OURSO on Feb. 9, 1968. Iberville was in the midst of a construction explosion with chemical plants sprouting up all along the Mississippi and the high sheriff was in a unique position to take full advantage of the boom.

Ourso placed his brother in a no-show job as a union steward for the Teamsters at one plant and contractors were ordered to lease equipment from Ourso’s nephew, State Trooper Jackie Jackson. The tipping point, though, was apparently Ourso’s requirement that contractors use a guard service owned and operated by the sheriff.

One witness described an atmosphere of “just plain racketeering and shakedowns through collusion of individual law enforcement officers and labor.” (Imagine that: the word collusion was being bantered about half-a-century ago.)

McKeithen’s decision to suspend Ourso was based on the recommendation of then-State Comptroller Roy Theriot, a recommendation which in turn stemmed from a report by Legislative Auditor J.B. Lancaster which laid out Ourso’s strong-arm tactics, including his preventing contractors from firing workers who were performing no work.

In Ackal’s case prisoners have died under mysterious circumstances, dogs have been loosed on helpless prisoners in the parish detention center, prisoners have been sexually abused, and women employees have sued—and won settlements—over sexual harassment claims.

A television network recently aired a documentary on Ackal’s fiefdom, concentrating on the death of Victor White, III, who, while he sat in a patrol car with his hands cuffed, was fatally shot in the chest—a shooting that was ruled by the local coroner as a suicide, as improbable as that had to be, considering his hands were cuffed behind him.

Ackal’s office has paid out more than $3 million in legal judgments and settlements in his 10 years in office—a rate of $25,000 for each of the 120 months he has been in office. And that’s not even counting the attorney fees of about $1.5 million. Those numbers are far more than any other parish in the state except perhaps Orleans.

And there are other cases currently pending against Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Like the LAWSUIT just filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette by Michael and Suzzanne Williams.

In that action, the pair said that sheriff’s detective Jacques LeBlanc, who has since left the department, obtained a search warrant for their home because he “thought” he had reason to believe the couple was in possession of “illegal narcotics, drug paraphernalia, currency and other controlled dangerous substance(s).”

When voices were heard outside their bedroom, Michael Williams went to the front door. When he opened it, he was ordered out of the house and deputies stormed the house. They forced Mrs. Williams outside clad only in bra and panties, refusing to allow her to dress. Williams was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car while deputies ransacked their home.

Officers “did not find a scintilla” of illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia or illegal narcotics, their petition says. Following a fruitless search, they were released with no charges being filed.

Williams subsequently appeared at the sheriff’s office on numerous occasions in an attempt to obtain a copy of the search warrant and affidavit but were provided with neither, although they have since obtained a copy of the search warrant through other sources. They still do not have the affidavit on which the warrant ostensibly was based. Instead, they were told by Dist. Judge Lewis Pittman, who signed the warrant, that LeBlanc swore under oath that he had good reason to believe they were in possession of drugs.

They are claiming that LeBlanc knew his statement to the effect that he believed they had drugs was false and that he committed perjury in order to obtain the warrant.

They are seeking $2 million in damages in their lawsuit.

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The Louisiana Supreme court maintains an attractive WEB PAGE that provides all sorts of information. Among other things, there are these handy features:

BIOGRAPHIES of JUSTICES;

BAR EXAM RESULTS;

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT the COURT;

POLICY for MEDIA;

There’s even a link to the ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY BOARD, the board that hears complaints about attorneys’ professional and private practices and metes out punishment ranging from required counseling to disbarment.

That can be a good thing in case you’re looking for an attorney to represent you. You wouldn’t want to hire legal counsel who has a nasty habit of showing up drunk in court or who doesn’t ever get around to dispensing monetary awards to clients or worse, someone who neglects a case until it prescribes.

And the court’s DECISION and RULES link can be especially brutal. It lists each individual case and goes into minute detail in laying out every charge against an attorney, no matter how personal, and then announces to the world what the Supreme Court deems to be an appropriate punishment.

Woe unto any attorney who gets caught DRIVING UNDER the INFLUENCE or who forgets to PAY HIS TAXES.

Of course, the same goes for judges found guilty of judicial misconduct, right?

Well, to borrow a phrase from an old Hertz car rental commercial: not exactly.

There is a JUDICIARY COMMISSION and it does investigate and resolve complaints against judges—or so it says.

There’s even a handy-dandy JUDICIAL COMPLAINT FORM for anyone with a beef against a judge.

But try as you might, there doesn’t seem to be a link that lists actual complaints and actions taken against judges by the Judiciary Commission. An oversight, we were sure.

So, we placed a call to the Supreme Court. Surely, there was someone there who could direct us to the proper link so that we might know the status of say, one JEFF PERILLOUX, Judge of the 40th Judicial District in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Perilloux, 51, was suspended by the State Supreme Court following his indictment on charges he sexually assaulted three teenaged girls, friends of his daughter, while on a family vacation in Florida.

This is the same Judge Perilloux who, while a parish prosecutor in 2010, was arrested for DWI. In that incident, he threatened a State Trooper, falling back on the time-honored “Do you know who I am?” ploy, advising the trooper that, “I am the parish attorney. I’m not some lowlife.” Good to know, sir. Here’s your ticket.

Then there are the two judges from IBERVILLE PARISH who were suspended in 2016.

And who can forget the judges caught up in the OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE federal investigation?

Well, apparently, the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judiciary Commission has no problem forgetting those cases. Or at least ignoring them. Try finding any mention of those on the Supreme Court’s information-laden web page.

So, we made a call to the Supreme Court.

But, alas, we encountered the old familiar stone wall when we inquired into the status of investigations into judicial misconduct. The person to whom we spoke did offer to direct us to the judicial complaint form so we had to explain a second time that we did not wish to file a complaint but instead, wanted to find information about action taken against wayward judges.

“We don’t release that information,” we were told. “The only way that gets publicized is if the media finds out about it.”

“But, but, but, you list attorney disciplinary action…It seems the public has as much right to know about judicial discipline as about attorney discipline—maybe even more of a right.”

“We don’t release information on judges.”

Here is the relevant rule applicable to records:

Rule XXIII, Section 23(a) of the Rules of this Court be and is hereby amended to read as follows:

Section 23.

(a) All documents filed with, and evidence and proceedings before the judiciary commission are confidential. The commission may provide documents, evidence and information from proceedings to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board in appropriate cases when approved by this court. In such cases, the confidentiality provisions of La. S. Ct. Rule XIX, Section 16A shall be maintained. The record filed by the commission with this court and proceedings before this court are not confidential.

In the event a judge who has received notice of an anticipated judiciary commission filing in accordance with Rule XV of the rules of the judiciary commission, moves in advance of the filing to place any or all of the anticipated judiciary commission filing under seal, the judiciary commission shall file under seal its recommendations, findings of fact and conclusions of law, the transcript of the proceedings, and exhibits. The filing shall remain under seal until such time as the court has acted upon the judge’s motion.

Which, I guess, is just another way of saying, “We take care of our own.”

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Facing discipline that included recommendations of demotion, reassignment, removal from the SWAT team and a 160-hour suspension without pay, he RESIGNED from the Opelousas Police Department.

When he next popped up, he was working as a public information officer for the St. Landry Sheriff’s Office where he tried to transform his image into that of some sort of John Wayne-George Patton clone.

But that went south as well when it was learned that his salary was being garnished by the FBI because he had paid NO FEDERAL INCOME TAXES for several years and that he was about $100,000 behind in his CHILD SUPPORT payments.

So, it was only natural that Clay Higgins would benefit from the 2016 Trump wave that would sweep him INTO OFFICE as U.S. Representative from Louisiana’s Third Congressional District.

During the 2016 campaign, he was taped by his ex-wife in a TELEPHONE CONVERSATION in which he said, “I’m just learning really about campaign laws…but there’s going to be a lot of money floating around.”

Higgins has established himself in the same mold as state and federal offices-holders Leander Perez, John Rarick, and David Duke in the two short years he has served in Congress.

Mildred “Mimi” Methvin wants to alter the image of the 3rd Congressional District to reflect a more rational approach to addressing the district’s problems at what she calls a “pivotal moment” for the district, state and the country.

Former U.S. Magistrate Judge Mimi Methvin, right, discusses her candidacy for U.S. Representative from the 3rd Congressional District with Ellen Torgrimson, New Orleans, of the League of Women Voters.

She is one of six challengers to Higgins—three other Democrats (one of whom just switched from Republican a few weeks ago), a Libertarian, and a Republican. If qualifications and past performance are any kind of barometer, she would be the hands-down selection as the candidate with the best chance of unseating the enigmatic Higgins.

Mildred “Mimi” Methvin, left, formally qualifies to run for U.S. Representative from Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional District last Wednesday. Looking on is Meg Casper of the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office.

Methvin has worked as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office and served 26 years as a U.S. magistrate judge. Magistrate judges are selected on the basis of merit and she was vetted for each of her three terms. In that position, she mediated several complex litigation cases and in 2009, she returned to private practice, having just won a $1.2 million award for a Rapides Parish teacher.

“Our Constitution is a moral covenant,” she says. “The question that must be addressed is this: Does the voice of the average American still count or is the voice of corporate America the only voice heard?

“The people of the 3rd District need to be independent, not bought by the special interests,” she said.

To that end, unlike Higgins, she has eschewed PAC contributions while Higgins has accepted nearly a quarter-of-a-million dollars in PAC money thus far, including contributions from political action committees representing big oil, utilities, defense contractors, health care companies, insurance companies, chemical companies, the NRA (through Russian operatives perhaps?), and even an outfit called the “Support to Ensure Victory Everywhere PAC.”

Methvin listed health care, coastal restoration, and income equality as issues that are important to the district. She was harshly critical of what she described as the transfer of wealth to corporations and of recent attacks by the Trump administration on NATO—and of Higgins’ voting record in Congress.

“Congressman Higgins has turned his back on promises he made as a candidate. Ninety thousand of his constituents have lost their health care while he has put dollars in the pockets of the rich. He is in lock step with the corporations.”

She accused Higgins of “incontrovertible fealty to party loyalty” over the interests of his constituents.

Having once presided over a major case in which a sheriff’s department was held liable for beating an innocent suspect with a metal baseball bat, Methvin definitely has the chops to be tough while standing up for the interests of the citizens of the district.

Higgins’ unwavering devotion to Donald Trump notwithstanding, this could be the most interesting race of all six congressional districts.

 

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Remember Robert “Robbo” Davidson, the DeSoto Parish sheriff’s chief investigator whose private company ran more than 41,500 background checks through the sheriff’s office in an 11-month period?

Davidson (now retired) was a principal in LAGNIAPPE and CASTILLO RESEARCH and INVESTIGATIONS, which charged customers $12 for each background report and paid the sheriff’s office $3 per report for a profit of more than $372,000 for him and his partner, Allan Neal Castillo.

Now, LouisianaVoice has obtained an old Facebook photograph of Davidson, along with 42nd Judicial District Court Judge Charles Adams having a little fun in the Angola State Penitentiary death chamber.

The photo shows Davidson lying on the gurney where lethal injections are administered to death row inmates. Enjoying the moment are, standing, left to right, Judge Adams, Jean Calvert, Adams’s secretary, and Davidson’s wife Linda Davidson, a DeSoto Parish constable.

The most inappropriate aspect of this photo, besides the obvious poor taste of posing for it in the first place, is that there are presently four death row inmates from DeSoto Parish at Angola and should either of the cases be remanded to 42nd JDC by an appellate court, it would put Adams, as the presiding judge, in something of an awkward position.

One of those death row inmates, by the way, is JAMES BALDWIN, father of current DeSoto Parish Sheriff Jayson Richardson.

Richardson recently refused to provide personnel files of the sheriff’s office to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office and Richardson fought back with a PETITION for declaratory and injunctive relief. Purpera countered by seeking to move the matter to the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge.

The issue of proper jurisdiction was heard by Judge Adams, who ruled that the case would be heard in his court which, in light of his coziness with the sheriff’s office, as depicted in this photo, only serves to raise more questions than answers about the propriety of hearing Richardson’s petition in Adams’s court.

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