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Archive for the ‘Judges’ Category

He’s been gone from office for three years now but the legacy of Troy Hebert lives on at the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC).

Hebert recently prevailed in a federal lawsuit filed for fired ATC agent Brette Tingle and that decision is currently being appealed.

But another suit  by fired agent Randall Kling, tried in state court resulted in a jury award of nearly $400,000, plus legal interest from May 26, 2011, the date Kling filed his suit in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

That decision, which somehow flew under the radar of all Baton Rouge news media, including LouisianaVoice, was rendered just over a year ago, on December 30, 2017 and like the Tingle decision, is currently under appeal.

Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith represented both Tingle and Kling in their litigation.

In that action, Kling had claimed that when he made official complaints of what he deemed was offensive behavior on the part of Hebert on March 16, 22, and 25 in 2011, Hebert fired him on March 30.

The jury verdict form revealed that jurors determined by a 9-3 vote that Kling “was engaged in protected speech on a matter of public concern” under the Louisiana Constitution. It then said, by an 11-1 vote, that “His termination was substantially motivated by his protected speech.”

The breakdown of the award was $243,045 in lost wages, $75,000 for mental anguish and distress and another $75,000 for loss of enjoyment of life.

Nineteenth JDC Judge William Morvant, in writing the formal judgment, somehow managed to circumvent the usual 6 percent per annum interest the state pays on judgments and set total interest at $9,538.06.

At 6 percent, interest would normally accrue at a rate of about $24,000 for each year since the suit was filed in May 2011 until final resolution, which is still pending.

If applied as in other judgments against the state, that would mean Kling would be entitled to more than $168,000 to date.

In any case, it will be the taxpayers of the State of Louisiana, and not Hebert, who will be called on to pay the judgment should the verdict be upheld by the First Circuit Court of Appeal and, should it advance that far, the Louisiana Supreme Court.

And that $400,000 doesn’t even include the cost of the state’s having to pay a contract attorney to defend Hebert and the Department of Revenue, costs paid through the Louisiana Office of Risk Management.

It’s another example of state officials, in this case, Troy Hebert, not being held personally accountable for their actions and taxpayers having to pick up the tab for their bad behavior.

Morvant, by the way, is the same judge who only yesterday (January 10, 2019) declined to hold Attorney General Jeff Landry personally liable for refusing to allow an Indiana woman access to what were clearly public records.

Unless some real teeth are put into these judgments, Louisiana’s public officials will go on disregarding the law in the knowledge they will suffer no personal consequences.

This needs to change.

 

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Until judges begin holding public officials personally liable—and making it hurt—for their continued disregard of Louisiana’s public records law, there’s simply little incentive to get them to change their habit of attempt to conceal information that could prove embarrassing or even incriminating.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is on record via his own press release, as saying he was committed “to continue diligent enforcement of our Open Meetings Law,” recently attempted to deny access to public records to an Indiana woman on the shaky argument that as a non-citizen of Louisiana, she was not entitled to the records—never mind the fact he had already turned over 6000 pages of records to her and never mind that the state’s open meetings and public records laws go hand in hand to the public’s right to know what public officials are up to.

Apparently, she was starting to make him a bit uncomfortable so he cut her off and she FILED SUIT in an attempt to get the information she sought.

On Thursday, State District Judge William Morvant, thoroughly pissed at both sides over the numerous—and voluminous—filings in connection with an otherwise cut and dried matter, delivered a smack-down to Landry by refusing to dismiss Scarlett Martin’s suit.

Martin is seeking records concerning Landry’s perceived coziness with the oil and bas industry, including his travel, vehicle purchases, speaking fees and contracts, prompting Landry’s public information officer Ruth Wisher to say, “We can only hope it is not a political witch hunt (wonder where she got that term?) distracting from the important work of our office.”

Funny, but the state’s Public Records Act makes no mention of any requirement of state citizenship as a requisite for obtaining records nor does it cite motives, including “political witch hunts” as reasons to deny access to public information. Even funnier that such a lame line of reasoning would be advanced by the office of the state’s attorney general, presumably the premier legal authority to whom public agencies go for counsel.

Melinda Deslatte, In an Associated Press STORY, said Morvant in making his ruling, said he would not impose overly severe penalties on Landry for the lengthy time it took his office to turn over the records requested by Martin.

Instead, he said, he would only hit Landry’s office with attorney’s fees, fees that Martin’s attorney, Chris Whittington, estimated in the neighborhood of $25,000. And that doesn’t even include the cost of the state’s attorney fees for defending the indefensible.

And there’s the fly in the ointment.

Louisiana Revised Statute 44:35(E)(1) says the following.

If the court finds that the custodian arbitrarily or capriciously withheld the requested record, it may award the requester any actual damages proven by him to have resulted from the actions of the custodian. It may also award the requester civil penalties not to exceed $100 per day, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays, for each such day of such failure to give notification (emphasis mine).

Additionally, LRS 44:35(E)(2) says:

The custodian shall be personally liable for the payment of any such damages and shall be held liable in solido with the public body for the payment of the requester’s attorney’s fees and other costs of litigation, except where the custodian has withheld or denied production of the requested record or records on advice of legal counsel representing the public body in which the office of such custodian is located. In the event the custodian retains private legal counsel for his defense in connection with the request for records, the court may award attorney’s fees to the custodian (emphasis mine).

In this case, Landry was the legal counsel and the custodian of the records. Accordingly, he should have been held personally liable and hit with a penalty of $100 per day—except for the fact that Judge Morvant decided to go easy on him.

The ruling prompted a Lafayette reader to say, “Ironically, this is the same issue (ignoring public records requests) that brought… Lafayette City Marshal (Brian) Pope down. And similar favoritism was shown to Marshal Pope until media pressure was brought to bear on the issue. The judge of record, Judge Jules Edwards, showed considerable favoritism to the marshal as DA Keith Stutes. The elite protect the elite.”

And those attorney fees? Whether Morvant does award $25,000 or something less, rest assured that Landry won’t be paying it. Instead, you, Mr. and Mrs. Louisiana Taxpayer, will be the ones picking up the tab for that Landry’s little misapplication of a law any sixth-grader should be able to understand. You have already paid Landry’s attorneys and now you’ll pay the other side’s, as well.

Landry? He’s not out one red cent.

And until these judges, pissed or not, start holding public officials personally accountable for their blatant disregard of state law, nothing is going to change. The next official who finds public records requests hitting a little too close to home will try the same tactics of delay and deny, knowing that if he is sued and loses, the state’s taxpayers, not him or her, will pay the piper.

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That story about the north Louisiana contractor who was drummed out of business by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and subsequently sued and won a $20 million judgment only to have it overturned on appeal just gets curiouser and curiouser with a couple of really bizarre developments.

Jeff Mercer, a Mangham contractor who had six contracts totaling nearly $9 million for which he was never paid, said his problems began when he complained that DOTD inspector Willis Jenkins attempted to shake him down to “put some green” in his hand or that Mercer place a new electric generator “under his carport” the following day.”

You can read the initial LouisianaVoice story by clicking HERE.

Mercer, armed with emails and other correspondence, filed suit against DOTD, claiming there was collusion among DOTD officials to “make the jobs as costly and difficult as possible” for him. A 12-person jury in 4th Judicial District Court in Monroe unanimously returned with an AWARD of $20 million in Mercer’s favor in 2015.

The jury, employing such terms as “collusion,” “bribery,” “extortion,” “conspiracy,” and “corruption,” not only held DOTD liable for damages, but also held four individual DOTD employees—Willis Jenkins, Michael Murphy, Barry Lacy and John Eason—personally liable.

But wait. Judge Henry N. Brown, as Chief Judge of the Second Circuit, had the responsibility of assigning cases and in Mercer’s case, he chose to assign it to himself—and wrote the decision that didn’t just reduce but obliterated the award in its entirety in OVERTURNING the lower court verdict.

Brown’s logic was that Mercer still had his contractor’s license and was still free to bid on state jobs. But when that same contractor is owed $9 million that the state refuses to pay him, he can’t meet payroll and he can’t purchase—or keep—equipment needed to perform the work. Nor can he afford worker’s comp and liability insurance.

Mercer says he was forced to sell off all his equipment—backhoes, trackhoes, dozers, trucks, etc. He estimates he lost another $2 million by being forced to sell his equipment for less than its real value. So, he is effectively out of business, Judge Brown’s opinion notwithstanding.

Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit in which Mercer still seeks payment of the $9 million that he’s never been paid makes its way slowly through the legal system.

The only problem with that was Judge Brown’s failure to recuse himself or even disclose his huge potential bias stemming from the fact that his father, Henry N. Brown, Sr., had been a civil engineer for DOTD for 44 years which “undermines the very fabric of our people’s faith in the judicial integrity of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal,” according to a MEMORANDUM in Support of Application for Rehearing and a Motion to Recuse and Vacate the Panel’s Opinion filed by Mercer’s attorney, David Doughty of Rayville.

At the trial, attorneys for both Mercer and for DOTD specifically asked each potential juror if they or any member of their family had ever worked for DOTD. “That was the first question asked every potential juror,” Mercer says. “If anyone answered yes, they were immediately excused.”

The case took 30 days to try, with thousands and thousands of pages of testimony. Yet, the Brown’s decision was rendered only 22 days after the appeal was filed, making it likely that he cherry-picked what he wanted to write since it was highly doubtful that the entire trial record could have been adequately reviewed in such a short time. The alternative would be that an attorney for DOTD drafted the decision for him and he signed off on it.

All of which can justifiably be labeled old news, already thoroughly rehashed on this site, right?

Right.

Except for a couple of recent news stories that loop right back into Mercer’s original claim of corruption, favoritism, bribery, extortion and otherwise unethical behavior by those in control of the dollars and the legal system.

Like this STORY from October 1 by KTBS-TV in Shreveport.

Judge Henry Brown was ordered by the Louisiana Supreme Court to vacate the Second Circuit Court of Appeal building in downtown Shreveport and to refrain from taking any further judicial actions after complaints that he had created a hostile environment toward colleagues who were hearing the appeal of a civil lawsuit against one of his friends from whom Brown had purchased a home.

Although Brown had recused himself from hearing the appeal because of the obvious conflict, members of the court found evidence that computer files where judges’ memos and drafts of opinions are kept had been hacked. A law clerk who worked for Brown was subsequently fired and banned from the courthouse.

And then there was this STORY by WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge that showed that one of the defendants in Mercer’s lawsuit may have had a too-cozy relationship with a DOTD contractor who manages to keep getting contracts through the agency despite repeated fines for failure to complete jobs on time.

The television station showed several photographs of DOTD engineer Barry Lacy on fishing trips, hunting trips, and at crawfish boils, and golf tournaments with officials of Coastal Bridge of Baton Rouge.

Lacy was one of four DOTD employees who were held personally liable in Mercer’s lawsuit.

DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said that while Lacy has no authority to award contracts to firms, he does make recommendations on such decisions.

It was not immediately clear if Lacy received the hunting and fishing trips or invitations to the crawfish boils or golf tournaments as gratuities but numerous OPINIONS by the Louisiana Board of Governmental Ethics have repeatedly said that “no public servant shall solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, anything of economic value as a gift or gratuity from any person or from any officer, director agent, or employee of such person if such public servant knows or reasonably should know that such person:

  • Has or is seeking to obtain contractual or other business or financial relationships with the public servant’s agency, or
  • Is seeking, for compensation, to influence the passage or defeat of legislation by the public servant’s agency.”

Meanwhile, Mercer, who was only trying to make a living, has been put out of business by a system that seems to consistently disregard the tenets of human decency, fair treatment, and equal opportunity in favor of preferential treatment, prestige, and power—with little or no consideration of the human consequences.

 

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When I was a boy, my grandfather kept feed for his livestock in what we referred to as the corn crib in our barn. Naturally, rats, attracted to the grain, were a major problem.

One day, I moved a 55-gallon metal barrel into the crib. I put a couple of handsful of grain in the bottom of the barrel and propped a wooden plank outside the barrel against the open top. That night, about half-a-dozen not-so-smart rats climbed up the board and jumped into the barrel to get the grain. Too late they found they couldn’t get out.

I killed the rats and repeated the process each night, thereby eliminating quite a large number of the vermin because they too dumb to comprehend the peril of leaping before then looked.

The Senate passage (87-12) Tuesday of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL has put Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a metaphorically similar barrel and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can climb out or if he learns from it.

Landry, you see, has spent the duration of his term of office either attacking every initiative of Gov. John Bel Edwards or praising every action of his acknowledged hero, Donald Trump.

He has been especially critical of the governor’s Criminal Justice Reform Program designed to relieve the state of its dubious title as the world’s incarceration center. Until passage of the Criminal Justice Reform Program, Louisiana had the highest rate of incarceration in a nation that had the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world.

No one would try to say there wouldn’t be repeat offenders. That goes with any prison system anywhere but Landry was quick to jump into the fray back in August when he issued a blistering PRESS RELEASE and newspaper OP-EDS proclaiming to anyone who would listen that nearly 25 percent of inmates released under the program had reoffended.

In an especially self-righteous display of sanctimony designed to garner sympathy, he called upon Edwards to apologize to the victims.

A noble but, coming from Landry, a somewhat empty sentiment intended to curry favor while having little to do with any real concern for anyone other than his own political capital. Consider this remark in his press release:

“The governor’s reckless approach to empty our jails simply so he can take credit for a smaller prison population remains a threat to Louisiana citizens. It further highlights the need for truth in sentencing.”

Well, first of all, there was never any intent to “empty our jails.” That’s almost laughable, ranking right up there with some of Trump’s wildly exaggerated claims. As for “truth in sentencing,” I bring to the stand the innumerable investigative audits conducted by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office that were simply filed away somewhere with no action taken against those responsible for mismanagement, malfeasance and embezzlement.

A statewide elected official can let state taxpayers pay his fine for sexual harassment and move on with his life but let some kid from the ghetto get busted for an ounce of pot and all hell breaks loose. Authorities swoop down on him, hustle him off to jail where he is most probably raped as he awaits his trial and sentencing to hard time. How’s that for “truth in sentencing,” Jeff?

It must have kept Landry awake last night just knowing that his hero (Trump) and his nemesis (Edwards) actually worked together in coming up with the criminal justice reform bill, a bill favored by Trump and for which First Son-in-law Jared Kushner actually lobbied.

It must have also upset the folks over at The Hayride after their EDITORIAL last August in which they called for Republican supporters of the Edwards prison reforms “to step away quietly…”

Basically, this is what the criminal justice reform bill does:

  • Sends up to 4,000 prisoners home by increasing the amount of time inmates can cut off of their sentences due to good behavior.
  • Allow more male and female inmates to serve time in house arrest or halfway facilities instead of prison cells, with exceptions for high-risk inmates.
  • Require that prisoners be placed within 500 miles of family.
  • Outlaw shackling during child birth.
  • Mandate the provision of sanitary napkins and tampons to female inmates.
  • Reduce the mandatory penalty from life to 25 years for a third conviction of certain drug offenses, and from 25 to 15 years for a second conviction.
  • Prohibit the doubling up, or “stacking,” of mandatory sentences for certain gun and drug offenses.
  • Give judges more discretion in giving less than the mandatory minimum for certain low-level crimes.
  • Make the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, which changed sentencing guidelines to treat offenses involving crack and powder cocaine equally. This could impact nearly 2,600 federal inmates.

The bill would only impact the 180,789 incarcerated in federal prisons, but many of the changes reflect reforms already implemented in many states.

It now goes back to the House, where it is expected to pass with equal ease.

At least one Louisiana politician remained true to his beliefs, however self-serving they may be.

U.S. Sen. JOHN KENNEDY was one of only 12 Republicans in the Senate and the only one from Louisiana to vote against the bill, calling it a “violation of American public safety. He sniffed last August that Edwards “calls it prison reform, I call it prison release.”

Never one to abandon a snippy sound bite if it gets him on camera, he repeated an eerily similar CLAIM last Friday: “This is not a criminal justice bill. It is a prisoner release bill.”

It’s a pity neither is running for governor. It would have been a darn interesting election from an entertainment perspective.

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Apparently, if you are drowning, lifeguards are under no obligation to protect you from harm.

If a maniac is careening down the interstate, weaving in and out of traffic at breakneck speeds, state police are not required to protect other motorists.

If that same maniac causes an accident in which you are gravely injured, first responders have no duty to try and save your life.

If someone is breaking into your home, don’t bother calling 911; they don’t have to come to your aid. Not their job.

The fire department is no longer duty-bound to respond when your home is consumed in flames.

If you witness child abuse, don’t bother calling Child Services. They have paperwork to do.

Teachers are under no requirement to teach our kids.

Why bother the rape crisis hotline? You were probably dressed provocatively anyway and brought it on yourself.

The Hippocratic Oath is out the window for physicians.

The rules of the game have apparently changed. Police departments exist now to promote fundraising projects for benefits and pensions.

Sheriffs’ departments are only for awarding political allies with jobs as deputies.

Social welfare agencies exist only to allow employees to qualify for retirement.

Extreme? Of course.

Fantasy? Not necessarily.

Not if the ruling by a federal judge in Florida is any indication of the future.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom has dismissed a lawsuit by 15 students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who somehow had the audacity to expect that school officials and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had a duty to protect them from a mass murderer.

Read the full story HERE.

In an incredible reach, Judge Bloom said that Broward schools and the sheriff’s office had no legal duty to protect students during the attack in which Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and wounded another 17 on Feb. 14, 2018.

She said the two agencies had no constitutional duty to protect students who were not in custody.

As outrageous as her decision is, one of our readers informs us she was merely complying with established U.S. Supreme Court rulings. The first, titled TOWN of CASTLE ROCK v. GONZALES, said a police department could not be sued for failure to enforce a restraining order after the estranged husband of a woman killed their three children. The other, DeSHANEY v. WINNEBAGO COUNTY, said that a state government agency’s failure to prevent child abuse by a custodial parent does not violate the child’s right to liberty for the purposes of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Next, there will be no responsibility on the part of federal agencies to protect us from tainted meat, workplace dangers, environmental threats, consumer fraud, employer harassment, racial discrimination, bogus universities, or payday loan abuses.

Oh, wait. Strike that last paragraph. We’re already there.

As our late friend C.B. Forgotston would have said: you can’t make this stuff up.

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