Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Lawsuits’ Category

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?

Read Full Post »

For those who prefer the fast-paced action of James Patterson, John Grisham or James Lee Burke, In Sullivan’s Shadow isn’t for you.

But if you are a political junkie with an eye for a scholarly work about a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that was key to the simultaneous support of the First Amendment and the American civil rights movement, then you will definitely fine In Sullivan’s Shadow riveting reading.

Author Aimee Edmondson, a native of East Carroll Parish, never really appreciated the stark reality of having grown up sheltered from exposure to blacks, attending as she did, an all-white private school, until she bumped into an African-American student from her home town her freshman year at LSU. Only then did she realize that even in a small town like Lake Providence, they had grown up worlds apart. When she innocently observed that she didn’t attend public school back home, he simply shook his head and said, “No s**t.”

Edmondson, who teaches journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, has crawled back through the legal archives of civil rights litigation to give us a long-awaited examination of SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuits used as weapons against national publications like Time, The New York Times, Look, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and even The Ladies’ Home Journal and bold local editors who saw resistance to the civil rights movement for what it was: a desperate attempt to keep blacks “in their place” while preserving the comfortable—and separate—lifestyles of whites.

While local television stations in the South would display “Technical Difficulties” on viewers’ screens whenever their networks would air footage of blacks being beaten in Southern bus stations, the national publications—and to a lesser extent, courageous small town editors like Hodding Carter, Buford Boone and Hazel Brannon Smith—were providing graphic coverage that left people like Lester Sullivan, Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor, Lawrence A. Rainey, and retired Army Gen. Edwin Walker in a litigious mood.

Sullivan was Commissioner of the Police and Fire Department of Montgomery, Alabama, Connor was Birmingham Police Commissioner, and Rainey was Sheriff of Neshoba County, Mississippi.

In a series of separate SLAPP filings, they launched a full-scale attack on the national publications, CBS News, CBS reporter Howard K. Smith, himself a native of Ferriday, Louisiana, and local newspapers that dared to take a stand against arrests, beatings, arson, and even murders. And of course, black newspapers and civil rights leaders were not exempt from the costly litigation.

Edmondson calls up some familiar names when she describes how the struggle for equality made its way to Baton Rouge. Names like Police Chief Wingate White, U.S. District Court Judge E. Gordon West, 19th Judicial District Court Judge Fred LeBlanc, and District Attorney Sargent Pitcher, Jr., Mayor John Christian, and Rev. Arthur L Jelks surface in her recounting of the volatile struggle.

She even manages to provide us with a brief account of the ongoing battles between blacks and Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

But more than just a rehashing of police dogs, fire hoses and clubs, Edmondson’s book focuses more on the legal struggles that came out of the multitude of SLAPP actions brought by Sullivan, Connor, Rainey, and Walker.

In frightening detail, she shows how these lawsuits bullied CBS into a public apology for Smith’s reporting and how editors at The New York Times genuinely feared for the financial existence of the publication should it lose its landmark case brought by Sullivan.

But then, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that even if a publication had factual errors in its reporting on a public official, that public official must show that the publication new its story was false and published it anyway, with malice and reckless disregard for the truth.

But then, when Gen. Walker sued over stories that he instigated rioting during the integration of the University of Mississippi, the Supreme Court went a bit further in declaring that Sullivan protected publications from litigation not only from public officials, but from public figures, as well, thus cementing the right of freedom of the press.

In Sullivan’s Shadow is a must-read for political junkies, especially in a time when the adversarial relationship between the media and public officials–particularly on the national stage—is more acrimonious than it’s been since Montgomery, Birmingham and Neshoba County.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Former British Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898) is generally credited with coining the phrase, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Anyone who has had the misfortune of navigating our legal system in a civil lawsuit is keenly aware of the relevance of Gladstone’s insightful observation, especially if an individual should find himself pitted against the unlimited financial and manpower resources of, say, state government.

No one knows that better than three individuals who have seen their cases languish for as long as eight years with no resolution in sight. Murphy Painter, Corey DelaHoussaye and Billy Broussard have found the state attempting to ground them into submission through a flurry of legal motions.

The state has taken a page out of the playbooks of Allstate and State Farm in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Delay, deny, defend. Like those billion-dollar insurance companies, the state can afford to drag a case out indefinitely in the hopes of either demoralizing or bankrupting a plaintiff.

For those who insist that every person is entitled to his day in court, there is an equally compelling argument that justice can be bought. In criminal matters, the wealthy defendant who steals millions from his company or the politician who runs off a bridge, killing his female passenger, has a far better chance of avoiding a lengthy jail sentence—or any at all—than, say, some down on his luck individual who has the misfortune to getting caught with a joint. That’s because he can’t afford the legal representation and extracted courtroom fight as can those with greater resources.

LouisianaVoice will examine the legal pitfalls encountered by each of the three persons mentioned above in separate stories beginning today in an effort to show how the state drags out these cases as a tactic to wear down their finances and their will to keep fighting.

In the case of Murphy Painter, Bobby Jindal tried to set him up on bogus charges way back in August 2010 when he wouldn’t bend to the wishes of the late Tom Benson, a major contributor to Jindal’s political campaign, over a licensing issue. In our initial 2013 story about the prosecution, LouisianaVoice was the only media outlet to say publicly—and correctly—that Painter was being SET UP by Jindal.

Subsequent to that, we learned that the WARRANT executed on Painter’s ABC office was illegal in that the raid was carried out three days before the warrant was signed by Judge Bonnie Parker.

But that didn’t stop Jindal from pursuing criminal charges against Painter. He was indicted on 42 separate counts of computer fraud. But despite Jindal’s marshaling all the resources of state government against Painter, he was acquitted and the state had to pay his legal fees of $474,000—and that didn’t even take into account how much the state spent on his prosecution.

We will return to the state’s legal fees momentarily.

But first, let’s move to August 2011. That’s when Painter filed a lawsuit against the state, the Department of Revenue and Taxation, former Secretary of Revenue and Taxation Cynthia Bridges and Inspector General Stephen Street

It’s been eight years now and Painter’s lawsuit is no closer to a trial than it was in 2011.

Attorneys for the state have responded with stalling tactics that have taxed the patience of presiding judge who, out of exasperation, complained that Painter’s lawsuit had become so clouded by the state’s defensive maneuvers, motions, denials, and delays that the case had become impossible for any legal scholar to follow.

Just like the state planned it.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Lost in all this is the issue of just how much of taxpayers’ money the state is willing to spend in order to break an adversary who was railroaded for political purposes in the first place.

After all, if his lawsuit had no merit, it would seem the state would be eager to go trial and get the matter settled once and for all. That alone would save untold thousands of dollars. But all too often, defense attorneys with political connections are given contracts to defend these lawsuits. It’s a lucrative arrangement: the attorneys contribute generously to political campaigns and they are rewarded with contracts to sit on a case for a few years—all while the meter is running, of course.

Efforts have been made to learned just how much the state has spent in defending Painter’s lawsuit but the state says that information is protected under the public information statute.

For that matter, we have even been unable to learn how much the state spent in legal fees in its criminal prosecution against Painter. We know his legal fees of near half-a-million dollars were awarded but the state had shielded from view the amount it spent in the criminal prosecution on the grounds the ongoing civil suit prohibit the release of that information.

In fact, there is a provision tucked away in the statute [R.S. 44:4 (15)] which exempts divulging current legal fees in litigation to anyone except the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and that committee litigation subcommittee.

So, basically, the taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for defending otherwise indefensible litigation are kept in the dark by state statute from learning how their tax dollars are wasted on years of costly legal maneuvers designed to frustrate and short circuit a system supposedly designed to allow the average citizen to seek redress for wrongs committed against them.

The exemption shielding this information notwithstanding, the citizens of Louisiana should have a right to know when the state deliberately draws out litigation in which it is a defendant with definite exposure—all as a ploy to exhaust the plaintiff physically, mentally and financially. A key element in the equation is the right to know how much taxpayer money is being lavished on contract attorneys who happen to have the right political connections,

A New York Appellate Court judge wrote in a 1968 case, “Public opinion, which is the most effective check on official abuse, can never be aroused (if) any and all acts of such an official are protected either by a veil of secrecy or the critic is subjected to costly litigation.”

William Gladstone would probably agree.

Read Full Post »

There’s a wide-open sheriff’s race in Iberia now that three-term incumbent Louis Ackal has decided to hang up his gun and badge.

Ackal probably waited at least four years too long to walk away from a controversy-plagued tenure of his own making pockmarked as it was with dog attacks on defenseless inmates, beatings and even deaths that resulted in millions of dollars of damages from lawsuit judgments and settlements—along with a half-dozen federal criminal convictions of deputies.

Four years ago, Ackal was forced into a runoff and had to resort to soliciting the endorsement of the third-place finisher in exchange for a job in order to win that election in what should have been declared a clear ETHICS VIOLATION had there been an ethics commission with any ethics of its own.

On October 12, Iberia Parish voters will be tasked with picking a successor from among six candidates—two Republicans, a Democrat and three with no party affiliation. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Roberta Boudreaux (No Party), who lost that runoff election four years after third-place finisher endorsed Ackal and was rewarded with the newly-created position of director of community relations—not that such a position wasn’t sorely needed by Ackal.
  • Joe LeBlanc (No Party).
  • Fernest “Pacman” Martin (Democrat).
  • Murphy Meyers (Republican), a retired state trooper.
  • Tommy Romero (Republican), another former state trooper now retired from the Louisiana Attorney General’s office.
  • Clinton “Bubba” Sweeny (No Party).

For the moment, Murphy Meyers would appear to be the main story in this election.

That’s because while Meyers wants to be sheriff of Iberia Parish, there is a serious question about whether or not he actually resides in the parish, a qualification most folks would seem to desire of their sheriff.

Meyers has been the sole 100 percent owner of a residence located at 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville, since 1991.

But back on July 12, 2016, Meyers did in fact register to vote in Iberia parish, using the address 210 L Dubois Road, New Iberia.

But on March 7, 2018, Meyers’ then-employer, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety, Office of Louisiana State Police, filed an updated “Request for Personal Assignment and/or Home Storage of State-Owned Vehicle.” The vehicle was a 2008 Dodge Charger assigned to Meyers as his personal take-home unit. The form was for the requested approval period of July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019. He signed the form stating all information in it was accurate and correct. The listed address of the employee’s resident was 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville.

The very next day, March 8, 2018, Meyers renewed his driver’s license using 2101 Dubois Road, New Iberia, as his correct physical address. (Note: A driver may be cited and fined if the address on his or her driver’s license does not correspond with the driver’s actual address of residence.)

A year later, on March 25, 2019, Malinda Meyers, wife of Murphy Meyers, contributed two in-kind donations to her husband’s campaign fund, according to state campaign finance records submitted September 10, 2019. Malinda Meyers gave her address as 1000 Hugh Drive, St. Martinville.

On August 9, 2019, Murphy Meyers officially qualified to run for Iberia Parish Sheriff in a sworn statement that he met all requirements set forth by Louisiana law, including residence requirements. On that form, he gave his place of residence as 210 L Dubois Road, New Iberia, further affirming that he not only currently resides at that address but has for at least the last year, as per state qualifications.

So, just who does own that property at 210 L Dubois Road in New Iberia that keeps popping up on forms filled out by Meyers?

That would be the home that belonged his mother-in-law, Malindayes Mattox Burks.  Courthouse records in New Iberia list her as 100 percent owner of a home valued at $71,400 and assessed at $7,140. Malinda Meyers inherited the home but she and Murphy Meyers still reside in St. Martinville at 1000 Hugh Drive.

Or do they?

This would seem to be a job for the State Ethics Commission to straighten out provided, of course, it had any ethics of its own.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: