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Archive for the ‘Lawsuits’ Category

You have to give credit to Lake Charles attorney Ron Richard: he certainly knows how to milk a case for all it’s worth in order to keep the meter running.

It apparently wasn’t enough that his four SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry were tossed by the presiding judge.

And no matter that a recall petition was initiated against Perry and that POSTCARDS were mailed to Welsh residents that DEPICTED Perry and fellow board of aldermen member Andrea King as “terrorists.”

And never mind that Mayor Carolyn Louviere desires to shut down a bar that just happens to be adjacent to a business owned by her son.

Now Richard, his four LAWSUITS against Perry—filed by him on behalf of the mayor, her son, her daughter, and Police Chief Marcus Crochet—having failed the smell test of 31st Judicial District Court Judge Steve Gunnel, who not only dismissed the four lawsuits aimed at silencing Perry’s criticism of Louviere’s administration but also awarded ATTORNEY FEES of $16,000 to Perry, is now challenging another RECALL PETITION, this one against his client, her honor the mayor.

So, it seems to boil down to the apparent belief that a recall against an alderman who seeks answers to budgetary questions is fine and dandy but to suggest a recall against the mayor who draws up that city budget constitutes a technical foul.

It’s all a sordid little mess punctuated by what appear to be excessive expenses of the police department, ($818,000 for nine months, form June 2016 through February 2017—for a town of 3,200 living, breathing souls), 18 police cars (again, for a town of 3,200), removal of Perry from the town’s Facebook page, and a mayor’s son (one of the four plaintiffs in lawsuits against Perry) who has a less than stellar past of his own.

Basically, with all that is going on there, it doesn’t really appear to be a town where most people would care to call home these days. That’s no dig on all the decent, minding-their-own-business residents living there, but a sorry commentary on the town’s leadership—if one wishes to be overly generous in calling it that.

Meanwhile, Richard manages to keep the meter running as the legal fees continue to mount for Madam Mayor. Of course, it has to be the client’s decision to retain him to pursue these objectives. He’s just a lawyer who ostensibly takes direction from his client. But often times, a client’s decision on a course of action is predicated upon the attorney’s advice, so in trying to determine who is actually calling the shots, we may just have the age-old chicken or egg question.

Still, it’s enough to make one wonder who is paying those legal bills: the client or the city?

Perhaps that’s another question for Mr. Perry to ask.

If he can get an answer, that is.

Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

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Corruption.

As the March 12 opening day of the critical 2018 regular session approaches, and with the looming possibility of the call of a special session to address fiscal Armageddon, it’s an important word for Louisiana citizens to remember.

Corruption.

In a state where administrators, legislators, and judges all seem to be in it for personal enrichment, it’s a word that has become synonymous with political office—from small town mayors, city councils and police chiefs to the highest levels of state government.

Corruption.

Like a cancer, corruption metastasizes until it adversely affects every aspect of our lives: education, economics, environment, health, and not least, trust in our elected officials.

Michael Johnston and Oguzhan Dincer, both former fellows at Harvard Law School’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, recently collaborated to conduct their fourth Corruption in America Survey, an undertaking first initiated in 2014 and repeated annually.

Since 2016, the survey has been hosted by the newly-founded Institute for Corruption Studies, an independent research institute within the Illinois State University’s Department of Economics.

More than 1,000 news reporters/journalists covering state politics and issues related to corruption across 50 states participated in the survey. Reporters from every state except North Dakota and New Hampshire participated.

Click HERE to read the complete results.

To no one’s surprise, Louisiana ranks among the worst states in terms of executive, judicial, and legislative sleaze—in both legal and illegal corruption.

What, exactly, it meant by legal and illegal corruption? After all, corruption is corruption, is it not?

Well, yes and no. Illegal corruption was defined by Dincer and Johnston as “the private gains in the form of cash or gifts by a government official in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups.”

How Gauche. Everyone knows that in Louisiana the preferred method is legal corruption, which the two researchers defined as “the political gains in the form of campaign contributions or endorsements by a government official, in exchange for providing specific benefits to private individuals or groups, be it by explicit or implicit understanding.”

For evidence of that, one need look no further than the LouisianaVoice STORY of Aug. 28, 2016, to see how Bobby Jindal, Attorney General Jeff Landry, and a gaggle of legislators fell all over themselves in protecting the big oil and gas companies from their responsibilities to clean up after themselves. Here is a more detailed look at .

Who better to serve as director of the Louisiana Offshore Terminal Authority than former State Sen. Robert Adley of Bossier Parish, the top recipient of OIL AND GAS CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS?

And Bobby Jindal handed out appointments to the most influential boards and commissions to his biggest campaign contributors like candy on a Halloween night and even upgraded a major highway in South Louisiana to benefit a company run by another large contributor.

Dincer and Johnston said that official legal corruption is moderately to very common in both the executive and legislative branches of government in a “significant” number of states, “including the usual suspects such as Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York,” but that “Alabama, Kentucky, and Louisiana are perceived to be the most corrupt states” in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.

Illegal Corruption

Only 13 states were found to have moderately common to very common illegal corruption in their executive branches. Louisiana was one of those 13.

Only four states had illegal judicial corruption deemed to be moderately common (Alabama and Louisiana) or very common (Arkansas and Kentucky). Dincer and Johnston wrote that even a finding of only slightly common in illegal judicial corruption “is still worrying since it is the judicial branch of the government that is expected to try government officials charged with corruption.”

“State legislators are perceived to be more corrupt than the members of the executive branches in a number of states,” the researchers said.

To illustrate that, the survey found just six states with legislative illegal corruption that was very common (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana) or extremely common (Oklahoma and Pennsylvania).

Legislators were found by LouisianaVoice to have leased luxury vehicles for family members, purchased season tickets to college and professional athletic sports teams, hired family members as campaign staff, paid personal income taxes and state ethics fines—all with campaign funds and all of which were illegal.

One legislator even profited by conveniently investing in Microsoft just as his committee was pushing through approval of one of the company’s software programs at the same time other states were taking similar action. The simultaneous approvals gave Microsoft stock a significant boost.

Legal Corruption

“Legal corruption is perceived to be more common than illegal corruption in all branches of government,” the report said, with Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin scoring highest in legal corruption “in all branches of government.”

Those same three states, along with Arkansas, topped the list in legal corruption in the judicial branch where legal sleaze “is perceived to be ‘very common,’” it said, noting that in all four states, judges are elected as opposed to states where judges are chosen on merit and in which judicial corruption is not as common.

“…We expect our courts to rise above the day-to-day pressures and expectations of politics,” the report said. “That they apparently do not raises serious questions about the ways judges are elected in many states, how their campaigns are financed, and whether conflicts of interest arise as those who contribute to judicial campaigns are allowed to appear before those same judges as cases are tried.”

Louisiana, Alabama, and Wisconsin were joined by Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, and New York as states where legal executive corruption was found to be either “very common” or “extremely common.”

Legal legislative corruption was found to be “extremely common” in 12 states: Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Texas.

Aggregate Corruption

Across the board, in terms of legal and illegal corruption in all three branches of government, few states do it better than Louisiana, results of the survey reveal, with the state ranking in the upper tier of corruption in all six listings.

That finding prompted the authors of the report to say that corruption in state government “is not just a matter of contemporary personalities and events, but is rather a result of deeper and more lasting characteristics and influences.

Nowhere, it would seem, is that truer than in Louisiana. Following is just a partial list of Louisiana public officials who have come face-to-face with corruption charges of varying degrees:

 

Louisiana Executive Corruption

Sherman Bernard: The first Louisiana Insurance Commissioners to be convicted, he served 41 months for extortion and conspiracy.

Doug Green: The second State Insurance Commissioner to go to jail, he was convicted on three counts of money laundering, 27 counts of mail fraud, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Jim Brown: The third consecutive Louisiana Insurance Commissioner served six months for lying to the FBI.

Richard Leche: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting kickbacks on the purchase of 233 state trucks.

Edwin Edwards: Louisiana Governor sentenced to 10 years in prison after his conviction of extortion in connection with the awarding of state riverboat casino licenses.

Charles Roemer: Commissioner of Administration under Gov. Edwin Edwards, was convicted on one count of conspiracy to violate federal racketeering laws, violating the statute and engaging in wire and mail fraud as a result of the FBI’s Brilab operation which also resulted in the conviction of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello. Roemer served 15 months in federal prison.

Jack Gremillion: Louisiana Attorney General of whom it was once said by Gov. Earl K. Long, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book,” was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to a federal grand jury about his interest in a failed loan and thrift company.

Gil Dozier: Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner, initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for extortion and racketeering but had eight years added after presiding federal judge learned Dozier had attempted to tamper with a juror and to hire a hit man for an unidentified target.

George D’Artois: Shreveport Public Safety Commissioner was implicated in the 1976 murder of Shreveport advertising executive Jim Leslie but he died in surgery before he could be tried.

Cyrus “Bobby” Tardo: former Sheriff of Lafourche Parish sentenced to 29 years, five months after pleading guilty in 1989 to solicitation for murder, conspiracy, possessing an unregistered destructive device and using an explosive to damage a sheriff’s car. His victim? His successor and the man who defeated him for reelection as sheriff, Duffy Breaux.

Duffy Breaux: Lafourche Parish Sheriff sentenced to four years, nine months in prison for conspiracy, mail fraud, obstruction of justice in 1995.

Eugene Holland: The first of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to be convicted of a federal crime, sentenced to 16 months in prison for the theft of public funds to cover his utility bills and to pay for renovations to his house and barn. Pleaded guilty in 1996.

Chaney Philips: The second of three consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriffs to serve prison time after his conviction on nine counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, engaging in illegal monetary transactions, theft involving a federally-funded program, money laundering, and perjury—all related to his time not as sheriff but as parish assessor before being elected sheriff. Sentenced to seven years.

Ronald “Gun” Ficklin: Third consecutive St. Helena Parish sheriff to be convicted of federal criminal charges. Sentenced to five years, three months for trafficking cars with altered vehicle identification numbers, altering VINs, mail fraud, helping convicted felon possess a fun. Pleaded guilty in 2007.

Jiff Hingle: Plaquemines Parish Sheriff pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and bribery, sentenced to 46 months in prison.

Bodie Little: Winn Parish Sheriff convicted in 2012 of drug trafficking, sentenced to 13 years, four months in prison.

Royce Toney: Ouachita Parish Sheriff, pleaded guilty in 2012 to hacking a deputy’s email and phone records and then trying to cover up his snooping. Sentenced to four years’ probation.

Walter Reed: St. Tammany Parish District Attorney (22nd JDC) sentenced to four years in prison in April 2017 for conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, making false statements on tax returns. Sentence on hold during appeals process.

Harry Morel, Jr.: St. Charles Parish District Attorney (29th JDC) pleaded guilty in April 2016 to obstruction of justice in FBI inquiry into whether he used his position to solicit sex from women seeking official help. Sentenced to three years in prison.

Aaron Broussard: Former Jefferson Parish President pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiring to accept bribes from a parish contractor. Sentenced to 46 months in prison. While parish officials other than district attorneys and sheriffs are not generally listed here, Broussard is because of his high national profile following Hurricane Katrina.

Ray Nagin: New Orleans Mayor convicted in 2014, sentenced to 10 years in prison for bribery, wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, tax evasion for illegal dealings with city vendors. As with the case of Broussard above, mayors not normally included in this list because of the sheer volume. But because of his high profile following Katrina and as mayor of state’s largest city, it was decided to include him.

 

Louisiana Legislative Corruption

Larry Bankston: Former chairman of the Senate Judiciary B. Committee that handled gambling legislation was convicted in 1997 on two counts of interstate communications in the aid of racketeering involving alleged bribes from a Slidell video poker truck stop owner. Sentenced to 41 months in prison. Re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar by State Supreme Court. Currently suing State Attorney General for the cancellation of his contract to represent a state agency.

Gaston Gerald: State Senator convicted in 1979 of extorting $25,000 from a contractor. Sentenced to five years in prison. Re-elected while in prison and put a prison acquaintance on Senate payroll as an aide before he was expelled from the Senate in 1981.

Sebastian “Buster” Guzzardo: State Representative among more than 20 persons, including the leader of the New Orleans Marcello crime family and three reputed New York mobsters, convicted in the Worldwide Gaming investigation. Conviction was for conducting an illegal gambling business and for aiding a mob-controlled video poker company. Sentenced in 1996 to three months in prison.

Girod Jackson, III: State Representative who pleaded guilty in 2013 to tax evasion and tax fraud in connection with his business dealings with the Jefferson Parish Housing Authority. Sentenced to three months in prison, nine months of home detention despite recommendations of 12 to 18 months imprisonment.

William Jefferson: 18-year veteran of U.S. House of Representatives convinced in 2009 on 11 of 16 felony counts for taking bribes in connection with a Nigeria business deal. Seven of the 11 counts on which he was convicted were overturned on appeal. Sentenced to five years, five months after appeals. In 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, Jefferson interrupted rescue operations by using a Louisiana National Guard detachment to recover personal effects from his home. (His sister, Orleans Parish Assessor, also sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting to funneling $1 million in public funds to her family’s bogus charities.)

Charles Jones: State Senator from Monroe, convicted in 2010 of filing false tax returns and for tax evasion, sentenced to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution. Was re-admitted to Louisiana State Bar on Monday (Jan. 29, 2017).

Harry “Soup” Kember: State Representative was sentenced to five years in prison after his 1986 conviction of mail fraud for pocketing part of a $150,000 state grant he secured for a constituent’s company.

Derrick Shepherd: State Senator sentenced to three years in prison in 2010 after admitting that he laundered money for a corrupt bond broker, netting $65,000 for the scheme.

Rick Tonry: Served only four months as a U.S. Representative from the 1st Congressional District after pleading guilty in 1977 to receiving illegal campaign contributions, promising favors in return for contributions and for buying votes in the 1976 Democratic primary.

 

Louisiana Judicial Corruption

Ronald Bodenhimer: The 24th Judicial District Judge was among four judges to be caught up in the FBI Wrinkled Robe investigation of Jefferson Parish Courthouse corruption and one of two to receive jail time. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison after pleading guilty in 2003 to planting drugs on a critic of his New Orleans East marina, for bond splitting, and for attempting to fix a child custody case on behalf of Popeyes Chicken Founder Al Copeland.

Wayne Cresap: The 34th JDC Judge for St. Bernard Parish was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to accepting more than $70,000 in bribes and for letting inmates out of jail without paying their bonds.

Alan Green: Another of the four Judges of the 24th JDC in Jefferson Parish. Sentenced to 51 months in prison after his 2005 conviction of a $10,000 mail fraud scheme to take bribes from a bail bonds company.

William Roe: The 25th JDC Judge for Plaquemines Parish was sentenced in 2010 to three months in prison for unauthorized use of movables for pocketing more than $6,000 in reimbursements for legal seminars that he attended as judge. The money should have been deposited in a public account instead.

Thomas Porteous, Jr.: Only the eighth federal judge to be removed from office by impeachment in the Republic’s history, he was convicted in 2010 by the U.S. Senate on four articles charging him with receiving cash and favors from lawyers who had dealings in his court, used a false name to elude creditors, and deliberately misled Senators during his confirmation hearings. As if to underscore the gravity of the charges, all 96 senators present voted guilty on the first article which addressed charges during his time as a state court judge and his failure to recuse himself from matters involving a former law partner with whom he was accused of granting favors for cash.

There are scores of other examples, including city and parish elected officials, local police chiefs, and even a legislator who resigned rather than be expelled for spousal abuse. And former Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain retired in 2016 under an ethics cloud even though he was official cleared of ethics charges. His son, Nate Cain and Nate’s former wife, Tonia, were indicted in August 2017 on 18 federal fraud charges over purchases he was said to have made with state credit cards during his tenure as warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport.

Additionally, LouisianaVoice over the past three years documented numerous instances of abuse of power and outright corruption from troop commanders all the way up to the upper command of Louisiana State Police.

There were dozens more not listed and sadly, there will continue to be corruption in all three branches of state government so long as the people of this state continue to look away and ignore the widespread malfeasance and outright skullduggery.

And by ignoring the problem, we are necessarily condoning it.

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Under the Latin term Respondeat Superior (Let the master answer), an individual would not be held personally liable in a civil proceeding if (a) he (or she) was acting within the scope and duties of his employment or if the action was taken on advice of counsel.

An example of that would be if a state employee withheld records from a reporter on advice of the agency’s attorney but it was subsequently determined in court that the records were actually public and should have been made available upon request. It would be the agency, not the employee, who would be liable in such a case.

A newspaper reporter would be protected from libel damages if he had written something he believed to be factual and it was vetted by editors and published only to be found to be inaccurate and damaging to the subject’s reputation or career. In that case, the newspaper or TV station (or, more accurately, the medium’s liability insurance policy) would pay.

So, it is more than a little curious that Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) paid to defend Attorney Supervisor Weldon Hill—and paid the settlement—in Bethany Gauthreaux’s sexual harassment lawsuit against Hill, a STORY first reported by LouisianaVoice earlier this month.

And why, when the news media requested names of cases involving sexual harassment, was this case omitted. Nowhere in the Baton Rouge Advocate STORY is the Gauthreaux case listed. Was this an honest mistake—or was it by design?

Not only did LDH pay the $40,000 settlement, but the agency also paid more than $76,300 in legal fees to the Baton Rouge law firm of Keogh Cox and Wilson ($69,828), the Louisiana Attorney General’s office ($1,258), Court Reporters of Louisiana ($2,183), Walgreen’s ($27), the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court ($2,611), North Oaks Medical Center ($250), and for photocopies ($186).

And how did that particular law firm wind up with the contract to defend Hill and LDH? The very fact that the LDH Deputy General Counsel, under whom Gauthreaux worked, was Kim Sullivan should have disqualified the firm.

Attorney Chad Sullivan is Kim Sullivan’s husband and he works for Keogh Cox and Wilson, a fact that the firm should have disclosed. By virtue of supervising plaintiff Gauthreaux, Kim Sullivan was a potential co-defendant—and witness—in a case defended by her husband’s law firm. (Click HERE and move your cursor to the first photo on the third row—the first one with a beard. That’s Chad Sullivan.)

Including the $40,000 settlement, the TOTAL COST to LDH was just north of $116,300 to defend an employee who, it would seem certain, was not acting within the scope and duties of his employment. And it would appear he was certainly not acting on advice of legal counsel (though he is himself an attorney) when he was said to have asked highly personal questions about breast feeding her newborn infant, pressed his body against hers as she monitored her computer screen, and placed his hand on hers atop the computer mouse.

And moving her and two other women from their eighth-floor offices to the fifth floor—Gauthreaux to a converted supply room with no phone—would seem something of a gray area insofar as the Respondeat Superior doctrine would apply as would the statement attributed to Hill that he felt women “have nothing to say,” and his timing women employees’ bathroom breaks.

So, now the state is out more than $116,000 because of the actions of Hill, his supervisor, LDH Executive Counsel Stephen Russo, General Counsel Kimberly Humble, and others up the food chain—and because of the inaction of LDH’s Human Resources Office, which should have taken appropriate steps as soon as it was aware of the harassment, but curiously did not.

And just where was LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee while all this was going on? After all, someone anonymously (for obvious reasons, given the climate at LDH) placed a copy of Gauthreaux’s lawsuit on the windshield of Dr. Gee’s vehicle.

To get those answers, LouisianaVoice emailed Dr. Gee on Jan. 19, posing three simple questions:

  • What action do you plan to take regarding the sexual harassment lawsuit settlement against your legal department, specifically, Mr. Weldon Hill?
  • Why did Mr. Hill’s supervisor(s) and/or DHH HR not initiate some kind of remedial or disciplinary action?
  • Why did you not take some type of remedial or disciplinary action when you first found a copy of the Ms. Gauthreaux’s lawsuit on your vehicle windshield?

Dr. Gee never responded even though LouisianaVoice received a return receipt indicating that she did open that email.

So, a follow-up email was sent to Dr. Gee on Jan. 23:

Dr. Gee, I don’t mean to pester you, but I would remind you that to ignore my questions below would not serve your or LDH’s best interests. It almost seems as if you are trying to conceal information. Many a public servant has learned the hard way that eluding questions and refusing to face issues head-on usually backfires in the end. This litigation was a serious matter that deserves your serious attention. I will not bother to ask you again but should you choose to continue to ignore this issue, I will have no choice but to so state in my follow-up articles.

The same three questions were attached to the bottom of that email and a return receipt indicated she opened that email as well.

But she still has yet to respond.

Meanwhile, Hill and Russo continue at their jobs which pay them $100,000 and $138,500, respectively, while Gauthreaux was forced to quit her $42,500-per-year attorney position. And the word is that Hill is planning to quietly retire.

Not only should Dr. Gee answer the three questions LouisianaVoice put to her, but these as well:

  • Why did the state pay Hill’s attorney fees and the settlement without demanding some payment from him?
  • Why was he not summarily fired once the details of his actions were known?
  • Why was Russo and LDH’s HR Department not held accountable?
  • And finally, just what is the purpose of the mandated sexual harassment classes for state employees if those in supervisory positions are going to simply look the other way and not themselves be held accountable?

We’re waiting.

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The City of Covington has hired a local Louisiana law firm, Porteous Hainkel & Johnson LLP to take on America’s pharmaceutical industry for knowingly mislabeling and misrepresenting their opiate-based drugs which have resulted in a spiraling addiction crisis across the nation, according to a news release from the Brylski media relations firm in New Orleans.

The epidemic has resulted in thousands of deaths and rising costs in safety, public health and other local services needed to treat the problems created, according to attorney William Lozes.

On January 16, 2018, the Covington City Council gave Mayor Mike Cooper the authority to retain Porteous, Hainkel & Johnson LLP for representation in a civil action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors.

Porteous, represented by local attorneys Ralph Alexis and Lozes, is part of a national leadership team of attorneys that includes lead consultant Stuart Smith LLC, Kevin Thompson, Kevin Malone and Kent H. Robbins. Their clients will consist of hospitals, parishes, counties, cities, non-profit health providers, drug rehab centers, coroners, foster care agencies, and other public third-parties like local police departments in states from Missouri, West Virginia, New York, Florida, Ohio, Minnesota and Texas.

“The legal team will help local governments like Covington in attempts to recoup the unreimbursed expenses for dealing with a drug crisis which is reducing American’s life-expectancy and resulting in a death-rate that now out-paces violent gun deaths in the nation’s largest cities,” Lozes said.

St. Tammany Parish saw an outbreak of heroin related deaths in January. Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz recently joined police chiefs and sheriffs from around the country at the White House to give a local face to the problem, since death overdoses now out-pace car-related deaths 2-to-1.

“Our law enforcement and criminal justice system is on the front lines of dealing with the crisis, which is impacting families from every spectrum of our society,” Cooper said. “We have chosen a local law firm, Porteous Hainkel & Johnson LLP, with 90 years of experience and four offices in Louisiana to help us seek reimbursement for the incredible public costs created by this rampant problem.

“Hopefully, we can recover some of the extensive costs that the City has incurred dealing with this rampant problem and put the money into treatment programs to address the opioid addiction problem firsthand.”

The contracted legal team, along with other top nationally recognized “super lawyers,” has extensive experience prosecuting claims for impacted plaintiffs across the United States.

“Our team is ready to protect the interests of all those who have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of the callous actions of the drug manufacturers,” Lozes said. “It’s time for the legal and medical professions to stand up and work together to help solve this health crisis.”

“Due to extensive public indebtedness on federal and state levels, it seems reasonable and logical to conclude that those who profit off this health disaster should pay,” Smith said. “The American civil justice system is well suited for this purpose.”

The team alleges that civil lawsuits brought against the pharmaceutical drug manufacturers, opioid drug distributors and/or wholesalers, and big retail pharmacies are the only way to remedy the prescription opioid drug epidemic.

Prospective plaintiffs include public entities, like, the City of Covington, and private ones such as hospitals, which have massive unreimbursed expenses from opioid-related issues.

Some of the facts presented by the law group and its medical expert Dr. Brent Bell, PA-C/Radiation Oncology, include:

  • Prescription opioids killed almost twice as many people in the U.S. as heroin in 2014, and surpassed car accident deaths in the U.S;
  • Nearly 100 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, and half of all overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid;
  • 91% of persons who have a non-fatal overdose of opioids are prescribed opioids again within one year;
  • Seven in 10 opioids overdoses that are treated in an ER are for prescription opioids;
  • The Centers for Disease Control in 2016 disputed pharmaceutical company claims that opiate addiction is not possible in patients with chronic pain;
  •  CDC and Federal Drug Administration guidelines in 2016 also stated that the benefits of high opiate dosage for chronic pain are not established and not proven to increase patient function or have a long-term benefit in reducing pain.

“America’s opioid crisis has resulted in huge and non-reimbursable expenses related to ER visits, training costs, lost employee productivity due to addiction, increased need for police resources, and the under-reported impact on foster care where one-third of all children entering are from drug addicted households,” Lozes said.

“Facts show that pharmaceutical drug companies and their distribution partners exaggerated the benefits of opioids, downplayed risks and consequences, knew the drugs were being overly prescribed, yet failed to warn doctors of the extremely addictive nature of the narcotics and the need to strictly limit and monitor the dose,” Smith said.

The lawsuits also focus on distributors’ violation of the Controlled Substances Act by failing to report the unusual patterns associated with the opioid purchases and use. The attorneys point to multiple on-the-record admissions of wrongdoing by many manufacturers and distributors of opioids. Many of these target defendants have pleaded guilty to criminal violation and/or paid massive fines; their liability is unquestioned, according to Smith.

“We’re proud to represent the City of Covington and others in Louisiana,” Lozes said. “It’s time to help those like Chief Lentz, who are putting their lives on the line through programs like Operation Angel to deal with a problem that clearly has been created in the name of profit.”

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Before the recent spate of sexual harassment claims in Hollywood, New York and Washington, D.C., there was a lawsuit filed by a female attorney for the Louisiana Department of Health against the agency’s general counsel.

That lawsuit, filed in June 2014 by Bethany Gauthreaux, a $42,500 per year attorney for LDH, against LDH and its $100,000-per-year Attorney Supervisor Weldon Hill, was quietly settled in May 2017.

The matter was settled for only $40,000—far less than it probably should have been, given the circumstances of the treatment undergone by Gauthreaux, according to a former associate who said Gauthreaux told her at the time that she just wanted the entire matter to be over and done.

SETTLEMENT

Even then, that might have been end of it all had not Hill and Executive Counsel Stephen Russo continued the intimidation and humiliation of Gauthreaux after she complained about Hill—to his supervisor and to LDH Human Resources—treatment that continued until her eventual resignation in May 2015.

Moved to Storage Room

The former associate who asked that she not be identified because she still works for the state—but in a different agency now—said Gauthreaux was moved from her eighth-floor office to a converted storage room on the fifth floor. She was not provided a telephone in her new location nor was she allowed to take her computer with her. Two other female employees were also moved from eighth to fifth floor but both took their computers with them to their new offices.

Meanwhile, Hill and the two attorneys over him who protected him, continued to receive pay increases.

“I would go into the restroom and find Bethany crying,” the former associate said. “I asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘Weldon Hill won’t stop.’”

Hill, Gauthreaux’s lawsuit said, would ask her highly personal questions following the birth of her child, questions about how it felt to pump breast milk. He also would position himself behind her chair and press his body against hers as he monitored her computer screen, sometimes, placing his hand on hers on the computer mouse, the petition said.

DEPOSITION OF GAUTHREAUX

DEPOSITION OF HILL

DEPOSITION OF RUSSO

The former associate said that in addition to Gauthreaux, there were at least four other women who were intimidated, harassed, and mistreated by Hill and Russo, who, as Hill’s direct supervisor and the department’s hiring authority, appeared to be protecting Hill. “They totally ostracized Bethany after she complained to Russo,” she said. “She finally said she couldn’t take it anymore and quit.”

‘Women have nothing to say’

“Weldon does not listen to women,” she said. “He said women ‘have nothing to say.’ He listens to every third word women say. Those who stood up to him paid a price,” she said. “I stood up to him once and he filed a complaint against me to Russo.”

She said another female employee who complained about Hill was given a “Needs Improvement” letter for something that had occurred two years before.

She said that Hill also performed outside legal work on state time. “That’s payroll fraud,” she said. Asked by LouisianaVoice if that could be proven, she said, “Only by checking his state computer.”

And while Gauthreaux preceded the “Me Too” movement, the work environment at LDH apparently remains hostile for female employees.

Gauthreaux, for example, never received a promotion to Attorney 2 in her two years at LDH and received one pay increase of $1,638 per year, Hill saw his pay increase by $5,720 per year, one of those raises coming only a couple of months after Gauthreaux’s lawsuit was filed and another beginning on Jan. 1 this year, which brought his annual salary to $99,800.

During that same period, Russo saw his salary increase by $7,930, to $138,500 per year.

Triumvirate Cronies

Kathleen Callaghan, a former supervisory attorney for LDH who is now retired, is also familiar with the triumvirate of Hill, Russo and $140,300-per-year LDH General Counsel 3 Kimberly Humbles.

“They’re all cronies who pal around together,” Callaghan said. “They retaliated against Bethany, they retaliated against me and they retaliated against other female employees. Weldon Hill is a typical predator who ingratiates himself with Russo and Humbles and they in turn protect him.”

She said she was told by higher ups that Gauthreaux wasn’t strong enough. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me? She took on the whole bunch and she prevailed.’ Nobody else in a supervisory position would stand up for her. She had to stand up for herself. Hill should have been put on administrative leave immediately when that suit was filed,” she said. “He should be gone.”

Callaghan said she once was accused of being AWOL by the same supervisor who had approved her two-week vacation. “My vacation started just a couple of days before Bethany’s lawsuit was filed, so they thought I’d ducked out. In reality, my vacation had been approved in advance but for whatever reason, they never checked that until I pointed it out to them,” she said. “And they’re supposed to be lawyers.”

Timing Bathroom Breaks

She said Hill keeps tabs on when subordinates leave their desks and how long they’re gone. “If he has time to do that, he isn’t busy enough,” Callaghan said. “He needs something to keep him busy besides keeping track of how long people spend in the bathroom. He is a Third-Party Administrator, which is just filing liens. He generates letters, something a clerical could do. He needs to be transferred to federal court where he can keep busy doing what he should be doing.”

Asked by LouisianaVoice why LDH Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee hasn’t taken action to keep LDH from further liability exposure, Callaghan said, “I don’t think Dr. Gee is even aware of the lawsuit. I think they kept a lid on it and she doesn’t even know about it.”

She said former LDH Secretary Kathy Kliebert once was informed of similar problems. “Her response was we should all go on retreat together. I’m sorry, but that’s not a solution,” she said, indicating that someone with authority needs to step in and clean up LDH’s legal department.

At some time, the message must sink in that just because you’re in a supervisory capacity, you cannot, must not, attack, subvert, or destroy a person’s dignity and self-respect.

 

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