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Archive for the ‘Lawsuits’ Category

If you ever decide to step out of your routine and launch a search for the poster child for corruption within the Louisiana justice system, you might wish to begin your search in New Orleans.

It will be a short but successful search. Guaranteed.

Without delving too far into Orleans Parish’s sordid history, there was the removal of U.S. District Judge G. THOMAS PORTEOUS JR. by the U.S. Senate in 2010 and four more judges got themselves caught up in the FBI OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE in adjacent Jefferson Parish back in 2003.

Corrupt judges are bad enough but after three straight administration changes, it appears the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office still can’t get its act together.

The most egregious was the late Harry Connick, Sr., HARRY CONNICK, SR., who earned a well-deserved national reputation for consistently withhold exculpatory evidence that would have exonerated defendants he sent to Angola for extended prison terms—one of whom spent 18 years on death row before the discovery of withheld evidence finally freed him.

He was followed by the derby-wearing Eddie Jordan, who previously served on the federal prosecuting team that won a conviction of former Gov. Edwin Edwards.

The first hint that things were a bit askew was when Jordan, a black, began handing out pink slips to white employees who saw red and sued in federal court, ultimately winning a major reverse discrimination DECISION in 2005. That, along with a somewhat bizarre story of a robbery suspect who showed up at Jordan’s HOME in October 2007, finally forced him to RESIGN from office only a week later.

Then, on July 14, LouisianaVoice received this otherwise benign press release from Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James M. LeBlanc:

Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame Announces 2017 Honorees

Inductees to be honored today during ceremonies

BATON ROUGE, La. –  Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James M. Le Blanc, Louisiana State Penitentiary Warden Darrell Vannoy, and the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum Foundation are proud to announce the following highly distinguished individuals as 2017 inductees to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame:

  • The Honorable Dennis R. Bagneris, Sr., 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge, Retired, New Orleans
  • The Honorable Leon A. Cannizzaro, Jr., District Attorney, New Orleans
  • The Honorable Jimmy N Dimos, 4th Judicial District Judge, Retired, Monroe
  • Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Major General Bennett C. Landreneau, Retired, Alexandria
  • The Honorable Marc H. Morial, President & CEO of The National Urban League
  • Sheriff Newell Norman, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office
  • Rabbi Arnold S. Task, Alexandria

The new inductees will be honored and inducted into the Hall of Fame today during ceremonies at the Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum and at LSU’s Lod Cook Alumni Center. The Louisiana State Penitentiary Museum is proud home to the Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame.

Okay, what’s wrong with that, you ask?

Not much except that the Southern Poverty Law Center has just filed a 61-page official COMPLAINT against Cannizzaro with the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Baton Rouge following an excellent series of investigative stories in The Lens, a non-profit New Orleans watchdog online news service.

The basis for the complaint—and of The Lens stories—was the routine issuance of non-legal subpoenas intended to intimidate subjects to report to the district attorney’s office to answer questions by prosecutors. Those subpoenaed were not necessarily suspected of any wrongdoing.

The fake subpoenas were not signed by a judge, a requirement under law to make the subpoena legal and enforceable. Instead, they were issued as ploys to intimidate those served into coming into the DA’s office.

http://thelensnola.org/2017/04/28/woman-who-got-fake-subpoena-from-orleans-parish-da-said-she-was-told-she-could-be-jailed-if-she-ignored-it/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/06/14/new-orleans-prosecutor-used-fake-subpoena-to-seek-arrest-warrant-for-victim-of-alleged-domestic-violence/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/03/will-prosecutors-who-sent-fake-subpoenas-face-any-consequences/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/05/da-we-cant-say-how-often-fake-subpoenas-are-used-and-its-too-hard-to-look/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/12/orleans-parish-da-sued-over-refusal-to-turn-over-witness-subpoenas-real-and-fake/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/15/the-lens-is-suing-orleans-parish-da-leon-cannizzaro-to-force-him-to-turn-over-fake-subpoenas/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/19/notices-sent-to-witnesses-on-north-shore-werent-called-subpoenas-but-they-looked-real-enough/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/06/14/new-orleans-prosecutor-used-fake-subpoena-to-seek-arrest-warrant-for-victim-of-alleged-domestic-violence/

http://thelensnola.org/2017/05/22/defense-attorney-asks-judge-to-force-orleans-parish-district-attorney-to-disclose-whether-it-used-fake-subpoenas-in-home-invasion-case/

On July 11, an Orleans Parish JUDGE ordered the DA’s office to provide the ACLU complete records related to its use of fake subpoenas.

But apparently, the practice has bled over into adjacent JEFFERSON PARISH, where fake subpoenas are also reportedly being issued.

So while Donald Stumped and his shrinking army of unquestioning loyalists fret and fume over so-called fake news, there is the very real issue of fake subpoenas being used by those charged with upholding the Constitution of the United States to trample on the rights of its citizens.

Leon Cannizzaro attended and graduated from law school. We know that because you must be a licensed attorney to be a district attorney.

By virtue of that law degree (a juris doctorate, we assume), he is fully aware that a subpoena, to be legal, must be issued by a court, i.e., signed by a judge.

He also must be aware that the actions of his office, for which he must take full responsibility, were blatantly illegal, unconstitutional, unethical and immoral—and that the practice casts a long shadow of doubt as to the credibility and legal ethics of yet another Orleans Parish district attorney.

Unless, of course, he was absent on subpoena and/or legal ethics days.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said it best in its complaint in such a succinct manner that it bears repeating:

  • Subpoenas are, by definition, orders issued by a court.
  • By law, district attorneys may only seek to have subpoenas issued with court authorization.
  • The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office routinely lied about individuals’ obligation to speak to district attorneys and the penalties for failing to do so.
  • The District Attorney’s Office now acknowledges ethical violations but continues to resist transparency and the voluntarily (sic) regulation of this practice.

The bogus subpoenas carry a bold-face notice that says, “A fine and imprisonment may be imposed for failure to obey this notice.”

We can’t help but wonder what the penalty for badgering, intimidation, misrepresentation, and lying by an officer of the court might be.

But congratulations for that Justice Hall of Fame thingy.

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Troy Hebert just won’t go away.

But in this case, he’s probably like to.

The former commissioner of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) is scheduled in U.S. District Court Monday as a federal racial discrimination LAWSUIT  against him and ATC cranks up.

The lawsuit, to be tried before U.S. District Court Judge John W. DeGravelles, was filed by former ATC agent Charles M. Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimin T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.

The three claim that Hebert made working conditions so bad that employees had to take medical leave or were forced to resign. Each of the three filed separate complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received “right to sue” notices.

LouisianaVoice first reported the filing of the lawsuit three years ago, in July 2014. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/07/14/forcing-grown-men-to-write-lines-overnight-transfers-other-bizarre-actions-by-troy-hebert-culminate-in-federal-lawsuit

The lawsuit says five African-American supervisors worked in the ATC Enforcement Division when Hebert, a former state senator from Jeanerette, was appointed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal in November 2010. “By means of the manipulative actions by Troy Hebert…there are now no African-American supervisors within the ATC Enforcement Division,” the petition says.

Prior to Hebert’s appointment, the three “had unblemished records with no prior disciplinary actions,” the suit says. “Each…had been promoted to supervisory positions at ATC before Troy Hebert’s arrival.”

The suit says Hebert “deliberately acted in disregard of the plaintiffs’ clearly established rights to be free from racial discrimination, race-based harassment and retaliation.

Gilmore worked for 10 years as a corrections sergeant and Louisiana State Police trooper before joining ATC in 1998 where he worked his way up to Special Agent in Charge until he was “constructively discharged” by Hebert on Sept. 27, 2013, the lawsuit says.

“Constructive discharge” is when working conditions become so intolerable that an employee cannot stay in the position or accepts forced resignation.

McDowell was hired by ATC in 2005 and in his seven years was promoted three times. Hingle was hired in 1991. During his 21 years of employment, he was also promoted three times.

The lawsuit also alleges that on Aug. 22, 2012, two days after taking leave, Gilmore and McDowell were told by fellow agent Brette Tingle that Hebert intended to break up the “black trio” a reference to Gilmore, McDowell and Supervising Agent Bennie Walters. Walters was subsequently fired on Sept. 7.

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There’s an ongoing hatchet job that is remarkable only in the clumsy, amateurish manner in which it is being carried out.

But the thing that is really notable, considering the stumbling, bumbling effort is that it apparently is being executed (if you can call it that) by either the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) or the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA)—or both.

Several weeks ago, LouisianaVoice received an anonymous letter critical of our coverage of the LSPC’s lack of credibility and integrity in the manner in which it punted on an investigation of illegal political contributions by LSTA.

First of all, there is nothing illegal per se in an association making political contributions except in this particular case, the decision was made to do so by officers of the association who are by virtue of their very membership in LSTA, state troopers. State troopers are, like their state civil service cousins, prohibited from political activity, including making campaign contributions.

To conceal their action, they simply had the LSTA Director David Young make the contributions through his personal checking account and he was then reimbursed for his “expenses.” Former LSPC member Lloyd Grafton of Ruston labeled that practice “money laundering.”

Then came the dust-up with LSPC Director Cathy Derbonne who, in performing her duties as she saw them, attempted to hold the commission members’ feet to the fire on commission regulations.

The commission, led by its president, Trooper T.J. Doss, mounted an effort to make Derbonne pay for her imagined insubordination. After all, no good deed goes unpunished. A majority of the commission quickly convened a kangaroo court to fire her but, told she didn’t have the votes to survive the coup, she resigned under duress.

She has since filed a lawsuit to be reinstated with back pay and damages but the LSPC simply turned up the heat first when two members of the commission paid a private detective to follow her in order to learn who she was talking to and meeting with. LouisianaVoice has been told that the private detective was paid for by the two commission members and not with state funds.

That anonymous letter to LouisianaVoice also accused Derbonne of having sexual relationships with a state trooper, a claim she has vehemently denied.

In some quarters, that would be called character assassination and it does tend to follow a pattern of behavior that has emerged over the past two years with certain commission members, the LSTA, and even the State Police command. Just in the past year, five commission members, the commission director, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson has resigned, his second in command reassigned and 18 members of LSTA were subpoenaed by the FBI.

Now, New Orleans TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik has apparently been contacted to drive the stake through Derbonne’s heart, i.e. completely discredit her in order to destroy her pending litigation.

Zurik was scheduled to air a piece at 10 p.m. today (Monday) that is speculated to include descriptions of Derbonne’s attempts to fix a ticket for commission member Calvin Braxton of Natchitoches, one of the remaining members friendly to Derbonne. From all accounts, Braxton is the thrust of Zurik’s story with Derbonne being collateral damage—convenient for Doss, et al.

We have no idea what Zurik’s story will say, but he requested—and received—a lengthy list of email correspondence between Derbonne and Braxton, the contents or which are not clear but which Zurik is expected to elaborate on tonight.

The odd thing about that is Derbonne’s successor, Jason Hannaman, told the commission during its meeting last Thursday that the commission server had crashed and that all emails and all other documents were lost permanently.

If that’s the case, how were Derbonne’s email exchanges with Braxton recovered so easily and quickly for Zurik?

As if all that were not enough to keep one’s mind reeling, there is also this:

When Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend was hired at a price of $75,000 to investigate the LSTA campaign contributions, his contract specifically required that he file a report on his findings. Instead, he came back with a verbal recommendation that “no action be taken.”

That might have been the end of the story had it not been for retired State Trooper Leon “Bucky” Millet of Lake Arthur who kept pounding the drum at each monthly meeting, insisting that Townsend was required to file a written report. Millet, moreover, was victorious in his assertion that all information, materials, and items produced by Townsend’s investigation were property of the state and must be submitted to the commission.

That would include a tape recording of an LSTA meeting in which it was allegedly admitted that the association had violated the law in making the contributions. Townsend has that recording and it should be among the materials submitted to the commission—provided the recording didn’t also “crash,” with its contents destroyed.

So, in summation, we have a sham of an investigation of the LSTA, the orchestrated ouster of the LSPC director who was the only one knowledgeable about commission members’ activities, the hiring of a private detective to follow her, an anonymous letter intended to tarnish her reputation with one of the only news outlets that would tell her story, the forced resignation of the State Police Commander, and now the recruitment of a New Orleans TV reporter to abet the commission in taking down Braxton and further smearing Derbonne.

What could be more Louisiana?

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As recently as 2015, Lockheed Martin LOCKHEED MARTIN, with $36.2 billion in contracts, was the single largest Pentagon contractor, more than double Boeing’s $16.6 billion.

There is little reason to believe that those numbers have changed significantly in the last two years.

With three large cost-plus contracts for testing and maintenance support services, Lockheed Martin has a commanding presence at NASA’s primary rocket propulsion facility at the STENNIS Space Center just over the Louisiana state line in Mississippi.

But as history has shown (remember the $600 toilet seats and the $100 screwdrivers?), the potential for ABUSE with such large contracts that seem to carry little apparent oversight, is overwhelming.

Now two Louisiana residents, one former Lockheed employee and the other a former contract employee for Lockheed, are bringing suit in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans under the federal FALSE CLAIMS ACT.

The two, Mark Javery of St. Tammany Parish and Brian DeJan of New Orleans, claim that they were first given no duties and then fired from their jobs after reporting cost overruns and safety and performance issues.

They are represented by Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III.

DeJan was a project engineer for a Lockheed subcontractor, Camgian Microsystems, Inc. He was supervised by Javery, who was an infrastructure operations manager for Lockheed. As part of their respective jobs, they were to monitor preventive maintenance metrics and to report the results of their findings to NASA employee Reginald “Chip” Ellis, Deputy Program Inspector for the Rocket Propulsion Test Program.

In April 2014, DeJan and Javery began investigating “unexplained cost overruns and performance issues with the maintenance of test facilities.”

Their lawsuit says that during their investigation, they received “credible information that maintenance and charges related to NASA’s agreement with Space Exploitation Technology were being charged “inappropriately” to the Test Operations Contract for which Lockheed was the prime contractor.

They reported their findings on April 22, 2014, to Ellis and to their immediate supervisor, Terrance Burrell.

On April 28, Lockheed Martin suspended Javery during “pendency of an informal investigation and disciplinary process,” and on April 29, Lockheed requested that Camgian remove DeJan from the Test Operations Contract “until further notice,” which Camgian did.

On May 20, Lockheed terminated Javery’s employment and requested that Camgian “remove DeJan from the Lockheed Martin contract.” Camgian terminated DeJan on May 21.

The two claim that their actions were protected under the False Claims Act, enacted in 1863 over concerns that suppliers contracted to supply the Union Army with goods were defrauding the Army.

Javery and DeJan are seeking reinstatement, double their back pay, compensation for any special damages and attorney and legal fees.

Lockheed, like most defense contractors, has a history of overcharges and the occasional penalty. In 2011, it settled a whistleblower LAWSUIT for $2 million in another False Claims Act at the Stennis Space Center.

“Companies that do business with the federal government and get paid by the taxpayers must act fairly and comply with the law,” said Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Whistleblowers have helped us to enforce the law by bringing to light schemes that misuse taxpayer dollars and abuse the public trust by undermining the integrity of the procurement process.”

West, of course, was describing life in a perfect world. In the real world, things are quite different and the “schemes that misuse taxpayer dollars and abuse the public trust” are rarely reported and even more infrequently punished.

The occasional fine is a mere fraction of illicit profits gained through overbilling and outright fraud.

That’s because no one seems to be watching and because members of Congress passionately protect the contractors domiciled in their districts.

And that’s why contractors continue to belly up to the public trough.

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More details from the Jeff Mercer case against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) keep surfacing and each new revelation casts a long shadow over DOTD and the state judiciary, particularly in the second Circuit Court of Appeal.

And if that isn’t enough to shake your faith in the judicial system, the reputation of the 18th Judicial District across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge ain’t looking too good, either.

LouisianaVoice has obtained a document addressing Mangham subcontractor Jeff Mercer’s claim that clear shows that DOTD and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) were in agreement on the AMOUNT DOTD ADMITTED OWING MERCER. In an email dated June 6, 2016, DOTD Executive Counsel Cheryl Duvieilh wrote to FHWA official Joshua Cunningham that Mercer was entitled to payment of $363,075, plus judicial interest of $42,358.91 for a total of $405,433.91.

That money, a fraction of the $10 million Mercer said he was owed but which was being withheld after he refused demands from DOTD supervisors to kick back money and equipment to him in exchange for approval of his work, still has not been paid.

Instead, DOTD told Mercer and his attorney the money would held “hostage” until everything was settled, knowing that even a partial settlement would be an admission that all of Mercer’s claims were valid.

A separate document obtained by LouisianaVoice also shows that prime contractor AUSTIN BRIDGE, through whom Mercer’s company was contracted as a subcontractor, was owed $9,081,695.30 to resolve its contract claims in a pending mediation session.

That document, from John M. Dubreuil and Ryan M. Bourgeois and addressed to Richard Savoie, was dated Oct. 2, 2013, said, “Accept this memorandum as a final request to participate in the scheduled mediation with a maximum settlement authority of $9.1 million. It was signed off on by Savoie and three FHWA officials.

While other documents were requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the state’s Public Records statutes, as well as through official discovery in part of the civil process of litigation over the payments, those were the only two documents DOTD provided. Agency attorneys refused to release all other documents relative to claims by Mercer or Austin Bridge.

Because settlement negotiations are not admitted into testimony, the jury hearing Mercer’s lawsuit against DOTD was never apprised of DOTD’s in-house admission that it owed the money to Mercer. Despite not hearing this information, the 12-person jury unanimously awarded Mercer $20 million after hearing the sordid details of attempts of extortion, bribery and strong-arming.

DOTD appealed and Second Circuit Chief Judge Henry N. Brown, whose father was a DOTD civil engineer for 44 years, assigned the case to himself and wrote the opinion overturning the jury’s award.

It would be one thing if this was an isolated incident. Sadly, though, it is not. While the vast majority of judges carry on their duties quietly and without fanfare in their genuine efforts to dispense justice equitably, there are always those who will attempt to exploit their positions. They will either attempt financial gain or exercise power and to gain prestige from the bench—or all three.

  • New Orleans Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous was removed from the bench in 2010 by the U.S. Senate after being IMPEACHED.
  • Judges in the 4th Judicial District (Ouachita and Morehouse parishes) filed SUIT against Ouachita Citizen Publisher Sam Hanna, Jr., two years ago in an effort to thwart efforts by the newspaper to obtain public records.
  • Judges Ronald Bodenheimer and Alan Green went to jail and a third judge, Joan Benge, was kicked out of office by the Louisiana Supreme Court. All three were caught up in the FBI’s nine-year investigation dubbed OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE.
  • Judge Wayne Cresap, 34th JDC Judge for St. Bernard Parish, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010 for accepting $70,000 in bribes.

The latest is one Robin Free, formerly of the 18th JDC, which includes the parishes of Iberville, West Baton Rouge, and Pointe Coupee.

Slated to return to the bench after a one-year suspension by the State Supreme Court, Free suddenly RESIGNED on Friday (June 23) following reports he had been HARASSING West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s deputies over their issuing speeding tickets on U.S. 190.

He was near the end of his year’s suspension for failing to maintain the integrity of his position and for exhibiting behavior described as “injudicious, lacking judicial temperament and giving an appearance of impropriety.”

One of the reasons for his suspension was his acceptance of a FREE TRIP from an attorney who had won a big judgment in Free’s court.

Click HERE for the full text of the June 29, 2016, Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judiciary Commission report.

Even during his suspension (without pay), he still managed to stay on the public payroll when Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso HIRED him as supervisor of Iberville Parish’s Department of General Services (whatever that is) at $75,000 per year. Ourso said Free was hired to update the parish’s personnel manual and to assist in drafting the parish’s 2017 fiscal year budget.

Free has clearly demonstrated that he is unfit to be entrusted with handing decisions that impact the lives of others. Perhaps he is qualified to work in an administrative position, but we doubt it. He exhibits far too much narcissism to be placed in any position of trust.

He is merely a symptom of the bigger problem of the public’s becoming increasingly wary and distrustful of the judicial system. The Billy Broussard and Jeff Mercer cases only serve to underscore the validity of that distrust.

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