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Archive for the ‘Lawsuits’ Category

Lest you think of your local sheriff’s office’s protective actions as a form of insurance, it might do well to remember that unlike State Farm, they’re not always a good neighbor and as opposed to what the Allstate folks might say, you’re not always in good hands.

Louisiana sheriffs have paid out a combined minimum of $6.1 million in settlements and judgments since 2015, according to records provided LouisianaVoice by The Louisiana Sheriffs’ Law Enforcement Program (LSLEP), the risk management arm of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal has paid out at least $2.35 million of that, or 38.5 percent of the total for all sheriffs. That’s just from 2015. Ackal has been in office for 10 years and his office has paid out more than $2.8 million in judgments and settlements, or an average of $23,000 for every month he has been in office.

Two other parish sheriffs’ departments, Jackson ($650,000) and Morehouse ($503,000) were a distant second and third, respectively, behind Iberia. Together, the three parishes were responsible for $3.5 million in payouts for damages and wrongful deaths, or 57.4 percent of the total for all 64 parishes.

Besides the $6.1 million in judgments that were paid out, seven law firms also ran up another $1.2 million in legal fees defending the various lawsuits against sheriffs. That amount represent 83.2 percent of the total legal fees paid to all firms.

Pursuant to a public records request by LouisianaVoice, LSLEP, through its legal counsel, Usry & Weeks of New Orleans, provided reports that showed file names, claimant names, attorneys who handled the files, the amounts paid in attorney fees, and settlement/judgment amounts. The amounts paid out were divided BY PARISH into “corridor” (deductible), indemnity, and excess carrier payments. Excess payments are generally paid out by a second insurance company that covers claims in excess of a certain amount covered by LSLEP’s primary insurer.

There were seven payments made by the LSLEP excess carrier, records show. They range from a low of $15,000 in a case involving two payouts to a plaintiff by the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office (the other payment was for $100,000 and was listed as an “indemnity” payment) to what is believed to be a payment of at least $600,000 in Iberia Parish in the case of the shooting death of a handcuffed prisoner.

The actual amount of that payment is unclear because in the case of Shandell Bradley v. the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, the amounts of the settlement payments were ordered sealed by the presiding judge—the only payments among the records provided that were redacted.

That was the case in which 22-year-old VICTOR WHITE, III was shot in the chest while in custody of sheriff’s deputies. The coroner somehow managed to rule that White had gotten hold of a weapon and somehow managed to shoot himself in the chest—while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

In an interview with LouisianaVoice, White’s father, Victor White, Jr., said he was unhappy with the judge’s order that terms of the settlement not be disclosed. “The judge says we can’t talk about the settlement amount, but I believe the people of Iberia Parish have a right to know how much the sheriff department’s actions cost them,” he said.

The Victor White case was not the only case in which Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal had to make substantial payouts.

CHRISTOPHER BUTLER sued after he was beaten while handcuffed by a deputy Cody Laperouse in 2013. Ackal fired Laperouse who promptly went to work as an officer for the St. Martinville Police Department. Ackal’s office paid out $350,000 in that case.

Ackal also paid out $175,000 to the family of 16-year-old DAQUENTIN THOMPSON who hanged himself while being held in Iberia Parish’s adult jail in 2014.

In a case that displayed the ugly side of Ackal’s idea of justice, the sheriff instructed two of his deputies to “take care of” HOWARD TROSCLAIR after Ackal had been told assaulted one of his (Ackal’s) relatives, according to appeal documents filed by deputy David Hines with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. When Trosclair was arrested, the court records say he was “compliant and followed the officers’ commands.” Hines nevertheless used his knee to strike Trosclair “several times in the side” and struck him “two to three times” with his baton in the back of his legs. Hines continued to knee Trosclair in the abdomen or groin even after he was restrained. Hines then filed a false police report to cover up the wrongful assault, the appeal record says.

That episode cost LSLEP $275,000.

LSLEP paid out $500,000 on behalf of the Morehouse Parish Sheriff’s Office in connection with the death of 18-year-old EDWIN BATTAGLIA while he was in a holding cell.

Perhaps the strangest judgment was the $600,000 payout to VACUUM CLEANER sales representatives in Jackson Parish in 2013.

It seems that a group of door-to-door salespeople had close encounters with Jackson Parish sheriff’s deputies despite their having a permit to solicit door-to-door. Deputy GERALD PALMER told the sales reps, “We’re not too keen on door-to-door salesmen in this parish, so you probably gonna run into a lot of problems. You’re probably better off to go to another parish, according to my sheriff (Andy Brown),” according to court documents.

Court documents quoted other examples of intimidation by deputies in efforts to discourage the sales reps.

The Alexandria law firm of Provosty, Sadler & Delaunay billed $247,000 for defending 33 lawsuits against sheriffs’ offices in Allen, Grant, Iberia and Rapides parishes, records of payments BY LAW FIRM show.

The Chalmette law firm of Gutierrez & Hand was a close second with $237,500 in billings for defending 20 lawsuits against the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Other top-billing firms included:

  • Cook, Yancey, King & Galloway of Shreveport—$191,390 for defending 26 cases in the parishes of Claiborne, Desoto, and Webster;
  • Hall, Lestage & Landreneau of Deridder—$149,745 for representing Allen, Beauregard, Rapides, and Vernon parishes in 36 litigation cases;
  • Homer Ed Barousse of Crowley—$135,400 for representation in the defense of litigation in 11 cases in Acadia Parish;
  • The Dodd Law Firm of Houma—$132,000 for the defense of 10 cases in East Feliciana and Iberia parishes;
  • Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais—$112,800 for defending 10 cases in Acadia and Iberia parishes.

Not all lawsuits were filed against Ackal by prisoners. LAURIE SEGURA was an administrative assistant for the sheriff’s office who obtained a settlement of $409,000 for sexual harassment by Bert Berry, chief of the Criminal Department whose action included rubbing his hands and crotch against her body, sneaking up behind her and kissing her, making inappropriate inquiries about her sex life, discussed fantasies of having sex with her, simulating sex in her presence and trying to get her to engage in phone sex. She said in her lawsuit that he ignored her repeated requests to leave her alone and when she complain, she experience retaliation.

Besides having to settle her claim, Ackal got an added bonus when Segura TESTIFIED against him in federal criminal charges brought against him for a multitude of offenses.

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Remember the tacky story of Anna Nicole Smith, the 26-year-old stripper who married the 89-year-old wheelchair-bound gazillionaire J. Howard Marshall back in 1994?

To no one’s surprise, he died a year later. But he did so without ever having bothered to include her in his will.

That’s the kind of stuff that’s tailor-made for the lawyers and sure enough, the battle lines were quickly drawn between the broken-hearted widow and the disinherited younger son Howard III on one side and the remaining children of J. Howard on the other.

The ensuing legal battle out-lived Anna Nicole, who died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 40 of an accidental prescription drug overdose.

And even though he’s been dead nearly a quarter of a century and she’s been gone for a decade, the legal jousting that began in Houston rages on—but now has moved to 14th Judicial District Court in Lake Charles.

The latest legal skirmishes involve the administration of the Marshall family trust, the appointment of one judge as a trustee for the trust, a request for the Louisiana Supreme Court to recuse the presiding judge and all manner of apparent conflicts of interest and questionable judicial conduct on the part of a third Judge, Clayton Davis.

Got it? Didn’t think so.

The common denominator that makes the entire affair one complicated messy knot is that all three judges are from the 14th Judicial District (Calcasieu Parish).

Before going any further with this, it might be helpful to provide a scorecard of the main players:

  • Pierce Marshall Sr.: Prevailed in the extended legal action against Anna Nicole Smith to gain control of the trust which is governed under the Louisiana Trust Code.
  • Elaine Marshall: Widow of Pierce Marshall and named by him as the sole trustee with specific power to name co-trustees.
  • Lilynn Cutrer: 14th JDC judge named as one of the co-trustees of the Trust, which includes significant shares of Koch Industries, the nation’s second-largest privately-owned company. Her fee alone could be as much as $18 million, based on her projected earnings of .3 percent (that’s three-tenths of a percent) of the amount of the trust.
  • Preston Marshall: Son of Pierce and Elaine Marshall who was terminated from the family business for alleged misconduct in 2015 and who is fighting for a share of the enormous trust. “At issue are billions (with a “B”) of dollars,” says his attorney, a claim denied by Elaine Marshall’s legal counsel.
  • Sharon Darville Wilson: 14th JDC judge who has presided over the case for the past two years.
  • Hunter Lundy: Lake Charles attorney who represents Preston Marshall and who filed a motion to recuse Judge Wilson.
  • Clayton Davis: 14th JDC judge who first recused himself from ruling on the recusal motion but then signed an order requesting the Louisiana Supreme Court to assign an ad hoc judge to replace Judge Wilson.

Now here’s where it gets really sticky (as if the entire mess wasn’t slimy enough already).

Hunter Lundy has been in partnership with Clayton Davis for at least 18 years, including the 10 years since Davis’s 2008 election to the bench. Those partnerships included:

  • TEXLA PROPERTIES, formed in 2000 and still active, according to records on file with the Louisiana Secretary of State.
  • LLAAD, LLC, formed in 2005 but now inactive.

Both men are listed as officers of the two entities, domiciled at 501 Broad Street in Lake Charles. That is also the address of the law firm Lundy, Lundy, Soileau & Smith.

  • Matt Lundy, Hunter Lundy’s brother, is listed as manager and Clayton Davis is listed as agent for TIGER SEATS, LLC, also domiciled at 501 Broad Street in Lake Charles and still an active entity. The latest report filed with the Secretary of State was on May 9 of this year.
  • Moreover, Davis was also law partners with the Lundys and from his election in 2008 until last year, Judge Davis was co-owner of the office building housing the Lundy law firm.

Davis, citing his business relationship with the Lundys, properly recused himself on Friday, June 22. But five days later, on June 27, he signed a three-page order asking the Supreme Court to assign an ad hoc judge to replace Judge Wilson.

But if he had already recused himself, it would seem that he had no authority to sign the order—or anything else having anything to do with the trust—which is precisely the argument made by Baton Rouge attorney Richard Sherburne, legal counsel for Elaine Marshall.

“It has long been recognized in our civil procedure that once a judge is recused, or a motion for his recusal has been filed, he has no power to act (except to appoint the proper person to sit ad hoc when the law provides for such an appointment),” Sherburne said. “Any action taken by a recused judge is an absolute nullity,” he added. “The theory of recusation is based upon public policy, for it is applied not only for the protection of the litigants but generally to see that justice is done by an impartial court.” (emphasis Sherburne’s).

RESPONSE TO DAVIS ORDER

In retrospect, this entire sordid mess started when a young stripper spotted a lonely but filthy rich old man in the audience of a strip club and married him only to be left out of his will.

She went to court against the old man’s son, who prevailed but in so doing, apparently had a falling out with one of his sons who now is suing over the appointing of his widowed mother to govern the family trust, rich beyond the average person’s imagination.

And now the lawyers are raking in more money on this one case than most of us will see in a lifetime.

Sometimes it just doesn’t seem to be worth the heartache that goes with having more money than one needs. It reminds me of a couple of relevant lines in the late Harry Chapin’s song Sequel:

“It’s better sometimes, when we don’t get to touch our dreams.”

Simple enough. And then there are these lines further down in the song:

“…From my journey between heaven and hell,

With half the time thinking of what might have been

And half thinkin’ just as well.”

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Sometimes with local politics, you need a program, an organizational chart, a genealogical diagram, and perhaps even DNA data to keep up with who’s allied with whom and who’s got a vendetta against whom.

So much has been written about Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal that when another local courthouse politician finds himself in trouble, it’s natural to assume that Ackal’s name would come up somewhere in the mix.

After all, Ackal has been indicted and acquitted and there’s talk that the name on his office door may be changed from “Sheriff” to “Defendant.” The sheriff’s department has paid out judgments or settlements that equate to $23,000 per month for every month of his 10-year tenure ($2.8 million total), and that doesn’t even include the $600,000 settlement with the family of Victor White III, the 22-year-old who authorities said got hold of a gun and fatally shot himself in the chest—while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

Nor does it include the lawsuit just filed against Ackal and three of his deputies. The plaintiff, Rickey Roche, claims the deputies beat him and planted drugs on him during a retaliatory traffic stop following an altercation between Roche and one of the deputies. (Nary a word has been written by the local paper about this lawsuit, by the way.)

More on that later, but first the confusion surrounding the June 8 indictment of Iberia Clerk of Court Michael Thibodeaux by M. Bofill Duhé, the local district attorney who loves to indict people on BOGUS CHARGES.

The indictment on 14 criminal counts of perjury, racketeering, malfeasance, theft of advance court costs, filing false/altered public records was handed down by M. Bofill on the basis of an admittedly nasty INVESTIGATIVE AUDIT.

But the fact that the indictment came a full 20 months after the release of the October 2016 audit should raise eyebrows. And considering a blindfolded man could turn around three times and spit and most probably hit a legislative audit report at least as serious as this one which produced not even a slap on the wrist, and you really start wondering about the local political affiliations.

Among other things, the state audit said that from May 2013 to May 2016, the clerk’s office “improperly retained $314,495 in unused advance court costs that state law required to be refunded to the persons who originally deposited those monies. Of this amount, the Clerk of Court transferred $218,021 from the advance deposit bank account (advance deposit fund) to the Clerk of Court’s salary fund bank account (salary fund) to pay Clerk of Court salaries and other expenses. The remaining $96,924 represents monies currently in the Clerk of Court’s advance deposit fund that should be returned to the persons who made the original deposits.”

The misuse, misapplication, mismanagement and/or the misappropriation of more than $300,000 is a serious offense, one which should never be taken lightly and the DA’s office took the appropriate action in pursuing its own legal investigation once the audit came to light.

But the question must be asked: where was the DA’s office when prisoners were being abused and killed while in custody of Sheriff Louis Ackal? Yes, Ackal was indicted, but it was a federal indictment. Duhé was nowhere to be found.

But here’s Thibodeaux’s cardinal sin: Ryan Huval was an employee of the clerk’s office and Thibodeaux terminated him. The official reasons are not known and Thibodeaux is prohibited from discussing it because of privacy issues.

But the reasons, whether justified or not, don’t matter. Ryan Huval is the son of Ricky Huval.

Ricky Huval is the parish assessor and he was not happy with his son’s firing. And Ricky Huval and District Attorney M. Bofill Duhé are tight.

As a sidebar, unconfirmed rumor has it that certain property belonging to one Michael Thibodeaux might also have been reassessed by Huval’s office.

So, for a change, a local political story in Iberia Parish does not involve Sheriff Ackal.

But then, he has all he can handle with that latest lawsuit by Roche who says that after his confrontation with Lt. Col. Gerald Savoy the sheriff’s office targeted Roche with surveillance and pulled his vehicle over without probable cause. He says he was kicked, punched, choked and beaten with a baton and flashlight by then-deputies Byron Lasalle, Jason Comeaux, and Wade Bergeron and that they planted drugs on him.

All four deputies eventually were indicted for prisoner abuse, entered guilty pleas and testified against Ackal, who was acquitted.

Bergeron was sentenced to 48 months in prison while Comeaux received sentences of 40 and 30 months, Lasalle got 54 months on each of three counts to run concurrently, and Savoy was sentenced to 87 months in federal prison.

All this is not to claim either that Thibodeaux is guilty or that he’s as pure as the driven snow, but it is rather curious that Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal was never indicted by Duhé’s office for some of the transgressions he was accused of—little things like turning vicious dogs loose on defenseless prisoners or forcing prisoners to simulate oral sex with deputies’ nightsticks.

Here are a few other lowlights of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, as itemized in a letter to then U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, none of which attracted the diligence of Duhé’s office:

  • In 2005, a former inmate alleged that deputies beat him so badly when he was booked into jail that he had to spend two weeks in a hospital.
  • In 2008, a man alleged that a deputy beat him so badly during an arrest that he coughed up blood and then a muzzle was put over his mouth. The man later settled a suit with the Sheriff’s Office for $50,000.
  • In 2009, Michael Jones, a 43-year-old man who suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, died in the jail after an altercation with then-Warden Frank Ellis and then-lieutenant Wesley Hayes. This year, a judge ruled that two Sheriff’s Office employees were responsible for Jones’ death. The judgment in the case totaled $61,000.
  • In 2009, former inmate Curtis Ozenne alleged that officers began a contraband sweep by forcing him to remain in the “Muslim praying position” for nearly three hours. Mr. Ozenne alleged he was kicked in the mouth multiple times, threatened with police dogs and then his head was shaved. In his complaint, Mr. Ozenne also alleged that Sheriff Ackal threatened him with a dog and watched as an officer struck him with a baton for smiling. Mr. Ozenne’s suit against the Sheriff’s Office was later settled for $15,000.
  • In 2009, Robert Sonnier, a 62-year-old mentally ill man, died as the result of a fatal blow delivered by an IPSO Deputy in the course of a physical altercation. After Mr. Sonnier was unable to receive a psychological evaluation authorized by his wife, he was left in a wheelchair to stew in his own waste for several hours. He eventually became agitated which led to altercations with Deputies that resulted in Sonnier being pepper sprayed twice and eventually leading to the fatal blow.
  • In 2012, Marcus Robicheaux, an inmate at Iberia Parish Jail, was pulled from a wall and thrown to the ground as IPSO correctional officers ran a contraband sweep. A deputy’s dog then attacked Mr. Robicheaux, biting his legs, arms and torso, as the deputy stomped and kicked the prone inmate. The whole three-minute incident was captured on video from the jail’s surveillance cameras.
  • In 2014, Victor White III died as the result of a fatal gunshot wound while handcuffed in the backseat of an IPSO car. The sheriff’s deputies who arrested Mr. Victor (sic) alleged that he wouldn’t leave the car and became “uncooperative.” They say he pulled out a handgun, while his hands were cuffed behind his back, and shot himself in the back. However, the full coroner’s report indicated that Mr. White had died from a single shot to his right chest, contradicting the initial police statement that he had shot himself in the back.

But Duhé was right there when Ackal needed him to help shut up a New Iberia black man who initiated a recall petition after the Victor White shooting.

On July 8, 2016, Broussard was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver In Lafayette Parish who minutes later collided head-on with an 18-wheeler and was killed in adjacent Iberia Parish.

Yet it was Broussard who was indicted on a charge of manslaughter by an Iberia Parish grand jury on March 19, 2017, just nine days before the seven deputies were sentenced.

So just how did Broussard find himself in Ackal’s crosshairs? On July 1, a week before the auto accident, Broussard committed the unpardonable sin when he became the impetus behind a recall of Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Broussard, an African-American, was one of the organizers of The Justice for Victor White III Foundation which filed a petition on July 1 to force a recall election. White was the 22-year-old who died of a gunshot wound while in the back seat of a sheriff deputy’s patrol car in March 2014. The official report said the gunshot was self-inflicted. The coroner’s report said he was shot in the front with the bullet entering his right chest and exiting under his left armpit. White’s hands were cuffed behind his back at the time.

Ackal, of course, skated on that issue and was later indicted, tried and acquitted on federal charges involving beating prisoners and turning dogs loose on prisoners, as well. But when you’ve got retired federal judge and family member Richard Haik helping with the defense, you tend to land on your feet.

But hey, Ackal also didn’t fire Ryan Huval.

 

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In the 10 years that Louis Ackal has served as sheriff of Iberia Parish, his office has paid out more than $2.8 million in lawsuit settlements or judgments, a staggering average of more than $23,000 per month, according to an ASSOCIATED PRESS story.

Abuses and negligence attributed to Ackal, a retired Louisiana state trooper, and his office range from turning VICIOUS DOGS loose on prisoners for the apparent entertainment of deputies to forcing clubs down prisoners’ throats in a simulation of oral sex to the shooting death of a HANDCUFFED PRISONER in a sheriff’s department vehicle which was ruled a suicide despite the his being shot in the chest while his hands were cuffed behind him.

In the latest case, a woman and her two children were awarded in excess of $41,000. That decision stemmed from an incident in which a pregnant Lakitha Wright was thrown to the ground and pepper-sprayed in April 2012.

During the confrontation that ensued after deputies were summoned by neighbors who reported that two of Wright’s relatives were fighting, deputies allegedly shouted racial slurs and erased a cellphone video of the confrontation.

It is unclear whether or not the erasure of the cellphone would constitute evidence tampering but the Wright case was just the latest in a long string of legal setbacks that have plagued the sheriff’s office since Ackal took office in 2008 following his election in November 2007.

And the $2.8 million is only for cases in which the judgment or settlement amounts were revealed. In the case of Victor White, the 22-year-old who was said to have (a) gotten hold of a gun (b) and shot himself in the chest (c) while his hands were cuffed behind him, details of the settlement conference were sealed by the court.

The SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE ORDER, held March 15 in Lafayette federal court, gave both parties 60 days in which to come up with a settlement, which is believed to have been several hundred thousand dollars, although no official announcement has been made to that effect and the local news media have done little to ascertain the final settlement amount. There is, however, a DISMISSAL WITHOUT PREJUDICE, which meant if a reasonable settlement was not reached, the lawsuit could be re-instituted.

Also unknown is whether the sheriff’s office even continues to have liability insurance coverage either because of the cost of premiums associated with a high risk or because companies may simply refuse to underwrite such a loose cannon as the IPSO.

The Victor White death has had other ramifications for the department. U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond wrote a lengthy LETTER to then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in which he requested an investigation into mistreatments and the deaths of eight people while in custody of the IPSO.

When DONALD BROUSSARD initiated a recall of Ackal, he found out just how serious opposition to a powerful man like the local sheriff can be. Broussard found himself on the short end of a NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE indictment in connection with a fatal auto accident in which he was not even involved.

The charges were in obvious reprisal against Broussard for his opposition to Ackal and even though the charges were subsequently dropped, it served as an object lesson as to just how all-powerful a sheriff can be and how willingly some are to abuse that power.

Yes, Ackal was tried and acquitted of all charges. That could be because he was successful in throwing a few deputies under the bus who weren’t so fortunate. Guilty pleas and convictions resulted in the cases of several deputies. It could be because the original judge scheduled to hear his case in Lafayette showed up in court impaired and the case was moved to a different judge—in Shreveport. It could be because he hired a high-dollar defense counsel. Or it could have been a combination of all those things.

And despite Ackal’s acquittal, more than 100 criminal cases involving IPSO deputies dating back to 2008, the year Ackal took office, had to be tossed.

Not all the stories about sheriffs are horror stories. There’s the legendary story of a DC-9 loaded with bales of marijuana being smuggled into the country from Colombia which, in 1977, crashed onto a rural chicken farm just south of Farmerville in Union Parish, Louisiana.

The pilot of the aircraft was killed in the crash but two other Colombian smugglers wedged themselves between the bales of weed and were cushioned as the aircraft sawed off the tops of pine trees and crashed into the farm. (The owner of the farm is said to have sued over the crash because, he claimed, his chickens were traumatized by the crash and stopped laying—although it is unclear whom he would have sued if, indeed, he did.)

As federal, state and local law enforcement officers swarmed the area to investigate the crash and to search for the two survivors, a Union Parish sheriff’s deputy, who apparently had not retained much from his high school geography class, spotted one of the smugglers. He stopped his patrol car and called the man over. “Where you from?” he asked.

“Señor,” answered the still dazed man, “I am from Colombia.”

“You know John McKeithen?” the deputy asked, confusing the South American country for the northeast Louisiana Delta town of Columbia, home of the former governor about 50 miles south-southeast of Farmerville.

“No…”

“Get in th’ car, boy, you’re under arrest. Everbody in Columbia knows John McKeithen.”

Whether that story is true or not, it should be.

But one fact remains: Ackal is still in office and he is still the political power in Iberia Parish—just like any other sheriff is—or was—the political power in his parish: Frank Clancy and Harry Lee in Jefferson, Jerry Larpenter in Terrebonne, Noah Cross in Concordia Parish, “Cat” Doucet in St. Landry Parish, John Grosch and Martin Gusman of Orleans Parish, Gilbert Ozenne of Iberia Parish, and “Dutch” Rowley of St. Bernard Parish, to name just a few past and present.

Or, if you care to venture outside Louisiana, Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona; Lee Baca of Los Angeles County; Pat Kelly of Athens County, Ohio; Lawrence Hodge of Whitley County, Kentucky; Chuck Arnold of Gibson County, Tennessee; Tyrone Clark of Sumpter County, Alabama, or Mike Byrd of Jackson County, Mississippi.

It’s enough to leave our ears ringing with that ole cliché: “You’re in a heap-a trouble, boy.”

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Editor’s note: The following (with added comment) is a guest column provided to LouisianaVoice by the Healthcare Alliance for Regulatory Board Reform (HARBR):

By Christian Wolff

Louisiana Senate Bill 286, dubbed the Physician’s Bill of Rights, fell into a “coma” before the Louisiana Legislature on last Wednesday but not before an outburst over the testimony of the bill’s author.

Sen John Milkovich (D-Shreveport) was in the middle of explaining the obvious conflict of interest on the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners when he was interrupted by New Orleans attorney Jack Stolier who twice shouted that Milkovich’s testimony was a “bald faced lie.” (Milkovich’s testimony and Stolier’s off-camera interruption can be heard beginning at the 7:15 MARK of this video of the House Health and Welfare Committee.)

Milkovich had just referenced an “affair” between Dr. Cecilia Mouton, then an investigator for the board of medical examiners, and Stolier, who represented physicians before the board in disciplinary matters.

But hey, the brief flareup was by far the most interesting—and probably the most intelligent—moment of this session sadly marked by legislative ineptitude, indecision, and concerted efforts to bow to the will of special interests st the expense of constituents and Louisiana (See the disgraceful Senate passage of the Payday Loan bill. How anyone can hold out one scintilla of hope for this bunch is beyond comprehension).

After Stolier was escorted from the committee room by Capitol security personnel, Milkovich read from a March 18, 2016, LouisianaVoice post which alluded to the relationship between the two. He also cited a letter from a board director which acknowledged a “personal relationship” between the two. Mouton, now Director of Operations for the board, and Stolier have since married but Milkovich called the romantic link between Mouton, who was prosecuting doctors, and Stolier, who was defending them, a blatant conflict of interest.

This, folks, is typical of the manner in which both the Board of Medical Examiners and the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry disregard due process and run roughshod over members of the medical profession who are charged and deemed guilty without even a nod at procedure. Guilty until proven innocent turns legal procedure on its head and is the very reason why some sort of checks and balances are desperately need to bring these rogue board under control.

But instead, the board, without objection, agreed that the bill be involuntarily deferred, meaning that for all practical purposes, it is dead for this session. (This, by the way, is the same Board of Medical Examiners that has defied a court order and continues to refuse to allow the legislative auditor to see its records so the auditor can do his job.)

Typically, the House does not entertain motions to override/hear bills that were involuntarily deferred in a committee.

This is the same legislature that is on the verge of approving (the Senate already has, by a 20-17 vote) an increase to 167 percent in interest rates payday loan predators can charge, along with doubling loan origination fees. Looks like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been busy this session—as it has in past years.

Advocates of SB 286 praised it on May 2 as an excellent piece of legislation. It was referred to it as “landmark” bill with implications for the due process reforms of healthcare licensing boards in every state in the nation.

Legislators’ indifference—not unlike their indifference to solving the state’s fiscal ills—could open the state up to litigation, leaving it to Attorney General Jeff Landry to try and defend the state, an interesting proposition in itself. Such potential litigation already has a precedent: a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v Federal Trade Commission. In that decision, SCOTUS laid out conditions by which licensing and regulatory boards could and could not act as agents of their respective states.

In order to be considered a “state agency,” boards now need to show that they have a voting minority of “market place participants” in the profession being regulated. The other means by which a state regulatory or licensing board may come into compliance with the SCOTUS decision, and now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandate, is to have demonstrable and meaningful state oversight by an entity or entities which are not marketplace participants in the profession regulated by the board over which they are providing oversight.

The concern of SCOTUS and the FTC is that without meeting at least one of these two conditions, licensing and regulatory boards might act in their own interests rather than in the interest of the public. Moreover, SCOTUS and FTC, are concerned that beyond acting in the interest of their own professions over the interest of the public, boards may act in the interest of boards themselves over the fair and equal interest of given licensees or classes of licensees. This might be called “market capture via regulatory capture” and would be to the detriment of patients, the public, and licensees alike.

States whose regulatory boards do not comply with the conditions set forth in North Carolina Dental Board leave every member of every board including administrative staff and legal counsel legally exposed in their professional capacities and as individuals. Suits might be based in the violation of anti-trust laws, or on injury against persons (such as licensees) who were harmed without the benefit of due process of law.

Healthcare licensees in every state across the nation are being awakened to the injustices which have befallen physicians, and increasingly, other healthcare providers, since the passing of the short-sighted Healthcare Quality Improvement Act in 1986.

Louisiana is not alone by any stretch. It was foolish and immature for the Louisiana House Health and Welfare Committee to put SB 286 to rest in the way it did. When the Physicians’ Bill of Rights awakens from its “Involuntary Deferment” it may well be in a different state already positioned to make the proper move. The first state will set the landmark precedent and if the precedent does not affect national policy, it will be followed by every state in the nation.

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