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Archive for the ‘Lawsuits’ Category

Is it a mere coincidence that Louisiana has the FIFTH-WORST dental health in the nation? Or that our state has the eighth-worst oral health or the worst dental habits and care?

Could the fact that we rank dead last in the percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year somehow correlate with the fact that Louisiana is also dead last in the number of dentists per capita? Or second-worst in the percentage of adults with low life satisfaction due to oral condition?

Or could it be that the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry is just more interested in assessing fines and penalties as a means of amassing funds to perpetuate its existence than it is in promoting good dental health?

In 2010, the Louisiana Board of Dentistry revoked the license of Dr. Ryan Haygood of Shreveport. He was forced to endure a four-day hearing he describes as a “kangaroo court,” during which he had no rights and no due process.

“While this sounds unbelievable and extreme,” he told the Senate Commerce Committee last April, “the courts have agreed.”

A three-dentist panel found him guilty on eight specifics under two separate charges. In addition to taking his license to practice, the panel assessed him with more than $173,000 in fines and legal and investigative fees.

Incredibly, the conviction included several charges that the board had already dismissed and on the other charges, the board produced no evidence against him.

It took years, but the revocation was overturned by a unanimous ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. The court, in a strongly-worded rebuke of the dental board, said, “We hold this conduct is violative of the Louisiana Administrative Procedure Act and Dr. Haygood’s due process right to a neutral adjudicator and a fair hearing.

In 2011, Haygood filed suit against the board attorney, its investigator (who has since has his own private investigator’s license revoked), two unlicensed investigators and several local dentists who he said conspired with the board to take his license

Haygood, in his Senate testimony, said that in November 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal cited the aforementioned Fourth Circuit ruling which suggested the potential of a corrupted investigation and a strong inference that members of the board engaged in the conduct attributed to Dr. Ross Dies (a local competitor of Haygood). If some of the allegations regarding Dies’ behavior are proved, the court added, they “would strongly suggest that Dies’ conduct was motivated less by altruistic concern for the public than animus to suppress a competitor. They would also prove that other board members agreed with Dr. Dies to engage in conduct to accomplish those objectives.

In December 2017, Caddo district court Judge Michael Pitman said:

This court reviewed many e-mails and correspondence between members of the board and the investigation team and the attorneys handling the matter before the board. I did so in-camera. Those matters are under seal because of the confidential nature of the investigation. But the things in those correspondence(s) were rather shocking with the unprofessionalism that was shown during this investigation, and I won’t go into specifics because those matters are under seal, but I was shocked at some of the things I read, some of the unprofessionalism that took place during this investigation by the board members, attorneys, so on and so forth…

The bottom line is there were—the proceedings that too place in this investigation were shocking. I just can’t think of another word to describe it. It was absolutely shocking.

Yet, despite overwhelming evidence of the board’s employment of a private investigator whose license was under threat of revocation (and eventually was revoked), despite testimony of destruction of records by the board, and despite former board employee Diana Chenevert’s meeting with investigators from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) on four different occasions during which she provided details of these, as well as citing examples of threats, extortion, and anti-competitive activities of the board, and despite having been told by OIG personnel that arrests were eminent, nothing happened.

In fact, in a January 25, 2018, letter to State Sen. Barrow Peacock, State Inspector General Steven Street said, among other things, “the evidence did not support criminal charges against any current or former Dental Board employees, board members or contractors.”

To read the full text of Street’s incredulous letter, go HERE.

Apparently, Street saw nothing wrong with the manner in which the board extorts money from dentists or the manner in which it conspired with the LSU School of Dentistry to ruin the career of one Dr. Randall Schaffer. To read his story, go HERE.

It’s not much of a stretch to say that Street has become something of a caricature of the clueless Sgt. Schultz character on Hogan’s Heroes who was best-known for his oft-repeated line, “I see nothing, I see nothing.”

Schaffer is the one who, back in 1989, realized that a joint replacement device for temporomandibular jaw (TMJ) sufferers developed at the LSU Dental School and being marketed by a Houston company named Vitek, was defective.

When Schaffer, then a resident at LSU, became aware of the 100 percent failure rate of the device, he informed Dr. John Kent, head of LSU’s School of Dentistry’s Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Department, who had developed the device.

But Kent had been given stock in Vitek and was earning royalties of 2 percent to 4 percent on the sale of Vitek products, so the word of disfigurement, excruciating pain and at least eight suicides was unwelcome news. The obvious solution was to get rid of Schaffer and shut him up.

Today, Schaffer lives in Iowa, driven out of Louisiana by the Dentistry Board which joined with LSU to persecute the messenger even as 675 patients combined as a class for discovery purposes, leaving the state exposed to about $1 billion in legal liability.

Schaffer, you see, was named as a witness and consultant in the class action case and the Board of Dentistry retaliated by launching its investigation of Schaffer

In 1992, the first case was settled for $1 million.

Meanwhile, the board continued with its unique method of imposing its own brand of justice on dentists who it deemed troublesome or a threat. And of course, the board took no corrective actions regarding Dr. Kent and his joint replacement device.

 

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Rampant drug deals, police officers taking McDonald’s lunches to the police chief’s son at school, a fundraiser that reportedly raised $50,000 for a wounded officer which he never received, and termination of a department officer who only tried to do his job.

Just another day at the Jennings Police Department.

But every now and then, the good guys win one.

Christopher Lehman, a retired Navy veteran and a resident of Jennings, has reached a confidential SETTLEMENT believed to be in the six-figure settlement range with the City of Jennings and its former Police Chief for wrongful termination.

Lehman, who also is a retired federal government civilian employee, joined the Jennings Police Department in June 2013 as a community services coordinator after having reported suspicious activity on his street beginning back in 2011.

His duties with the Jennings PD included overseeing the city’s Neighborhood Watch program.

And his troubles began when he started watching his own neighborhood as a representative of JPD.

And someone didn’t like it so, in December 2015, he was suspended.

Generally, law enforcement officials are quick to tell you, “If you see something, say something.”

But it appears others don’t want people rocking the boat or airing the city’s dirty laundry, i.e. the proliferation of illegal—and unrestrained—drug activity. In short, upstaging the local police chief. And saying something can sometimes get you fired.

Remember: Jennings is in Jefferson Davis Parish and Jefferson Davis Parish is where the murders of eight prostitutes between 2005 and 2009 remains unsolved to this day. The victims were said to have been heavily involved in the area’s drug culture, the issue that was—and remains—at the center of Lehman’s termination.

Lehman, you see, took his duties seriously and when he began reporting suspected drug trafficking on Isabelle Street, his days as a member of the Jennings Police Department were numbered.

It just so happens that Lehman resides on Isabelle Street, so he had an up-close look at the activity on the dead-end street. Some days, as many as 100 vehicles made their way to the end of the street where a couple resided in a dilapidated mobile home that, it would turn out, was in violation of a number of local building codes.

None of the cars turning into the driveway of the trailer stayed more than a few minutes and when a suspicious Lehman installed a high-tech surveillance camera to record the comings and goings, his career at Jennings PD went south in a hurry.

Add to that atmosphere the fact that then-Police Chief Todd D’Albor, who referred to Lehman as his department’s “token nigger,” according to the sworn CLAUDE GUILLORY AFFIDAVIT, a 27-year veteran of the Jennings PD, and you have a department with internal problems.

Former officer Debbie Breaux testified in her SWORN DEPOSITION, that D’Albor would make her shuttle his son to and from school and to take his lunch to him at school each day. She also would take the city mower to the chief’s home so he could cut his grass (at least he didn’t have her perform that chore).

“I knew it was all wrong and I shouldn’t have been doing it,” she said in her deposition of Oct. 29, 2018, “but what was I supposed to do? He was the chief, he told me to do it. I have no protection. I’m not civil service. He could have fired me on the spot.”

And then there is the case of officer RICKY BENOIT, shot in the neck while responding to a domestic disturbance call in 2014..

Chief D’Albor spearheaded a skeet shoot and silent auction on Benoit’s behalf and reportedly raised about $50,000.

Problem is, Benoit says he never received a penny of the benefit money.

But it was the deposition of Jennings officer CHRIS WALLACE that proved to be really eye-opening. His testimony, along with that of Debbie Breaux and the affidavits of Guillory and Priscilla Goodwin, most probably convinced the city to settle Lehman’s case before it got to an open courtroom. It was Goodwin who revealed that D’Albor’s attitude toward Lehman changed after complaints that he was photographing vehicles on his street he suspected of being involved in drug dealings in the trailer at the end of the street.

Negotiated settlements in the conference room of a law office, after all, can keep a lot of embarrassing testimony from the public’s eyes and ears.

And a confidential settlement, as this was, helps keep the lid on the actual amount of the settlement and keeps any admission of fault out of the official record, as well.

Which is precisely why we’re seeing more and more confidential settlements of lawsuits that should be very public. It is, after all, public money that is being negotiated in these settlements and the public has a right to have every cent accounted for.

Instead, realizing it was about to get burned severely, both financially and in a public relations sense, the city decided to capitulate—as it should—with a confidential settlement—as it should not.

And the settlement amount does not even include the thousands and thousands of dollars spent on Douget Court Reporters for no fewer than 10 sworn depositions, attorney fees for Baton Rouge attorney Erlingson Banks, representing the city, as well as the cost of numerous court filings—all because D’Albor, who displayed a sign on his desk that read, “I am the alpha male—I am the Lion,” told Guillory when Lehman persisted in trying to expose suspected drug deals on his street, “I’m getting rid of our token nigger.”

D’Albor is no longer heading up the Jennings Police Department. He is now Police Chief of New Iberia, a city with its own law-enforcement problems, thanks in no small part to Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

Meanwhile, the drug deals continue, the murders of the Jeff Davis 8 remains unsolved, and the benefit money raised for officer Benoit remains unaccounted for.

And the circle just keeps going ‘round.

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The hits just keep coming.

Another victory in a public records lawsuit—sort of—while a state tax official goes and gets himself arrested for payroll fraud, and three members of the Louisiana State Police Commission (them again?) find themselves on the hotseat for apparent violations of state regulations that already cost some of their predecessors their positions.

All in a day’s work in Louisiana where the sanctimonious, the corrupt, the unethical, and the unbelievable seem to co-mingle with a certain ease and smugness.

The Lens, an outstanding non-profit news service out of New Orleans, has just won an important fifth with the Orleans Parish District Attorney when the Louisiana Supreme Court DENIED WRITS by the district attorney’s office in its attempt to protect records of fake subpoenas from the publication.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in October had AFFIRMED a November 2017 ruling by Orleans Civil District Court which had ordered the DA to turned over certain files pursuant to a public records request dating back to April 2017.

As in other cases reported by LouisianaVoice, the court, while awarding attorney fees to The Lens, stopped short of finding that the DA’s denial of records was “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning the DA’s office would not be fined the $100 per day allowed by law for non-compliance with the state Public Records Act.

And because the district attorney was not held personally liable for non-compliance, he will not have to pay the attorney’s fees either; that will be paid by the good citizens of New Orleans.

And, in all probability, the next time the DA’s office or any other public official in New Orleans decides to withhold public records from disclosure, he or she will also skate insofar as any personal liability is concerned with taxpayers picking up the costs.

Until such times as judges come down hard on violations of public records and public meeting laws, officials will have no incentive to comply if there is something for them to conceal.

The records requests were the result of the practice by the DA of issuing FAKE SUBPOENAS (and this preceded Trump’s so-called “fake news”) to force reluctant witnesses to speak with prosecutors—a practice not unlike those bogus phone messages from the IRS that threaten us with jail if we don’t send thousands of dollars immediately.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the practice as an “UNDERHANDED TRICK.”

Meanwhile, former Livingston Parish Tax Assessor and more recently Louisiana Tax Commission administrator CHARLES ABELS has been arrested on charges of payroll fraud, improper use of a state rental vehicle and for submitting unauthorized fuel reimbursement requests for the vehicle.

Abels was elected Livingston Parish assessor, an office held up until that time by his grandfather, with 51 percent of the vote in 1995. He served only one term, however, being defeated by current assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999.

In 2002, he was hired as a staff appraiser by the Louisiana Tax Commission. He said at the time that he was a recovering alcoholic who was trying to turn his life around. He was promoted to administrator of the commission during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He was arrested last march on a domestic violence charge but the case was never prosecuted.

One LouisianaVoice reader, a longtime critic of the Louisiana Tax Commission, said Abel’s arrest came as no surprise and that the entire agency is long overdue a housecleaning. “Let’s hope that the State of Louisiana doesn’t wind up on the hook financially for any misdeeds,” he said.

And then there is the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) which just won’t go away.

Almost three years ago, two members became the second and third to RESIGN after reports that they had contributed to political campaigns in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution.

So, you’d think their successors would’ve learned from their indiscretions, right?

Nah. This is Louisiana, where prior actions are ignored if inconvenient and duplicated if beneficial.

But then again, this is the LSPC that paid Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend $75,000 to not issue a report on a non-investigation into political contributions by the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA), contributions that were not paid directly to candidates (including John Bel Edwards and Bobby Jindal), but funneled instead through the personal bank account of LSTA Executive Director David Young so as to conceal the real source of funds.

And now, we have three of the commission members who combined to contribute more than $5,000 to political campaigns during their terms on the LSPC), either personally or through their businesses.

Whether the contributions were justified as having be made by a business (as claimed by State Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington) or whether the money was contributed to a political action committee as opposed to an individual candidate appears to make no difference; they are all strictly prohibited under state law.

Despite his earlier obfuscation on the issue, Townsend did provide some clarity on the legality of political activity. Quoting from the Louisiana State Constitution, Townsend said, “Members of the State Police Commission and state police officers are expressly prohibited from engaging in political activity. More specifically, Section 47 provides that ‘No member of the commission and no state police officer in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity…make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate…except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately…and to cast his vote as he desires.’”

But the real kicker came from a headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate, which proclaimed, “Three State Police commissioners under probe for possible unlawful political donations.”

Buried in that STORY was a paragraph which said LSPC Chairman Eulis Simien, Jr.” tasked the commission’s Executive Director Jason Hannaman to conduct an investigation into the allegations and report back with the findings. Hannaman, a civilian administrator for the board, said Thursday he hoped to complete the report by next month’s meeting.”

Oh, great. An in-house investigation. That should do it. Get a subordinate to investigate his bosses. At least Taylor Townsend carried out the appearance of an outside, independent investigation—until he proved by his inaction that it wasn’t.

What are the odds of this being truly independent and candid?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This needs to change.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s the fly in the ointment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Landry? He’s not out one red cent.

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

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