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Archive for the ‘Lawsuits’ Category

The hits keep on coming.

The long-awaited investigative audit of the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office’s Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) program is finally out after considerable legal wrangling between the Legislative Auditor and the sheriff’s office that, apparently, still is not over.

But the bottom line is the sheriff’s office took yet another hit just five years after an earlier INVESTIGATIVE AUDIT revealed that a former deputy’s private company had run half-a-million dollars in background checks through the sheriff’s office.

The latest AUDIT is far less damaging but nevertheless illustrates a pattern of lax oversight of the LACE program by former Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle who abruptly RESIGNED last March 16 in anticipation of the latest audit.

Thanks to the Haynesville Shale, Arbuckle had been able to administer a payroll of $11.2 million, three times that of neighboring Sabine Parish and $3.3 million more than Natchitoches Parish, which has nearly twice the population as DeSoto.

All of which circles back to the current audit that shows that 23 deputies were paid more than $15,000 for 335 hours of LACE details they may not have worked in the five-month period of January 1 to June 2, 2017.

Although $15,000 is not a particularly mind-boggling amount, even for such a short period of time, interviews with three former deputies reflected a deliberate policy by the department that encourage an atmosphere of payroll fraud and malfeasance.

That, in itself, was most probably the root cause of the Sheriff Jayson Richardson’s decision to employ legal efforts to prevent the Legislative Auditor’s office from gaining access to the department’s personnel records even though it created the appearance that the sheriff’s office may have been attempting to hide embarrassing or incriminating information.

“During the course of our audit, a Legislative subpoena was issued for personnel files of the current Sheriff, Jayson Richardson, and 12 former and current DPSO deputies,” the report reads. “The Sheriff contested the subpoena by means of a declaratory judgment filed in DeSoto Parish.” Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera filed an exception of venue but in a classic example of home cooking, a local court ruled against the auditor’s office. Purpera then filed an Exception of Non-Joinder of Proper Parties (an omission of one or more persons who should have been made a plaintiff or defendant). Again, there was an adverse ruling by the court which ruled that the Louisiana Legislature was not a necessary party in the matter in a determined effort to protect Richardson’s office. The LLA requested supervisory writs from the Second Circuit, which were granted on February 14, 2019. Following decisions from the courts of review, a trial on the merits will proceed before the trial court. “We may issue a supplemental report after the litigation is concluded,” the report said,” the report said.

“The DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office (DPSO) has participated in DeSoto Parish’s Local Agency Compensated Enforcement (LACE) program to enhance traffic safety and generate revenue for many years,” the report said. “The LACE program is administered by the District Attorney (DA) for the 42nd Judicial District. The Criminal Court Fund reimbursed DPSO $45.00 per hour for off-duty deputies (i.e., deputies working at times other than their regularly-scheduled work hours) to write tickets and also reimbursed DPSO $10 per hour for operating costs and wear and tear on DPSO’s vehicles for the hours worked through February 2017. However, there was no written contract or agreement between the DA and DPSO to conduct LACE details.

“DA Gary Evans told us he relied on DPSO to manage the LACE program when he began his first term as district attorney in January 2015; however, two years later, he learned other DAs managed their own LACE programs and used pretrial diversion (PTD) programs to fund them. This prompted DA Evans to create a PTD program for LACE traffic citations and discontinue participation in the LACE program funded by the Criminal Court Fund in March 2017.

“DPSO participated in the DA’s new LACE program from March 23, 2017 to June 2, 2017. A dispute arose as to whether the Criminal Court Fund or the DA should pay DPSO $107,140 for LACE details worked in March, April, and May 2017. Former Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle told us that he paid his deputies for LACE details they worked and was entitled to reimbursement from the DA, who was now diverting LACE tickets. The DA countered that DPSO did not perform all services as invoiced and that he does not owe DPSO reimbursement. The DA did not reimburse DPSO and DPSO stopped working LACE details on June 2, 2017.”

The reported noted that the 42nd Judicial District Criminal Court Fund reimbursed participating law enforcement agencies for the time spent on LACE details through March 2017 when Evans created a pre-trial diversion (PTD) program for LACE traffic citation and discontinued participation in the program funded by the Criminal Court Fund.

DPSO had few written policies on procedures for LACE details during the period covered by the audit, lending to an atmosphere of abuse and falsified time sheets, time sheets approved by then-Captain of Patrols Richardson.

Because LACE details paid more than other off-duty details such as security, there was active competition for open LACE spots, the report says, adding that four current and former deputies who worked LACE were told to “get on and get off” I-49 quickly so that the next deputy could begin his or her LACE detail.

State auditors attempted to speak with deputies but only three former deputies agreed to interviews.

Following are the LLA’s summation of what the former deputies told auditors:

  • Former Lt. Stephanie White told us that she was paid for hours she claimed on LACE details that she did not work on Interstate 49. She further said that she was never told that she had to be on Interstate 49 for her entire LACE shift and ran personal errands after she left the interstate before returning the digiTICKET device. She stated that, in September 2017, former Sheriff Arbuckle asked her before we began our investigation if LLA was going to find any problems with the LACE details; she said she informed him that the deputies did not work all of the hours claimed.
  • Former Deputy Dennis Buckingham said that he was trained to work LACE details by claiming one hour per citation written without regard to hours actually worked. He further said that he wrote numerous citations during the first hours of his LACE shift and then went home for the remainder of his shift. Because he may not have worked all the hours on his LACE time sheet, he may have been paid for hours he did not work.
  • Former Deputy Alphonsa Carter stated that she received compensation for hours she did not work. She stated although she knew it was common practice for other deputies to claim an hour for each citation written and not work full shifts, she should not have done wrong just because they were.

Buckingham filed a written response to the audit in which he denied that he admitted to being paid for lace hours he did not work, although he reiterated that he was instructed to claim a full hour for every ticket written.

“Four former deputies told us that one former deputy routinely called in as starting work for LACE details although the deputy remained at home for several hours after ‘starting’ the LACE detail,” the report said.

“If these deputies claimed time and were paid for hours not actually worked on LACE details, they may have violated state law,” it said. “Additionally, since DPSO billed by the hour for the use of its patrol units for LACE details, DPSO may have over-billed the DA for that same period.”

Richardson’s response, written by James Sterritt, an attorney for the Shreveport law firm Cook, Yancey, King and Galloway, said that the sheriff’s department “became aware of several inconsistencies” while assisting the LLA with information during the audit. “That information led to three deputies being placed on administrative leave,” Sterritt said. “All three resigned shortly afterwards.

At the same time, Sterritt, said that a comparison of deputies’ timesheets to digiTICKET log reports “may not provide a complete picture of time actually worked by deputies performing LACE details. Thus, the hours designated in the report as ‘over-payments’ may have been overestimated.” Sterritt said that when superiors become aware of improper conduct by a deputy, “that deputy is properly disciplined”

 

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Trying to decipher which was the first to employ Gestapo-like extortion as a means of controlling licensees is like solving the chicken-or-the-egg riddle, but there’s no question that the methods employed by the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and the Louisiana State Medical Licensing Board are eerily similar.

Both employ highly questionable investigative methods, both impose stiff fines followed by even more outrageous fines if the licensee displays any will to resist what may even be bogus charges, and both make generous use of the most effective punishment: revocation of licenses—taking away the victim’s very means of earning a livelihood.

And both also occasionally force recalcitrant dentists and physicians to attend costly rehab clinics either in addition to or in lieu of license revocations. And those rehab clinics can cost as much as $30,000 a month.

Sometimes, a professional is sent to a facility that has its own abuse problems. Take the case of Slidell dentist KENNETH STARLING, who, in addition to having to pay an $8,000 fine, was sent by the dental board to a place called Palmetto Addition Recovery Center in Rayville in Richland Parish in 2010.

But PALMETTO, it turned out, was involved a 2009 lawsuit after one of its staff members, Dr. Douglas Wayne Cook, became sexually involved with one of the center’s patients.

And even while at Palmetto, the dental board continued targeting him. Could that be because he practiced in the same town as influential board member Dr. Edward Donaldson?

And while the practices of the dental board have been publicized often by LouisianaVoice, the state medical board essentially plays by the same rules. And, just as with the dental board, the name of Palmetto Addiction Recovery Centers surfaces on a regular basis in report after report, along with Pine Grove Recovery Centers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Physicians’ Health Foundation of Louisiana.

I have chosen to delete the names and locations of the following examples, but the cases serve as examples of an uneven playing field, often dependent upon on the physician in question:

  • Following his arrest on charges of distribution and possession of controlled and dangerous substances in 2005, Dr. ________submitted to substance abuse evaluation at Palmetto. “Apparently, the physician had submitted to chemical dependency treatment on two prior occasions. Upon his discharge from Palmetto, he underwent residential treatment at Pine Grove. His license was reinstated in 2009 but in 2013, the board received information indicating that the physician “had returned to the use of controlled or other mood-altering substances.” In 2018, after being placed on indefinite probation in 2014, his license was “reinstated without restriction.”
  • ___________entered a plea of guilty to one count of Medicaid fraud in 2002 and subsequently underwent in-patient chemical dependency evaluation for cocaine abuse. Following completion of his criminal penalty, he was referred to Physician Health Foundation’s Physician Health Program (PHP). Following his reinstatement in 2008, he was disciplined again in 2018, this time placed on probation for unspecified violations.
  • _________________ was diagnosed in 1999 with cocaine and alcohol addiction and in 2000 was referred to Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta, Georgia through Physicians’ Health Foundation and later to Fontainebleau Treatment Center in Mandeville. His license was reinstated in 2006 but in 2007, he again came under scrutiny for drug abuse and was again referred to a PHP monitoring program and he was placed on probation by the board for a 10-year period in 2008. He was reinstated “without restriction” in 2018.
  • ________________ entered a plea of guilty to one count of health care fraud in 2009. In addition to criminal penalties, the board suspended his license for 90 days, placed him on probation for five years, and fined him $3,000. Following his reinstatement in December 2009, it was subsequently learned in 2011 that he had been issuing prescriptions of narcotics, including OxyContin, from his home and vehicle since May 2009 under the auspices of a practice site not approved by the board. The board again suspended his license, this time for six months and he was placed on probation for 10 years.
  • _________________ voluntarily entered into a two-week program at DePaul Hospital in New Orleans for cocaine dependency in 1995 and 1996 before transferring to Talbott Marsh in Atlanta. The board in 1998 ordered him into additional treatment in PHP at Palmetto and placed him on probation for five years. In 2003, he was again placed on five-year probation for failure to comply with requirements set forth in the 1998 order. His license was reinstated “without restriction” in 2018.

But when a Lafayette NEUROSURGEON becomes involved in suspected arson and subsequently enters a plea of guilty to one count of felony obstruction of justice, the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is strangely silent.

Dr. Nancy Rogers was arrested in 2012 in connection with the fire at Levy-East Bed & Breakfast in Natchitoches, a blaze that caused $500,000 in damage to the unoccupied building. No motive has been given for the fire, but investigators determined it to have been intentionally set.

But in the case of Dr. ARNOLD FELDMAN of Baton Rouge, the board came down especially hard.

In a terse December 20, 2018, LETTER TO FELDMAN, board Executive Director Vincent Culotta, Jr., wrote, “Per the decision and order of the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners dated April 13, 2015, the amount due is as follows:

  • Cost of proceeding—$456,980.60
  • Administrative fine—$5,000
  • Total: $461,980.60.

This is not intended as a treatsie on Feldman’s guilt or innocence, but it’s rather difficult to fathom what “proceedings” could cost nearly $457,000 but that’s the way the dental and medical examiners boards operate. While members of both boards are appointed by the governor, they are apparently accountable to no one and able to set fines and costs at whatever amounts they wish.

Feldman served briefly as a member of the Physicians’ Health Foundation until he started asking questions that made certain people uncomfortable. Four months later, he found himself in the board’s crosshairs. But during his short tenure, he learned that the medical board funnels about a million dollars a year into the foundation. Apparently, there is no accounting for those funds.

Moreover, he said, the so-called “independent judges” hearing cases for possible board disciplinary action are paid by the board investigator’s office, which creates something of a stacked deck going into the process—not to mention an obvious conflict of interest.

Physicians aren’t the only ones to encounter an uncooperative medical board. The Legislative Auditor was forced to SUE the board in order to obtain board records so that it could perform its statutorily-mandated job of auditing the board’s financial records.

Senate Bill 286, the so-called physicians’ Bill of Rights, passed the SENATE by a unanimous 36-0 vote last year but never made it to the floor of the House after being involuntarily deferred in committee.

But a rare unanimous DECISION by the U.S. Supreme Court exactly two months later, on February 20, could impact the way these boards mete out exorbitant fines.

Even though the high court’s ruling on Timbs v. Indiana is considered a blow aimed at criminal justice reform, particularly in the so-called policing for profit through asset forfeiture, its effects could spill over into the way civil fines are handed down by regulatory bodies.

The ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, falls back on the Eighth Amendment that guarantees that no “excessive fines” may be imposed, a concept that dates back to the Magna Carta and later embraced by the framers of the U.S. Constitution.

It will be interesting to see if any dentist or physician victimized by either of these boards files legal action based on the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling.

If someone does, it could be a game changer.

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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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