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The late comedian Andy Griffith began his classic bit entitled What it was, was Football with this line:

“It was back last October, I believe it was…”

Well, it was back last December—Dec. 5, 2017, to be precise—that I speculated in my LouisianaVoice POST about the “premature” release of that Louisiana State Police (LSP) audit so critical of former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson that ol’ Mike most probably leaked that “premature” audit copy himself in order to set up a claim that his defense, in case of ensuring criminal charges, had been tainted.

Back on Dec. 5, I wrote: “A premature release of the audit before Edmonson had a chance to respond could conceivably prejudice the case against Edmonson. Accordingly, Edmonson (or more likely someone acting anonymously on his behalf) slipped a copy of the audit to The Advocate/WWL.”

The ploy may have worked had it not been for WWL-TV posting the auditor’s cover letter to Edmonson. That pretty much put the ball in Edmonson’s court in terms of identifying the leaker. That’s because there were only two copies of the audit draft. One went to LSP and one to Edmonson. Only the one that went to Edmonson contained the auditor’s cover letter. And when WWL abruptly removed the video from its web page when I called attention to it, that pretty much confirmed my theory.

Well, wouldn’t you know Mikey done went and done zackly I said he’d do.

Thanks in no small part to the resourcefulness of Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian, we now know that Mike won’t be submitting his response to the audit. That response, was initially due back on Jan. 15 and I did a post about his missing the deadline. Even then, it was pretty much a certainty there would be no response from Edmonson. It’s difficult, after all, to defend the indefensible.

But now he’s made it official through his legal counsel, Harry Rosenberg. Mustian had a STORY today that quoted Rosenberg as telling state auditors that his client was finding it impossible to “engage in a meaningful preliminary conference” with the auditor’s office “due to the premature release of the ‘draft’ audit.” SEE ROSENBERG LETTER AT END OF AUDIT

Now, folks, I’m not blessed with the ability to see into the future but this wasn’t a hard call to make. WWL’s posting of that cover letter—and its sudden disappearance from the station’s online story—along with Mike’s early protestations made his strategy oh, so very easy to decipher.

And, oh yes, that FBI INVESTIGATION also announced by Mustian on Tuesday is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing probe of his role as Louisiana’s top cop. The feds are interviewing LSP helicopter pilots and looking at flight logs. They’re making a list and checking it twice and Mike has to be feeling the heat.

So, with the news of the FBI investigation and Mike’s declining to provide his response to the audit can mean only one thing: Rosenberg, no stranger to criminal matters given his experience as a former U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Eastern District from 1990-1993, has undoubtedly admonished his client to sit down and shut up.

That’s what lawyers do. They tell clients to zip it because they’re the smartest people in the room and they think everyone should listen to them. Except in this case, he’s probably right—if you believe the hokum that Rosenberg dropped into his letter to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. Edmonson, according to Rosenberg, was nothing less than a saint who was a “consistent calming presence” during hurricanes, shootings, and floods” and that San Diego motor trip by four troopers was all their fault and none of Edmonson’s. In short, we should probably lay rose petals in his path.

There is one unanswered question about Rosenberg’s letter to the auditor, however.

He copied one other person with the letter: State Sen. Mike WALSWORTH of West Monroe.

Walsworth is a member of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, but he’s not chairman or vice-chair and he’s not from Edmonson’s senatorial district, so why would he do that?

It’s enough to make one wonder if Walsworth’s name might be on those LSP flight logs and copying him with the letter was a way of giving him a heads-up. Just sayin’.

State Sen. NEIL RISER must be fuming that he didn’t get a copy of the Rosenberg letter.

In retrospect, maybe it’s unfortunate that Riser’s attempt to bump Edmonson’s retirement up by about $100,000 per year was unsuccessful. He may need the money to pay his attorney.

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When Judge Robert James moved to senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on May 31, 2016, State Judge Terry Doughty of the 5th Judicial District Court (Franklin, Richland and West Carroll parishes) made one call.

That call, to U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, a fellow member of the First Baptist Church of Rayville, to express his interest in a federal judgeship, proved productive, but not right away. He was interviewed by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and David Vitter but his nomination was not taken up by the Obama Administration.

But following the elections of Vitter’s successor John Neely Kennedy to the Senate and Donald Trump to the presidency, things changed. Follow up interviews took place, this time with Cassidy and Kennedy, and upon the recommendation of Cassidy and Abraham, Doughty was interviewed by the White House in April 2017 and officially nominated on Aug. 3.

If one follows the connections between Doughty, Abraham, and former 5th JDC Judge James “Jimbo” Stephens (since elected to the Second Circuit Court of Appeal) back far enough, some old familiar names start to pop up.

Names like former State Legislator (both the House and Senate) and now Legislative Director for Gov. John Bel Edwards NOBLE ELLINGTON, Bobby Jindal and Vantage Health Plan.

(Major League Baseball, which once held franchise rights on recycling coaches and managers, has nothing on Louisiana politicians. Edwards, when in the legislature, was a thorn in the side of Jindal but when he became governor, he couldn’t resist reappointing many of Jindal’s foot soldiers—people like like Jimmy LeBlanc, Burl Cain, Mike Edmonson, Butch Browning and Ellington.)

Now Ellington’s son, Noble Ellington, III, whose own home health care BUSINESS failed, now works as Director of Shared Savings for Vantage Healthcare in Monroe. Could politics have played a part in his hiring? We will probably never know, but the pieces were certainly in place.

AFFINITY HEALTHCARE, an affiliate of Vantage Health Plan, Inc. and which shares the same address at 130 DeSiard Street in Monroe, purchased the medical practice of Abraham’s MEDICAL CLINIC, formerly of 261 Hwy. 132 in Mangham (now the address of Affinity Health Group).

So, what’s the big deal about Vantage Healthcare?

Nothing much except back in October 2014, LouisianaVoice did a fairly comprehensive STORY about how the Jindal administration and Sens. Mike Walsworth (R-West Monroe), Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Neil Riser (R-Columbia), and Francis Thompson (D-Delhi) conspired to circumvent the state’s bid laws in order to allow Vantage to purchase a state office building in downtown Monroe on the cheap even though there was another serious buyer interested in the property.

That building, the old Virginia Hotel, constructed in 1935, is a six-story, 100,750-square-foot building that cost $1.6 million when built. It underwent extensive renovations in 1969 and again in 1984 and was being used as a state office building when it was sold to Vantage for $881,000, a little more than half its cost when it was built more than eight decades ago. One might have expected the building, if properly maintained, to appreciate in value over the years, not depreciate by 45 percent.

The state could afford to unload the building because it owns another six-story office building containing nearly 250,000-square-feet of floor space a couple of blocks away, at 122 St. John Street in Monroe, but that seems little justification for selling the Virginia at fire sale prices.

But even with 109,000 square-feet of vacant office space available in the building on St. John, where do you think Judge Stephens and fellow Appeal Court Judge Milton Moore chose to locate their offices?

In the Vantage Healthcare building, of course.

NELASOB REPORT

LouisianaVoice has made public records requests to determine the cost to the state of housing the judges in the Vantage building instead of the state-owned building with all that available space but those records have not been forthcoming yet.

Regardless, someone in Baton Rouge needs to explain why the state is paying rent to a private entity for office space in a building which that entity received at bargain basement prices—from the state—as some sort of underhanded political favor—orchestrated by the Jindal administration’s circumvention of the state bid laws, aided and abetted by four North Louisiana legislators.

But the minor issue of where his office is housed doesn’t seem to be the type of thing that would bother Stephens anyway. After all, there is a photo, apparently posted on his Facebook page that shows him holding up the antlers of a deer he shot—at night? One person commented, “Illegal to hunt at night, ain’t it?” to which Stephens replied, “It’s illegal to get caught.”

And when he was running for the appellate court in 2016, there were more than 160 people who signed onto a newspaper ad endorsing his candidacy. Among them was one Donna Remides.

(CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

In December 2013, a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans said Ms. Remides was sentenced to 40 months imprisonment for lying in order to secure loans to hide more than $600,000 in thefts from the federally-funded non-profit Northeast Delta Resource Conservation and Development Council (NDRC&DC).

She was employed as a project coordinator by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to work for the council in Winnsboro. From January 2001 to December 2010, she used the NDRC&DC accounts to pay herself $640,000 without authorization. She wrote herself and her private business checks during the 10-year period and obtained loans in the name of the council to cover the thefts.

Granted, Stephens has no control over who purchases a newspaper advertisement to endorse his candidacy. But that, coupled with the controversy over his refusal to recuse his pal Doughty from a trial involving a LAWSUIT against a bank with some questionable links to Doughty, the flippant remark about illegal night hunting, the office space at Vantage, the same personalities tying both judges to Vantage, Abraham and Ellington…

But then again, maybe that’s what qualifies both judges for their positions in the political climate in which we currently find ourselves.

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We have apparently entered into an era in which a public servant who does his job as he should now runs the risk of being named a defendant in one of those strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) discussed in recent LouisianaVoice posts.

The very prospect of Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera being sued for issuing a press release about an audit report his office performed should send a chill throughout the Fourth Estate—mainstream media as well as bloggers. Who’s to say you can’t be sued for discussing an audit report over a Frappuccino at Starbucks?

Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry recently won a court victory when the judge threw out not one, but four SLAPP LAWSUITS against him but now the attorney for the four who sued him—the Welsh mayor, her children, and the police chief—is attempting to get the presiding judge recused from the case in a desperate attempt to keep the frivolous lawsuits alive.

Louviere v Perry

Johnson v Perry

Cormier v Perry

And now we have a STORY in the Baton Rouge Advocate telling us that Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft is suing Purpera on behalf of her client, former Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs David LaCerte—not because an investigative audit by Purpera’s office found that LaCerte, a Bobby Jindal appointee, allowed fraudulent behavior in his department, but because Purpera had the audacity to issue a press release saying so.

The state asked that 19th Judicial District Court Judge William Morvant dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that Purpera was protected by the same statute that protects the speech of legislators.

Incredulously, Morvant ruled that while the auditor’s investigative report was protected, the press release issued by Purpera’s office was not. “I don’t think the press release falls within that immunity,” Morvant said, apparently with a straight face.

That immediately raises the question of whether or not the media are free to write their own story from the report. In other words, yer honor, can I, as a news reporter, write a comprehensive story that accurately reflects the contents of the audit without fear of some attorney swooping down and SLAPPing me?

  • Can LouisianaVoice or The Advocate, or any other medium be SLAPPed for writing that a contract for the privatization of a state hospital contained 50 blank pages, even though it did?
  • Is it defamation that reporters wrote about the oil and gas industry pouring contributions into the campaigns of a governor who killed a lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies?
  • Can Lamar White be SLAPPed because he wrote about U.S. Rep. Steven Scalise speaking at an event attended by David Duke? That certainly didn’t reflect well on Scalise’s image.
  • Can Bob Mann be SLAPPed for admonishing Republican politicians to quit calling themselves “pro-life” if they “can’t speak out on behalf of sick kids” after Louisiana’s congressional delegation remained silent after Congress allowed the CHIP program to expire? That was, after all, a pretty damning condemnation of those self-righteous Republicans who seem to believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.
  • Can Robert Burns be SLAPPed for documenting payroll fraud on the part of an employee of a state board?
  • Can The Lens, a New Orleans online news service, be SLAPPed for exposing the Orleans Parish District Attorney for issuing bogus subpoenas?
  • Can a Houma blogger be SLAPPed for criticizing Sheriff Jerry Larpenter? Apparently the sheriff thought he could be at least raided. Instead Larpenter wound up having to pay substantial damages in the ensuing lawsuit, so at least there’s that.

We’ve already seen SLAPP suits where Superintendent of Education JOHN WHITE sued private citizen James Finney over Finney’s request for public records.

That followed a similar lawsuit filed by 4th Judicial District JUDGES against the Ouachita Citizen over the newspaper’s unmitigated gall in seeking public records from the court.

When the audit was issued, LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false. Both the interim secretary and the newly-appointed secretary of Veterans’ Affairs agreed with the findings and had taken corrective actions, Purpera’s news release said. The news release also noted that LaCerte’s attorney at the time called the audit’s findings “blatantly false.”

One thing Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP laws do is provide for the awarding of legal fees should a defendant prevail in one of these outrageous attempts to stifle public discourse.

Perry stands to collect something on the order of $16,000 in attorney fees. If plaintiff attorney Ronald Richard persists in pursuing this matter, he will be doing his clients a disservice because those attorney fees for Perry can only continue to climb.

LouisianaVoice also collected attorney fees in a recent SLAPP action when the presiding judge ruled in our favor. But there appears to be no shortage of plaintiffs willing to sue and unless judges start imposing sanctions, there will be no incentive for attorneys to refrain from collecting legal fees to represent them.

Morvant’s ruling, for lack of a better term, is an absurd interpretation of the First Amendment held in such high esteem by Thomas Jefferson who once said if forced to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

This is just the kind of ruling, if it is allowed to stand, that can send us barreling down the slippery slope to a government without newspapers—or any other independent media with courage enough to report the truth.

Somewhere in the great hereafter, Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew are applauding Morvant’s ruling and should he learn of it, Donald Trump will no doubt be tweeting the glad tidings of great joy about the “fake news” comeuppance.

 

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Are State Fire Marshal deputies in violation of the law by wearing firearms while on duty?

That’s a fair question.

Many, if not most deputy fire marshals would prefer not to wear a weapon. Some whom we talked with are downright resentful that they are required to go through Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) certification to be qualified to be armed agents. It’s not the training they object to so much as the requirement that they carry a weapon.

But the fact remains that they are required to do just that.

But there may be legitimate questions as to the actual legality of such a requirement.

In 2009, State Fire Marshal Butch Browning wanted a bill introduced that would redefine and expand the authority of deputy fire marshals, a move opposed by command level brass at Louisiana State Police (LSP) who found the proposal to be inappropriate, based on the mission of the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal (LOSFM).

In a March 16, 2009, email to State Police command and on which LSP’s Office of Legal Affairs was copied, Browning wrote, “I wanted to follow up on the legislation on full police powers for our investigators. Currently, they have powers to carry firearms and (to) make arrests for the arson crimes and I have the authority to commission them. Arson is now, more than ever, a bi-product of so many other crimes and our folks regularly uncover other crimes and times where their ability to charge with other crimes might help the arson investigation.

“Our people need full powers while conducting a (sic) arson investigation. This can be accomplished with adding to the fire marshal’s act or by your commissioning authority,” he wrote. “I have no preference. I just know they need this ability. You (sic) consideration in this matter is appreciated.”

Browning even prevailed upon then-State Rep. Karen St. Germain of Plaquemine (now Commissioner of the Office of Motor Vehicles) to draft a bill to redefine the role of deputy fire marshals. From what we can determine it appears that despite Browning’s pleas to expand the agency’s law enforcement authority the bill received no support from Gov. Bobby Jindal (likely at the urging of then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson) and was never filed.

Why would a person who trained to be a boiler inspector be required to pack heat?

The same goes for nursing home, child care facilities, and hospital inspectors.

Ditto those who inspect carnival rides.

Likewise, for jail, public school and other public building inspectors.

The fact is, the only conceivable area in which a deputy fire marshal might need to be armed is in the area of explosives and arson investigations, according to highly-placed LSP officials who insist there is little or no need for the creation of yet another police agency to augment LSP, Department of Public Service (DPS) officers, sheriffs’ departments, campus and local police departments.

Yet, just a couple of years ago, there they were: Armed deputy fire marshals patrolling the New Orleans French Quarter during Mardi Gras.

In order for Browning to get around the objections of LSP, he instituted cross-training whereby all deputy fire marshals, no matter their specialized training, must be qualified to inspect any type building, any carnival ride, any boiler, any jail, or any night club—and to be arson investigators to boot. That proposal, coinciding as it did with Jindal’s obsession with downsizing and consolidation of state government, tempered the governor’s initial reluctance to go along with Browning.

But in reality, the issue was never about improving response or streamlining the agency at all. It was about improving retirement benefits.

By allowing deputies—all deputies (and virtually all employees would ultimately be designated as deputies)—to become POST-certified and to carry weapons, it qualified employees (even clerical, if they wore a gun, as some now do), to have their jobs upgraded to hazardous duty as are state police and DPS police.

What that means is employees can now qualify to retire at 100 percent of their average salary for their top three years more than a decade earlier than State Civil Service employees. Here’s how it works:

State classified employees under Civil Service accrue retirement at 2.5 percent per year at a rate based on the average of their three highest earning years (excluding overtime) multiplied by years of service. So, a classified employee whose highest three-year average earnings are $50,000 must work 40 years to retire at 100 percent of his salary ($50,000 X 2.5 percent = $1,250 X 40 years = $50,000. Based on that same formula, if he worked 30 years, he would retire at $37,500). (This equation, of course, works for any pay level, not just $50,000.)

But hazardous duty employees accrue retirement at 3.5 percent of the average of their three highest years. That means the same three-year average pay of $50,000 would accrue retirement at a rate of 3.5 percent, or $1,750 per year, allowing him to retire at 100 percent of salary in just over 28 years.

Accordingly, Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Brant Thompson surmised that if deputies achieved POST certification, then they were fully imbued with general law enforcement authority and not the limited law enforcement authority laid out in state statutes. “That assumption is absolutely not true,” according to one long time law enforcement official familiar with how officers are commissioned. “Just because an individual has POST certification doesn’t empower that person to enforce all laws. That authority flows from the law or via the person issuing the commission. I’m not sure who commissions deputy marshals; I suspect it is Browning rather than the Superintendent of State Police.

“I know that when the LSP Colonel (Superintendent) issues a commission to campus police, for example, the commission makes it clear that law enforcement authority is limited to crimes occurring on the campus,” the former law enforcement officer said.

Browning is nothing if not determined in his quest to acquire full law enforcement authority for his marshals. The debate that began in 2009 has continued into 2016, at least. Gene Cicardo, who was appointed chief legal counsel for DPS upon the death of Frank Blackburn last September, was drawn into the dispute and wrote a memorandum to Edmonson and Deputy Superintendent Charles Dupuy that left Browning upset and unhappy, according to sources.

The contents of that memorandum are not known, but LouisianaVoice has made a public records request to LSP for that document.

Cicardo has since returned to private practice in Alexandria.

Meanwhile, we have armed boiler inspectors, carnival ride inspectors, nursing home inspectors and, conceivably, even State Fire Marshal Office clerical employees (aka Executive Management Officers) patrolling for criminal elements in the New Orleans French Quarter during Mardi Gras.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

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In the parlance of the criminal justice system, money laundering is sometimes called “washing” or “scrubbing.”

But dirty money is always dirty money, no matter what efforts are taken to make it appear legitimate.

The same is true of politics. Having just gone through a gut-wrench senatorial campaign, we’ve seen up close and personal how political ads come in all manner of misleading half-truths and outright lies. Case in point: the absurd promises of State Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), who ran ads during his recent unsuccessful campaign for Mayor-President of Baton Rouge about how he was going to improve schools, cut the dropout rate, and attract better teachers.

The problem? Neither City Hall nor the mayor have squat to do with public education; that’s the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s turf. What’s more, White was fully aware of this, so his ads amounted to nothing more than pure B.S., or, to be more blunt: bald face lies.

And now, thanks to Stephen Winham, our human Early Warning System who often tips us off to interesting stories, we have the laundering of Bobby Jindal’s image by some groupie/writer for the National Review named Dan McLaughlin.

The scrubbing, however, comes a tad early; even in Louisiana, the citizens aren’t likely to forget the carnage wreaked by Jindal so quickly.

McLaughlin, it seems, is an attorney who practices securities and commercial litigation in New York City. He also is a contributing columnist at National Review Online (Go figure). He is a former contributing editor of RedState (No surprise there), a columnist at the Federalist and the New Ledger. During his spare time he is a baseball blogger at BaseballCrank.com.

McLaughlin has written at least a dozen or so insipid pro-Jindal pabulum-laden claptrap-filled columns, all of which could just as easily have been written by Timmy Teepell.

In his most recent contribution to National Review (the entire story is not contained at this link because I’m too cheap to subscribe), McLaughlin WRITES that “Jindal took on the enormous challenge of cutting government in a state that is culturally deep-red but economically populist, and he paid a great political cost for his efforts.”

Apparent, he wrote that garbage with a straight face.

There’s more from McLaughlin who wrote in an earlier column for RedState that Jindal was the BEST CANDIDATE for the Republican presidential nomination and that (get this) Jindal ruled in one of the presidential debates (never mind Jindal never got past the undercard debates in which all participants were weak also-runs).

McLaughlin wrote that Jindal’s low approval ratings “and the desperate wails of his Democratic successor over the condition of the state’s budget seem to support” the view that Jindal left the state in financial disarray.

Seriously? McLaughlin conveniently overlooks the fact that the “view” that Jindal’s leaving the state in disastrous shape took shape long before John Bel Edwards and long before Jindal abandoned his post for his delusional pursuit of the presidency.

McLaughlin made no mention of Jindal’s administration coming up with a contract to give away two of the state’s learning hospitals that contained 50 blank pages.

He ignores the matter of how Jindal doled out plum board and commission positions to big contributors to his campaign, how he rolled over anyone who disagreed with him by either firing or demoting them, how he took tainted campaign contributions from felons and refused to return the money, or how he gutted the reserve fund of the Office of Group Benefits in order to try to close gaping budget deficits that occurred every single year of his governorship.

“The path to smaller government requires persistence, backbone, and a willingness to accept compromises and a lot of defeats,” he wrote.

Correction, Mr. McLaughlin: the path to Bobby Jindal’s version of smaller government requires ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and unparalleled selfishness.

While one might justifiably think that Jindal’s political career is dead and buried, is it even remotely possible that he might be plotting a comeback?

Already, there are the first rumblings that Jindal is eying the 2019 gubernatorial campaign.

Just in case, perhaps someone should send McLaughlin a copy of my book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Not that he would change his mind, but at least he would have no excuse for not knowing.

And just in case you’ve not ordered your copy yet, click on the image of the book at upper right and place your order immediately.

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