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“The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

  • Mahatma Ghandi

“If you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, then stop saying you want a country based on Christian values. Because you don’t.”

  • Comedian John Fugelsang (sometimes mistakenly attributed to President Jimmy Carter)

Guest column by earthmother

AKA Jerel M. Giarrusso

As you deliberate – again – about the state budget and taxes and cutting services and all those issues that will have a serious impact on the quality of life for a majority of Louisiana citizens (the folks who voted you into office, not the oligarchs you are beholden to), many of us have some things to say to you.  First of all, STOP WASTING OUR TAX DOLLARS ON SESSIONS, SPECIAL SESSIONS, EXTRA SPECIAL SESSIONS.  You are stealing your salary, your per diem, and even the light bill at the Capitol, etc., when you blather forever without passing a realistic, workable  budget bill.

Citizens have been begging you to do the right thing.  Nothing any of us says has an impact on you.  All we have are votes, not bribes or threats.  We have condemned the corporatocracy, where corporate welfare costs Louisiana more than public welfare.  Three years ago, LouisianaVoice published my first letter to you, with the link below, if you want to refresh your memory.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/06/04/louisianavoice-reader-pens-open-letter-to-all-144-members-of-louisiana-legislature-asks-each-what-are-you-going-to-do/

Many of you claim to be devout Christians.  Since a majority of you don’t heed the cries of the mortal voting public, thanks to a little nudge from the Holy Spirit, I’ll try letting God do the talking to you.

I checked to see what the Bible says about taking from the poor and giving to the rich.  Here it is:

One who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and one who gives gifts to the rich–both come to poverty. Proverbs 22:16

 Next, His ideas about taking from the poor, those who work, caring for the poor, the oppressed – “the least of My brothers and sisters.”   God’s thoughts about that topic fill up most of the Old and New Testaments with hundreds of verses exhorting us to love another and care for the less fortunate.  It’s not practical to reprint the entire Bible, so a few key verses are printed below. You can read in God’s own words what He expects of us all. That happens to include you.

Before you tell me that God did not say that government has to provide for the less fortunate, but that charities, churches and individuals are commanded to do so:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God… whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God…For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them – taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Romans 13:1-7

The New International Version (NIV) is quoted.  That’s a version of the Bible, the tome you tried to make the state book a while back.  You might want to actually read it.

Be forewarned, some of this is pretty radical stuff.  Following some of these divine directives will cost you some old friends, who will accuse you of being a liberal, a libtard, or a prog, like that’s a bad thing.  Better to lose those who would lead you down the road to perdition, and save your immortal soul.

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26

Another reminder, while you’re listening to folks like the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, LABI and Stephen Waguespack, Grover Norquist, Father God has more juice than any of them.  You’re better off in the long run being in the good graces of The Lord than with humans serving the wrong overlord.  Satan always comes in last and the Lord God prevails.

I’ll shut up now and let the Lord speak to you in His own words.  Please be sure to read to the end.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered. Proverbs 21:13

Give to the one who begs from you. Proverbs 29:7

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17

No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money. Matthew 6:24

Do not rob the poor…or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them. Proverbs 22:22-23

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God;…woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation; …sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; …it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Luke 6:20, 24

Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD. “I will protect them from those who malign them.  Psalm 12:5

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. Proverbs 14:31 

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. 1 Timothy 6:18

Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. Proverbs 22:9

When you give a feast, invite the poor…and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection. Luke 14:14

 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy. Psalm 140:12

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner. Leviticus 19:9-10 

A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge. Proverbs 11:4

Those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them, for the owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Acts 4:32-35

Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise. Luke 3:11

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? James 2:15-16

I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways. Proverbs 28:6

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49

I command you, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11

Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what your possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Matthew 19:21

As for the rich…do not set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see him naked, to cover him? Isaiah 58:6-7

If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

Open your mouth for the rights of all who are destitute.  Defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

May he defend the cause of the poor, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! Psalm 72:4

You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. Deuteronomy 24:14

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Leviticus 25:35

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Proverbs 16:19

Did not I weep for him whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the needy? Job 30:25

The Final Judgment:

34  Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

41  ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:34-46

Editor’s note: If you’re a member of the legislature and this made you a little uncomfortable, that was the intent. If it didn’t, then you’re just another political hack, a hypocritical opportunist.

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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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