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Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry is the second defendant in recent weeks to prevail against the so-called SLAPP lawsuits and in so doing, may teach the plaintiffs a little economic lesson.

SLAPP is an acronym for strategic lawsuits against public participation or in a more familiar vernacular, they could simply be called frivolous or harassment lawsuits. There intent is precisely what the acronym means: to prevent critics from participating in public discourse by filing costly lawsuits against critics.

On Tuesday, 31st Judicial District Court Judge Steve Gunnell dismissed all four defamation lawsuits against Perry and in finding the litigation to be without merit, he assessed the four plaintiffs with court costs and Perry’s attorney fees.

An affidavit filed with the court by Perry claims those attorney fees to be $16,000, or $4,000 per plaintiff which would make the idea of a SLAPP suit seem somewhat counterproductive in that it cost the plaintiffs pretty tidy sums of money and they still didn’t shut him up.

Judge Gunnell held off making a decision as to whether or not the suit should be dismissed with or without prejudice until he conducts further research on the matter. With prejudice would mean the plaintiffs would be unable to resurrect the lawsuit while a dismissal without prejudice would leave the plaintiffs open to pursue the suit at a later date.

“The legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for redress of grievances,” Perry said in his Memorandum of Support for the Special Motion to Strike pursuant to the state’s anti-SLAPP legislation. “The legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, it is the intention of the legislature that the Article enacted pursuant to this Ace shall be construed broadly,” his memorandum said.

LouisianaVoice recently prevailed in another SLAPP suit for defamation and was also awarded attorney fees, though substantially less than Perry’s award.

Perry has openly questioned the need of a town of 3,200 residents for 18 police cars, a budget of $593,000 for patrol, $295,000 for police communications and a projected police department expenditure for the entire year of nearly $1.1 million, or nearly $114,000 in excess of the department’s budget. That amount includes a $76,120 salary for Police Chief Marcus Crochet, an amount that represents a 37.5 percent increase in his base pay. And that doesn’t count the $6,000 in annual supplemental pay from the state.

Despite the fiscal drain on the city budget, Crochet created a separate account called “Welsh Police Department Equipment & Maintenance and has diverted more than $178,000 from traffic fines into that account instead into the city’s general fund—all with the acquiescence of the mayor, one of four plaintiffs who sued Perry for DEFAMATION.

Mayor Carolyn Louviere, her daughter, Nancy Cormier; her son, William Johnson, and Crochet all filed separate defamation suits and all four used the same attorney, Ronald C. Richard of Lake Charles, to do so.

Not only that, but Perry was on the receiving end of several other negative actions:

  • A recall petition was started against him while he was in Japan on military orders, serving his annual two-week training;
  • Postcards were mailed to Welsh residents that depicted Perry and Andrea King, also a member of the Board of Aldermen, as “terrorists” (See story HERE) and that Perry violated campaign finance laws by failing to report income from a strip club in Texas of which he was said to be part owner and which allegedly was under federal investigation for prostitution, money laundering and drug trafficking (See story HERE);
  • He was removed from the town of Welsh’s Facebook page (most likely the least offensive of the reprisals.

Each of the nuisance suits say essentially the same thing: that Perry besmirched the reputations of her honor the mayor, both of her children, and the bastion of law enforcement and fiscal prudence, Chief Crochet.

And Mayor Louviere, who inexplicably wants to build a new city hall when the town is flat broke, is currently under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics, according to the Lake Charles American Press AMERICAN PRESS. She also wants to shut down a bar that just happens to be adjacent to a business owned by her son.

And her son, William Joseph Johnson, who Perry says used his mother’s office in an attempt to shut the bar down, has a story all his own.

Johnson, back in 2011, was sentenced in federal court to serve as the guest of the federal prison system for charges related to a $77,000 fraud he perpetrated against a hotel chain in Natchitoches between October 2006 and January 2007. And that wasn’t his first time to run afoul of the law.

At the time of his sentencing for the Louisiana theft, he was still wanted on several felony charges in Spokane County, Washington, after being accused of being hired as financial controller for the Davenport Hotel of Spokane under a stolen identity, giving him access to the hotel’s financial operations and then stealing from the hotel.

The only thing preventing Spokane authorities from extraditing him to Washington, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith said, was that “we just don’t have the funds to bring him back.” The Spokane Review, quoting court documents, said, “Police believe Johnson is a longtime con artist who has swindled expensive hotels across the country.” (Click HERE for that story.)

“William Joseph Johnson, Jr. remains on federal probation,” Perry said. “He has yet to pay back all of the restitution that he owes.

In his lawsuit against Perry, Johnson says he “has a long-standing positive reputation in his community and parish” and that he (Johnson) suffered “harm to reputation (and) mental anguish.”

In a written statement following the ruling, Perry said:

“I am very pleased with the outcome of this matter,” Perry said. “I look forward to returning to the job that the People of Welsh elected me to perform. I also applaud my experienced legal team for their outstanding work.

“The rights of citizens to engage in the decision-making of government and provide input are unique to our country. These unique values make our country great. And, more Americans

should participate in government today.

“SLAPPs infringe on the rights granted to the citizens of the United States of America. Litigation should not be used to censor, silence, and intimidate those who are only exercising their rights as an American.

I am proud to be a citizen of a state, the State of Louisiana which is one of 28 states in the United States, that has implemented Anti-SLAPP laws to protect the Constitutional rights of its citizens from frivolous lawsuits filed by lawyers overzealous for clients and publicity.”

There was no immediate word on whether or not Richard would appeal the decision on behalf of his clients.

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New Orleans native Donna Brazile has created quite a stir over her new book Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns that Put Donald Trump in the White House. But her description of the infighting in the national Democratic Party is mirrored at least in part on a local scale by what has been transpiring in the Louisiana Democratic Party since State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson ousted Buddy Leach as State Chairman in 2012.

Brazile, in her book, described how candidate Hillary Clinton took over the Democratic National Committee’s funding during the primary season while still competing with Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for President. By gaining control of the party’s finances, Brazile said, Clinton effectively rigged the process to kill whatever chance Sanders may have had to win the nomination.

But paralleling the infighting that developed between followers of Hillary and Sanders, the Louisiana Democratic Party appears to have fallen into its own state of considerable disarray on Peterson’s watch. And its problems, like that of the DNC, can be traced back to money and power.

Back room deals, endorsements, and questionable expenditures in the recent campaign for state treasurer have raised a number of questions. For example:

  • Is State Sen. Neil Riser truly a Republican?
  • If so, why did he lavish money on traditionally Democratic organizations like the Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), THE New Orleans East Leadership PAC, New Orleans East Leadership PAC, Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, Algiers PAC, Jefferson United, and Treme Improvement Political Society in his campaign for state treasurer?
  • Are the aforementioned actually Democratic organizations or are they simply a means to raising money in exchange for the endorsement of the highest bidder?
  • If they are Democratic organizations, why didn’t they endorse Democrat Derrick Edwards in the first primary instead of waiting until Riser lost—he finished dead last among the four major candidates—to direct their support to Edwards?

BOLD’s open bidding policy pre-dates Peterson. In 2003, the organization endorsed Bobby Jindal over Kathleen Blanco for governor. Of course, that was after Jindal paid BOLD $10,000 for “consulting and printing.”

During his campaign, Riser’s expenditures included $15,000 to BOLD for printing (BOLD, which Peterson’s dad, Ken Carter, co-founded, subsequently listed Riser at the top of its sample ballots), $14.500 in two contributions to New Orleans East Leadership PAC, a $10,000 contribution to the Louisiana Independent Federation of Electors, $6,000 to Algiers PAC for printing, $5,000 to Jefferson United for undetermined expenses, $5,000 to Treme Improvement Political Society.

But the treasurer’s race is merely symptomatic of a far greater problem within the State Democratic Party.

One of Peterson’s first acts as the new State Chairperson in 2012 was to nullify all parish executive committee appointments made during Leach’s tenure. And it’s been downhill ever since.

In an organization that is perpetually financially strapped, the Executive Committee, once stacked with her appointees, awarded her an annual stipend of $36,000 plus expenses. This was done without the approval of the Democratic State Central Committee, most of whom were unaware of the stipend. She has continued taking the money in her second term, again without approval.

Stephen Handwerk, Executive Director of the State Democratic Party, pulls down nearly $100,000 in salary but he has been reluctant to make use of an available database to identify and engage Democratic voters, claiming he has insufficient staff to do so. Yet, he found the time to take a second salaried job with the Democratic National Committee, according to DNC expense reports.

Peterson also has made it a point to take care of family in her role as chairperson. Her sister, Eileen Carter, of Houma, was paid $13,000 during October and November 2015 for “organizational/grassroots consultation,” according to figures provided by the Louisiana Ethics Commission.

Other payments made by the Louisiana Democratic Party under Peterson include:

  • Twelve payments of $600 each to the Chicken Shack of Baton Rouge for party card distribution and catering. Chicken Shack is a business owned by former State Sen. Joe Delpit of Baton Rouge.
  • Four separate payments of $900 each to J&M Transportation of Slidell for state party card distribution. J&M is a limousine service.

Peterson denies being among the three prominent Democrats (including then-Sen. Mary Landrieu) who met with then-State. Rep. John Bel Edwards at New Orleans International Airport in 2015 and tried to convince him to withdraw from the governor’s race so that a moderate Republican might be elected. Landrieu has since apologized for her part in that effort but Peterson has not.

Peterson also threw up roadblocks to the State Democratic Party’s official endorsement of Derrick Edwards (no relation to Gov. John Bel Edwards) for treasurer until after the first primary, in which Edwards led all candidates as the only Democrat in the race.

According to the State Democratic Party’s by-laws, “The Democratic State Central Committee (DSCC) shall conduct such activities, as it deems appropriate to elect Democratic candidates in national, state and local elections.”

Yet, there was Republican Riser’s name at the top of BOLD’s sample ballots which most likely accounts for Peterson’s reluctance to endorse Edwards at the outset.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, despite Peterson’s attempt to get him to drop out of the gubernatorial race, has been loath to support a replacement for her for fear of alienating the Legislative Black Caucus.

But the biggest concern to several Democratic Parish Executive Committee (DPEC) members is the lack of membership on no fewer than 29 parish executive committees, a condition critics attribute to Peterson’s lack of timely appointments.

“There are 29 parishes which have five or fewer members on their committee,” one DPEC member said. “There should be at least 15 members of each parish executive committee. That’s nearly half the state that has non-existent or non-functioning DPECs. Livingston Parish has only seven of 15 seats filled. One member of the Livingston DPEC has been working since February to get the seats filled but that still hasn’t been done even though names have been submitted.”

And nearly two years into Peterson’s second term as state chairperson, there are 33 DSCC vacancies. “If she fills positions at all, it’s usually with her minions,” one DSCC member said.

Parishes with one or more vacancies in DSCC representation include Caddo, Bossier, DeSoto, Sabine, Lincoln, Union, Ouachita, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Caldwell, Catahoula, Franklin, LaSalle, Tensas, Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, Rapides, Lafayette, Vermilion, Calcasieu, Acadia, Iberia, St. Martin, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Tammany, and Jefferson.

Meanwhile, Peterson in March of this year managed to get herself elected to the DNC as Vice Chair of Civic Engagement and Voter Participation. “How ironic is that?” the DSCC member asked.

“Karen Carter Peterson is an ambitious politician of questionable loyalties who has used her chairmanship of DSCC to build a fiefdom and to launch a national career, all at the expense of the organization she was elected to build and serve,” the DSCC member said.

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It’s a plaintiff attorney’s and a legislator’s nightmare.

As an illustration of just how bad the state’s fiscal condition really is, one need only examine the 40 court judgments stemming from litigation against the state in 2016 that have yet to be paid.

As former Speaker of the U.S. House Tip O’Neill once said, all politics is local and when a constituent wins or settles a lawsuit against the state, that person’s legislator is usually prompt in filing a bill in the House to appropriate funds for pay the judgment. That’s important to legislators. The state, after all, has denied classified employees pay raises for the better part of a decade but never missed paying a judgment other than the Jean Boudreaux case—until now.

It’s also a good indication of just how dire the state’s fiscal condition really is.

In all judgments of road hazard cases—cases involving auto accidents where the state is found at fault for inadequate signage, poor road maintenance or improper construction—as well as certain other claims like general liability or medical malpractice, funds must be appropriated via a bill submitted by a legislator.

In past years, with the exception of one major judgment, that has not been a problem. Only the $91.8 million class action judgment resulting from the 1983 flood in Tangipahoa Parish was never paid. In that case, lead plaintiff Jean Boudreaux claimed that construction of Interstate 12 impeded the natural flow of the Tangipahoa River, causing unnecessary flooding of homes and businesses north of I-12.

But in 2016, Rep. Steve Pugh of Ponchatoula submitted a bill to appropriate funds to pay the judgment. He did the same in 2017. It still remains unpaid, along with 36 other judgments totaling another $9.5 million for which bills were approved.

That puts the overall total judgments, including the 34-year-old Boudreaux case at more than $101 million.

And that doesn’t count the cost of attorney fees, expert fees, or court reporter fees, amounts practically impossible to calculate without reviewing the complete payment files on a case-by-case basis.

Twenty-four of the cases had two or more plaintiffs who were awarded money.

In 19 cases, awards were for $100,000 or more and three of those were for more than a million dollars—if indeed the money is ever paid.

In the meantime, judicial interest is still running on some of those judgments, which could run the tab even higher.

A list of those who were either awarded or settled cases in excess of $100,000 that remain unpaid and their parishes include:

  • Michael and Mary Aleshire, Calcasieu Parish: $104,380.82;
  • Kayla Schexnayder and Emily Legarde, Assumption Parish: $1,068,004;
  • Debra Stutes, Calcasieu Parish: $850,000;
  • Peter Mueller, Orleans Parish: $245,000;
  • Steve Brengettsy and Elro McQuarter, West Feliciana: $205,000;
  • Jeffrey and Lillie Christopher, Iberville Parish: $175,000;
  • Donald Ragusa and Tina Cristina, East Baton Rouge: $175,000;
  • Stephanie Landry and Tommie Varnado, Orleans Parish: $135,000;
  • Jennie Lynn Badeaux Russ, Lafourche Parish: $1.5 million;
  • Adermon and Gloria Rideaux and Brian Brooks, Calcasieu Parish: $1.375 million;
  • Theresa Melancon and DHH Medicaid Program, Rapides Parish: $750,000;
  • Rebecca, Kevin and Cheryl Cole and Travelers Insurance, East Baton Rouge: $400,000;
  • Samuel and Susan Weaver, Lafourche Parish: $240,000;
  • Henry Clark, Denise Ramsey and Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Lafayette Parish: $326,000;
  • Anya and Abigail Falcon and Landon and Nikki Hanchett, Iberville Parish, $946,732.53;
  • Adam Moore and James Herrington, East Carroll Parish: $150,000;
  • Traci Newsom, Gerald Blow, DHH Medicaid and Ameril-Health Caritas, Tangipahoa Parish: $150,000;
  • Michael Villavaso, Orleans Parish: $443,352.51.

Lawsuits against all state agencies are handled by the Office of Risk Management (ORM), which Bobby Jindal privatized in 2011 in order to save the state money.

The privatization didn’t realize the savings Jindal had anticipated but now, at least, it looks as though the Division of Administration has found another way to save money on litigation costs:

Don’t pay the judgments.

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An interesting scenario is playing out up in Bossier Parish that could impact the landscape in the 2019 state elections and the 2020 congressional elections with key players being U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson and Bossier Parish Superintendent of Schools Scott Smith.

Back in 2015, there was an uproar over students’ plans to install “prayer boxes” at Airline High School in Bossier City. While the controversy died down rather quickly, it provided a window for then-State Rep. to lead the fight against the ALCU right on into Congress.

Today, the dispute is between the Bossier Parish School Board and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State over last May’s Benton High School graduation ceremonies that opened and ended with prayers and Smith is right in the middle of the controversy.

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/news/education/2017/09/25/bossier-schools-respond-complaint-graduation-prayers/699983001/

Cynics are asking, “Why Bossier?” and “Why now?”

The scuttlebutt, when plotted out, makes good political sense and a couple of comments from Smith’s wife, former State Rep. Jane Smith only serve to validate the rumors.

But first some background:

During Johnson’s time in the State Legislature, he authored House Bill 707, known as the MARRIAGE and CONSCIENCE ACT, which would have prohibited the state from denying any resident, nonprofit or business a license, benefits or tax deductions if the business took actions “in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction” about marriage.

Critics said the bill had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with discrimination against same-sex marriage and the bill died in committee only to have Bobby Jindal promptly issue an executive order to enforce the intent of Johnson’s bill—a similar one of which had already been struck down in Kentucky by the courts.

JANE SMITH, a former Bossier Parish School Superintendent in her own right who was in her third term and term-limited by the Louisiana Constitution, was appointed by Jindal in 2012 as deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue even though, as she admitted to a friend, she knew “nothing about revenue.”

So, what to make of all this?

Well, word is that Johnson has his eyes on bigger and better things than being a lonely voice among 435 members of the U.S. House.

Governor?

Nope. That plum belongs to U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, presently a not-so-lonely down-home voice among 100. It’s the worst-kept secret in Louisiana that Kennedy wants desperately to challenge Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019.

The plan, according to some observers is for Johnson to run either for lieutenant governor or attorney general. Barring entry by any other candidates in those two races, we would be left with the less-than-desirable choice between Johnson and Billy Nungesser or Johnson and Jeff Landry.

Should that scenario play itself out and should Johnson be elected to one of those statewide posts, that would leave the door wide open for Scott Smith, who those same observers in northwest Louisiana, is already being groomed to run for Johnson’s vacated seat in a special election in early 2020. Johnson is tight with Landry but if Landry opts for a run at higher office, Johnson may feel the job is his by divine right. At any rate, speculation is the deal has already been cut.

Far-fetched? Perhaps not so much. The information making its way down to LouisianaVoice is that Jane Smith is already telling close friends that she has accepted a lobbying job in Washington.

All we can say for certain in all of this is anytime a politician waves a Bible while wrapped in the flag, little good can come from it. Sanctimony is not a trait becoming to anyone.

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No sooner had I posted a story earlier today lamenting the depth of political corruption and chicanery in Louisiana than up pops yet another story about which every single one of the state’s 4.5 million citizens should be irate.

While this is not a call for the pitchforks and torches, the citizenry should be up in arms over a letter to State Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) from a New Orleans teacher named Gwendolyn V. Adams.

It’s a letter that should go viral because it hammers home once again the question of one of the best examples of political corruption in the state.

Legislator’s Tulane scholarships.

Tulane is one of the biggest tax scams going. Act 43 of the 1884 legislature obligated Tulane to give scholarship waivers to state legislators and to the mayor of New Orleans and they in turn select the recipients of the scholarships.

Altogether the 145 scholarships cost Tulane something on the order of $7 million per year, based on current tuition costs. https://admission.tulane.edu/sites/g/files/rdw771/f/LegislativeScholarshipFAQ.pdf

So, what did Tulane get in exchange for such a legislative requirement?

Tax exemptions. Specifically, property tax exemptions totaling about $25 million per year. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/10/22/deja-vu-all-over-again-house-clerk-butch-speer-denies-public-access-to-tulane-legislative-scholarship-records/

The scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in legislators’ respective districts who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education. Instead, they quickly became a form of political patronage whereby family members, judges and political cronies shoved deserving students aside, taking the scholarships for their kids. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm

I first wrote about the issue way back in 1982 and it has been written about by numerous publications and reporters since but the abuse persists as legislators continue with their “in-your-face practices of doling out scholarships to family, friends and political hacks.

The story I wrote was about then-State Sen. Dan Richie awarding his scholarship to the relative of Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport who gave his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The practice has continued unabated ever since with scholarships going to recipients like family members of former Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie, who received some 34 years’ worth of Tulane scholarships valued at about $750,000, based on 1999 tuition rates. The son of former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed received a scholarship valued at about $172,000 over four years. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_13a.htm

The latest to come to light is Rep. Moreno who, although she represents a district in Orleans Parish, awarded her scholarship to the son of her Jefferson Parish political consultant Greg Buisson, whose company, Buisson Creative, was paid nearly $14,000 by Moreno in 2010.

She is currently a candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large.

Here is Adams’s letter to Moreno:

Dear Rep. Morano (sic):  

I write to you as an educator for 27 years as a classroom teacher, 4.5 years as a professional development educator for teachers, and private tutor/LEAP tutor at  a local charter school, and express my profound disappointment in your decision to award $150,000 to the son of a Metairie-based political consultant on your payroll.  

For the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, you gave your Tulane University Legislative scholarship – worth over $150,000 in free tuition – to the son of your paid political consultant, Greg Buisson. Greg Buisson, a resident of Metairie, is a long time controversial fixture in Jefferson Parish politics.

According to the New Orleans Advocate (October 24, 2013), “State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has awarded her scholarship for the last two years to Collin Buisson, son of Greg Buisson, a veteran political consultant who has been handling Moreno’s campaigns and communications since she quit television journalism and went into politics in 2008.”

Greg Buisson has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his Jefferson Parish political connections and Buisson could certainly afford to pay his son’s Tulane tuition. For a number of years, Buisson has been on Moreno’s political payroll, earning thousands of dollars as her political consultant. In fact, I understand he ran your unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2008. 

Rep. Moreno, are you now the Queen of Cronyism in regional politics? 

Further, the following article discusses your dismal record that includes awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students outside of New Orleans.

Rep. Moreno, you do not deserve promotion to New Orleans City Council At-large. You’ve proven yourself to be disloyal to the thousands of hardworking families and deserving students in your own Legislative District 93 – qualified students from McDonough 35, Joseph S. Clark, St. Augustine and other schools in the district you are supposed to represent. You’ve passed over these students to award much more than $150,000 to your privileged political consultant – a Metairie, Jefferson Parish resident! It’s just beyond insulting!  

What is your excuse? Were these scholarship monies awarded to the family of your political consultant in lieu of payment for services that should have been recorded in the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Disclosure Forms? Is the only way to get your attention: pay for play?  

We don’t need this corruption in New Orleans city government.  

I cannot imagine you serving as New Orleans City Council President. Maybe the Jefferson Parish School Board? Do not reward political cronyism. 

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn V. Adams

 

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