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Archive for the ‘Legislature, Legislators’ Category

The Republican governor of Nevada has done what Bobby Jindal for eight interminable years refused to do and what Gov. John Bel Edwards should have already done.

Gov. Brian Sandoval, saying, “There’s something not right here and it needs to be fixed,” ordered Nevada’s state dental board on Nov.8 to address—and fix—problems of corruption, bullying and extortion rampant in the board’s patient-complaint/resolution process.

A STORY in the Las Vegas Review-Journal sounded eerily familiar to a number of LouisianaVoice stories dating back to March 2014 about abuses perpetrated by the Louisiana State Board of Dentistry through harassment, intimidation, and exorbitant penalties—including ruined careers—for minor infractions and sometimes none at all.

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/07/state-board-employs-intimidation-harassment-to-generate-funds-to-pay-for-lucrative-contracts-worth-millions-of-dollars/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/18/like-dental-board-louisiana-board-of-medical-examiners-survives-on-fines-and-incentive-to-punish/

https://louisianavoice.com/2014/03/23/appeal-court-slams-lsdb-tactics-in-reversing-kangaroo-court-license-revocation-board-attorney-rules-on-his-own-objection/

And should Edwards take it upon himself to rein in the rogue dental board, he may well also wish to take a long hard look at a few other boards that have gone off the reservation over the years.

  • Here are just a few that warrant a closer look:
  • The State Board of Cosmetology;
  • The Auctioneers Licensing Board;
  • The State Board of Medical Examiners;
  • The State Board of Examiners of Psychologists

Each of these boards has been the subject of considerable controversy over the manner in which they investigate complaints and assess penalties without giving their targets the benefit of the same due process to which accused criminals are entitled under 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Several dentists and dental hygienists protested a $500,000 increase in the contract for the Nevada dental board’s outside legal counsel, John Hunt and their testimony quickly escalated to shouting a crying by those who said Hunt coerced them to acknowledge wrongdoing and to pay money to the dental board.

Several of them accused Hunt of benefitting from money collected by the board.

As we said earlier, eerily familiar.

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/11/16/dentistry-board-facing-difficult-future-because-of-policies-contracts-with-attorney-private-investigator-are-cancelled/

At least in Nevada, complaints by victims of the dental board led to action.

A legislative audit of the board concluded that the board imposed excessive penalties on those it was investigating and also took issue with the board’s handling of Hunt’s contract. The board’s handling of patient complaints, it said, left targets of investigations with the belief that they either had to accept a settlement agreement or risk steeper punishment if found guilty in a final board hearing.

“That’s where the allegation of extortion comes in,” State Assemblyman Glenn Trowbridge, a member of the subcommittee that conducted the audit, said in June. “Either pay me now or we’ll look into it deeper and you’ll pay me more.”

Again…eerily familiar.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/18/case-of-slidell-dentist-illustrates-unbridled-power-of-dentistry-board-to-destroy-careers-for-sake-of-money/

Sandoval appoints the members of the dental board. He said the time has come for the 11-member board to address the problem. Citing his experience with other state boards during his political career, he said, “I’ve never seen …people as upset as they are.”

The board, following Sandoval’s scolding, postponed action on Hunt’s contract amendment.

1980 U.S. Supreme Court specifically addressed the issue of excessive penalties in the case of U.S. Secretary of Labor v. Jerrico, Inc.

In that case, the Supreme Court reduced a $103,000 penalty to $18,000 in that the higher penalty constituted an unconstitutional risk of bringing “impermissible factors into the prosecutorial decision.”

In an earlier, even more pointed decision, the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that “board members’ pecuniary interest disqualified them from passing on issues.”

In citing an Alabama case in which the Board of Optometry revoked the licenses of all optometrists employed by corporations such as Lee Optical, the court said, “Because the Board of Optometry was composed solely of optometrists in private practice for their own account, the District Court concluded that success in the board’s efforts would possibly (contribute) to the personal benefit of members of the board, sufficiently so that in the opinion of the District Court, the Board was disqualified from hearing the charges filed against the appellees.

“It is sufficiently clear from our cases,” the court continued, “that those with substantial pecuniary interest in legal proceedings should not adjudicate these disputes.”

As simple to understand as that ruling is, one must wonder why, 43 years later, the Louisiana Board of Dentistry and other licensing boards in the State of Louisiana are still allowed to operate their own respective fiefdoms with carte blanche.

Are their legal counsels not able to read and understand the law?

Is there not a single board member among them with the decency to say, “This isn’t right”?

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There are those who will label this post as sour grapes.

That’s okay. You can call it Tinker Bell, Rambo or anything you choose. I don’t care because it won’t change the fact that the Louisiana Supreme Court is dominated by gutless hypocrites.

There’s a guy in New Orleans who will agree with me even if no one else does.

His name is Ashton R. O’Dwyer, Jr. and he is an attorney. Or at least he was.

You see, like me, he sounded off to and about the wrong people—judges, to be precise—but unlike me, he was in a vulnerable position in that he was a partner at the prestigious New Orleans law firm Lemle & Kelleher. As such, anything he said about the judiciary could be—and was—met with instant retaliation.

O’Dwyer’s sin was that he had the idea to file a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its lack of adequate preparedness for Hurricane Katrina. For good measure, in case it should be determined that the Corps was immune from litigation, he also named the State of Louisiana as a defendant for its pitiful oversight of the various politically inept and corrupt levee boards.

But other attorneys who were politically connected to the presiding judge wanted to be the plaintiff attorney. The judge eventually disqualified O’Dwyer and the rival attorney filed his suit. The only problem is the other attorney also represented the state so he could not, because of the obvious conflict of interests, file against the state.

It was little consolation to O’Dwyer that the Corps of Engineers was, as feared, determined to be immune from being sued which left the other attorney with no case. O’Dwyer was furious and went slightly ballistic.

He was eventually terminated by Lemle & Kelleher and things escalated quickly. Jailed on a questionable charge of making threats, he was held for mental evaluation. It was his second stint in jail. The first came because he refused to leave his St. Charles Avenue home during Katrina—even though a network news crew was allowed to remain in a house next door during the storm.

The courts were far from finished teaching him a lesson. Subjected to monitoring of his emails for years, suspended from the practice of law after being fired, he was later disbarred altogether. http://www.tulanelink.com/stories/o’dwyer_11a.htm

Today, O’Dwyer is not only fired, suspended and disbarred, but also bankrupt—all because he refused to hold his tongue. And today, he still won’t shut up.

http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2010/12/disbarred_attorney_not_as_craz.html

After all, what else can they do to him?

Fast forward to November 7, 2016.

Among the writ applications denied by the Louisiana Supreme Court was Case No. 2016-C -1263 (TOM ASWELL v. THE DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATION, OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA AND KRISTY NICHOLS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE COMMISSIONER OF ADMINISTRATION). http://www.lasc.org/news_releases/2016/2016-065.asp

I filed my writ after the First Circuit Court of Appeal in an equally cowardly act, struck down the penalties against Nichols while acknowledging that the state was negligent in complying to our public records request in a timely manner.

As a refresher, here’s what happened. With the Division of Administration under Nichols already dragging its feet with several pending requests we had submitted, we decided to conduct a test to see if we were being targeted via slow compliance.

In October 2014, we submitted a detailed request for information pertaining to a complicated third party administrator contract between the Office of Group Benefits and a California bill processing firm. On the same day, we had a friendly legislator (who asked not to be named) submit an identical request through the House Legislative Services Office.

The House member received the requested information the very next day. Again, that was in October 2014. In January 2015, I still had not received the documents so I filed suit. Kristy Nichols then had a CD containing the information delivered to my attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III, the day after the suit was filed.

By our calculations, with state law providing penalties of $100 per day for failure to comply to the state’s public records law (remember: Bobby Jindal was touting the state for its “gold standard of transparency), the Division of Administration owed us about $40,000, including that request as well as others that were still outstanding.

District Court Judge Mike Caldwell, in his infinite wisdom, awarded us something on the order of $1200 and Kristy appealed. The First Circuit gutted even that award and we applied for writs to the Supreme Court.

Among those on the Louisiana Supreme Court who would have granted my writ were Jeannette Knoll of the Third District, Jeff Hughes of the Fifth District and John Weimer of the Sixth District. For that, I thank them.

The brain-dead justices who declined to do the right thing, who distorted the state’s public records law to their own satisfaction and who showed they possess no moral compass insofar as the public’s right to know is concerned were Chief Justice Bernette Johnson of the Seventh District, Greg Guidry of the First District, Scott Crichton of the Second District, and Marcus Clark of the Fourth District. For that, I thumb my nose at them.

Let’s recap: I’m not an attorney, I’m retired, and for the moment, the First Amendment, which guarantees my freedom of speech, is still firmly intact. Moreover, since Supreme Court justices are elected, that makes them politicians first, and judges second, which means their title of justices takes on about as much significance as a justice of the peace as far as I’m concerned. They are no more or any less human than anyone else who toils at an occupation. They are mortals endowed with no greater wisdom than my grandfather who had a sixth-grade education. (In fact, truth be known, he was probably light years ahead of most lawyers in terms of moral wisdom.)

In short, the Supreme Court jusrtices can’t do a damned thing to me for calling them imbecilic morons.

Now, lest you think this diatribe is about me, be assured it most definitely is not. It also is not about LouisianaVoice. Nor is it about $1200 in penalties—or even $40,000. The $1200 awarded by Judge Caldwell will neither make me nor break me.

This boneheaded decision, from district court all the way up to the Supreme Court’s decision to deny writs, is about something much larger than me, LouisianaVoice or $1200.

This is about the public’s right to request—and obtain—information about what its government is doing, how it is spending the taxpayers’ dollars, and how its government is meeting—or failing to meet—its responsibility to the public it is supposed to be serving. This rant also raises the obvious question: what purpose do laws serve if they are not enforced? Indeed, what use are judges (other than to look wise when photographed in their robes for their official portraits—at taxpayer expense, of course) when they selectively ignore the law?

With the manner in which our litigation was mangled by the judiciary, governmental agencies and those who run them—from the governor down to the mayors of Shongaloo and Paincourtville—may now take their cue from Case No. 2016-C -1263 (TOM ASWELL v. THE DIVISION OF ADMINISTRATION, OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA AND KRISTY NICHOLS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE COMMISSIONER OF ADMINISTRATION) and provide as much—or as little—as they choose in the way of public records without fear of financial penalties.

The only recourse we have at this point is to find another friendly legislator to write—and a friendly governor to support—new legislation tightening and re-defining the public records laws and the public’s right to know what its elected and appointed officials are doing in the name of representation of constituents.

We have the friendly governor, we believe, as evidenced by John Bel Edwards’s office prompt response to the public records requests we have submitted to him and to the Division of Administration.

So now, like Diogenes, we are seeking an honest man in the form of a legislator who will take on a difficult, if not impossible task.

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Contests for the U.S. House and Senate are going virtually unnoticed as the nation becomes more and more transfixed, shocked—and disgusted—at each new charge of sexual abuse and deleted emails that arises in a sordid presidential race no one dared imagine could ever happen in this country.

Also generally overlooked are scores of local elections scattered across Louisiana’s landscape.

One of those is the race for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Incumbent Mayor-President and erstwhile candidate for Lieutenant Governor Kip Holden is term-limited and has now set his sights on the 2nd Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.

Predictably, the job has attracted quite a few applicants—12 to be precise. One of those is Republican State Sen. Bodi White of Central, coincidentally, the largest fundraiser to date.

With just over three weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, White has begun his TV ad blitz. And like candidates before him (including Holden in his initial run) has included a campaign promise to “improve public education” by “building more schools.”

White knows full well there is no way he can make good on such a preposterous promise because the mayor-president has absolutely zero to do with education. That’s the responsibility of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board into whose operations the mayor and parish council have no input.

He knows that but to voters who do not know, it sounds wonderful, like a promise from on high. And that’s the sad part; voters are generally uneducated on the issues and their decisions are often based on cockamamie sound bytes like the one currently being aired by White. He could just as easily say he’s going to build a wall along our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. There are, I’m certain, voters who would buy into that just as quickly.

But there’s more to white than blustering campaign rhetoric.

In 2008, he introduced a bill in the Legislature to create the Central Recreation and Park District and take Central out of BREC (BREC is an acronym for Baton Rouge Recreation—we don’t get it, either).

On May 6, 2008, he revealed his ownership interest in a tract of land BREC wanted for a park. Then on May 14, 2008, White and BREC director Bill Palmer announced a “compromise” under which White would withdraw this legislation to take Central out of BREC.

That “compromise” consisted of a resolution for BREC to purchase some of White’s business partner’s land and develop the adjacent land for the company by whom White was employed.

Not too shabby a deal if you can swing it and apparently his position as a state representative gave him just the political stroke to pull it off. No abuse of his office there.

In addition, BREC agreed to pay Parcel 52, LLC, $130,000 to help build a 750-foot-long road with curbs and sidewalks to the BREC site. The road goes through the center of the eight-acre commercial property owned by Parcel 52, LLC, and adds significant value to the commercial property, which could be developed for 10-20 commercial sites or offices. http://www.tigerdroppings.com/rant/politics/bodi-white-proof-that-louisiana-has-low-standards-brec-bribed-him/28772800/

Parcel 52, LLC was registered with the Secretary of State. The partners in the company were Brandon and E. Gordon Rogillio, Jr.  and Rep. Mack (Bodi) White. White, who later relinquished his interest in the property, is a realtor who works for Brandon Rogillio. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

Gordon Rogillio later explained that White invested nothing in the property and received nothing in the transaction. http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3427

White’s boss prospered nicely, however, and therein lies the possible quid pro quo.

A timeline provided by a local newspaper, the Central City News, published by former State Rep. Woody Jenkins, further revealed details of the entire transaction: http://centralcitynews.us/?p=3373

In a throwback to the days of raging newspaper wars (days we sorely miss, by the way), a rival publication, Central Speaks, attempted to exonerate White from any wrongdoing in the BREC flap. http://www.centralspeaks.com/old/rep-bodi-white-brec-sports-park-just-the-facts/

Just another day in good old-fashioned Louisiana politics.

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The simmering resentment between the Blue Shirts and the Gray Shirts isn’t going away anytime soon—at least as State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson continues to push for higher and higher pay for Louisiana State Police (LSP) while ignoring Department of Public Safety (DPS) police http://www.lsp.org/dps_police.html. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/16/two-year-old-edmonson-email-to-dps-seemed-to-promise-salary-increases-and-he-delivered-for-all-but-dps-officers/

DPS police may have a lower profile, a less public face than LSP officers. After all, DPS doesn’t detail officers to serve as bodyguards for the state’s college football coaches. That, by the way, is precisely the total qualifications of Edmonson to be Superintendent of State Police; he served as Nick Saban’s personal escort when he was LSU’s head coach.

Carrying that thought a bit further, it has always escaped me why a coach with upwards of 100 beefy, muscular jocks in protective pads and helmets surrounding him would need a bodyguard. Does anyone out there agree with me that this seems like a colossal waste of manpower, money and resources invested in training these men as law enforcement officers?

Before nabbing that plum assignment, Edmonson was the LSP Public Information Officer with precious little experience as a road trooper and zero experience in a supervisory capacity.

His appointment, for those who don’t remember, was made by Bobby Jindal soon after he became governor in 2008.

Besides the title of Superintendent of State Police, he also carries the title as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. http://www.dps.louisiana.gov/deputy.html

With the latter title, Edmonson is also responsible for the well-being of the DPS officers and that would include working for better pay for them as well as for State Troopers.

Instead, we learn that instead of going to bat for DPS, he is going after DPS with a bat. We have been told there was an intensive effort to ferret out the identities of those in DPS who spoke to us about pay issues for DPS officers. The only reason to seek those identities, of course, would be for reprisals.

In an earlier post about the recent pay increase for Edmonson and his inner circle, we said the raises were approved in House Bill 1 in the 2016 legislative session.

Not so. It turns out the salary for Edmonson is set by the governor at his discretion and Edmonson took it upon himself to the increase certain subordinates’ salaries to levels that exceed the State Police pay grid.

We recently obtained a copy of the DPS pay grid and we offer both for your comparison.

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You may have seen one or more of a series of http://www.vote-4-energy.org/ television ads by the American Petroleum Institute (API) that have been running on a more regular basis than lawyer commercials recently.

Intended to give us a warm fuzzy feeling about Big Oil, it’s no coincidence they’re airing in an election year.

The primary trade association of the oil and gas industry, API boasts nearly 400 members. http://www.polluterwatch.com/american-petroleum-institute

Though it spent only about $200,000 on the 2012 election, it literally pours money into other programs—$33 million on lobbying between 2008 and 2012—and was instrumental in funding a $27 million anti-science “scientific” study to refute research linking benzene to cancer.

API was also not above embellishing job creation claims, touting 20,000 new jobs as opposed to the 6,000 estimated by the U.S. State Department and Cornell University.

API also donated money to the National Science Teachers Association for distributing a short film promoting the petroleum industry. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/American_Petroleum_Institute#Concerns_about_API-funded_research

If there remains any doubt to the underlying intent of the recent glut of ads, a leaked memo written by API CEO Jack Gerard in August 2009 revealed that a number of trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, coordinated “Energy Citizens’ rallies in key Congressional districts in an effort to ramp up political opposition to climate and energy legislation.

Directly funded and organized by API and member companies, the “rallies” were coordinated by oil lobbyists and API member Chevron even bused it employees to events.

API also contributed $25,000 to Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party organization founded and chaired by billionaire oilman David Koch. http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/03/energy-industry-trade-groups/

Which brings up Koch Industries, headed by David and brother Charles, both major players in the American political arena.

In just one state for example, Texas, the Kochs are proving our repeated position that money has supplanted the importance of voters in influencing election outcomes by dumping money into the campaigns of 66 candidates—15 for the U.S. House of Representatives, three for the Texas Supreme Court, 31 for the Texas House of Representatives, 16 for the State Senate and one for the State Railroad Commission (the Texas equivalent to the Louisiana Public Service Commission).

Here is a complete state-by-state listing of Koch-supported candidates (Note: only legally-required reported contributions are listed but Koch, in addition to monetary contributions has been known to exert pressure on its employees as to which candidates they should support.

And it’s not as if the Kochs are alone, nor is this an effort to say that only Republicans are beneficiaries of the avalanche of campaign funds that has occurred since the 2010 Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court opened the spigot of campaign cash.

Politics has become a game played by any billionaire with an agenda—to the overall detriment of the average citizen, whose numbers comprise 99.9 percent of the nation’s population. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/superpac-donors-2016/

So just how much Super PAC money, so-called outside spending (which does not include individual contributions to thousands of candidates in federal, state and local elections), was lavished on behalf of or in opposition to candidates in the 2012 elections?

The 1,310 super PACs raised $828.2 million for the 2012 election cycle, which was just two years after Citizens United, and spent $609.4 million. https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/summ.php?cycle=2012&chrt=V&type=S

This year, in the Presidential, and Congressional elections alone, spending has already surpassed $1.8 billion. Of that amount, more than $248 million has come from PACs. http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/03/daily-chart-1

Before all is said and done, it is expected that more than $5 billion will be spent on the Presidential election. That figure includes money to be spent by candidates, political parties and outside groups (PACs), and includes money spent on presidential primaries—more than double the cost of the 2012 campaign.

All of which raises a moral question: if political donors are so civic-minded (as most insist they are) as opposed to an eagerness to promote a personal agenda (as most will go to great lengths to deny), why don’t they put their money to use for an even greater good?

Has it ever crossed the minds of the Kochs or any of the other members of the mega-rich influence-purchasers what even a small portion of that kind of money would mean to St. Jude or other children’s hospitals?

Have they ever considered underwriting cancer research on such a scale? What about feeding the hungry or even helping restore the country’s crumbling infrastructure? After all, they use the same highways, rely on the same water and sewer services, depend on the same police and fire protection.

So much good could be accomplished with the billions of dollars that are wasted on the campaigns whose promises are as empty and meaningless as the hopes and dreams of the poorest of our poor?

Yes, the Kochs give millions to charities but then spearhead coalitions of businesses and industries that pour hundreds of millions into efforts to pass anti-environmental legislation or they endow chairs at schools like Florida State University on condition that they get the final say in the hiring of faculty members who will teach their political and economic philosophy.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/spreading-the-free-market-gospel/413239/

But we as a nation have somehow seen a trend away from using our wealth to accomplish the greater good for all our citizens. Instead, we’re seeing the wealthiest using their monetary buying power to purchase influence so they can accumulate even more wealth.

And we wonder why there is an ever-widening disconnect from the American political process.

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