If you were to seek two cases that stand as glaring testimony to the way in which the Jindal administration employs a double standard in addressing legal and ethical issues, you need look no further than the cases involving Murphy Painter and Jeff Mercer.
Though the men never met and while one was a state employee and the other a private contractor, together, the two represent the composite poster child for victims of political favoritism and corruption. Both fell prey to unethical behavior and of the way political priorities have been set by the Jindal administration for the past eight years.
We have chronicled the manner in which Jindal and his henchmen made Painter a scapegoat by firing him from his post as director of the State Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC). We have shown how, when he refused to knuckle under and bend the rules for the benefit of Anheuser-Busch distributor Southern Eagle, SMG (the Louisiana Superdome management company), the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (LSED) Board, and Tom Benson, Jindal not only fired Painter but even tried (unsuccessfully) to prosecute him in federal district court on bogus criminal charges of computer fraud.
Not only was Painter acquitted of all (there were 42 counts, none of which stuck) charges, but the state then was required to repay Painter’s legal costs of $474,000.
LouisianaVoice was the first—and only—news service to suggest (correctly, it turned out) that Painter, instead of a criminal, was the victim of a political scheme intended to remove him from his position after he refused to approve an incomplete application by SMG for a permit to erect a large tent at Benson’s Champions Square adjacent to Benson Towers across from the Superdome. The tent was to house beer sales by Southern Eagle on Saints game days. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/02/06/emerging-claims-lawsuits-could-transform-murphy-painter-from-predator-to-all-too-familiar-victim-of-jindal-reprisals/
Jindal executive counsel Stephen Waguespack, now President of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), insisted—twice—that the permit be expedited, Painter asked that he put his concerns in writing but Waguespack responded that he was far too busy to reduce his demands to writing (which would’ve left a paper trail, don’t you see).
Instead, Painter was simply fired and SMG got its permit. Of course, it was mere coincidence that the Benson family, SMG, its law firm, Southern Eagle and members of the LSED Board had combined to dump more than $207,000 into Jindal’s campaigns between 2002 and 2012.
Quick as the Jindal crowd was to administer justice (read reprisals) in the Painter case, it was painfully slow in ferreting out reports of corruption in one of the largest agencies in the state—the Department of Transportation and Development—and even slower in addressing those reports with the proper corrective measures. The fact is, nothing was ever done about reports of attempted shakedowns of a DOTD contractor and the subsequent harassment of that same contractor that eventually put him out of business.
It turned out to be an expensive oversight on the state’s part.
On Friday, a 12-person jury returned a unanimous verdict in which it awarded Jeff Mercer of Mangham $20 million, plus eight years (and counting) of judicial interest for allowing DOTD supervisors to condone demands of cash and equipment from Mercer by a DOTD inspector (we call that extortion where I come from; the inspector allegedly threatened Mercer with inspection problems with his work). Moreover, Mercer was able to prove that DOTD deliberately withheld payments for work performed by Mercer as payback for his whistleblowing, first reported by LouisianaVoice in April of 2012. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/04/09/contractor-claims-in-lawsuit-that-dotd-official-attempted-shake-down-for-cash-equipment-during-monroe-work/
Mercer had even taken his complaint to the governor’s office, but nothing was ever done. No referral to the Inspector General’s office. The IG, by the way, works directly for and answers only to the governor and was prompt enough to bring charges against Painter three years ago.
So, the question must be asked: why was the governor’s office not front and center in taking appropriate action on reports of extortion, threats of federal prosecution against Mercer, and refusals to pay for work performed by him?
Why was the demand for compliance so urgent in the Painter case and the concern so lacking in the Mercer case?
To paraphrase Jindal: two words.
Benson, SMG, and members of the LSED Board were major Jindal campaign contributors. Mercer was not.
Benson and his associates were friends of Jindal and as such, they possessed massive political power that the governor could not ignore—nor did he wish to.
Mercer was a small contractor from the small North Louisiana town of Mangham, situated about halfway between Winnsboro and Rayville—and smaller than each of those. He was not influential.
He was, they thought, an insignificant little nobody who could be ignored because he had neither the influence nor the political muscle to make himself heard over the rattle of dinner plates at the governor’s mansion or over the lofty, self-serving campaign rhetoric about Jindal’s gold standard of ethics.
The administration, it turns out, committed the worst tactical error possible in warfare and politics: it vastly underestimated the determination of a little man when he is truly pissed and it woefully underestimated the indignation and ire of a 12-person jury upon their hearing of the injustice heaped upon one of their own by an uncaring bureaucracy and of the unscrupulous actions of those within that same bureaucracy.
And boy, does it ever feel good when the underdog wins one!