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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

Quickly. What do these 27 Louisianans have in common, other than having been elected to political office?

  • Paul Hollis
  • John Alario
  • Jack Donahue
  • Gerald Long
  • Fred Mills
  • Barrow Peacock
  • John Smith
  • Steve Carter
  • Greg Cromer
  • Cameron Henry
  • Dorothy Hill
  • Valarie Hodges
  • Sam Jones
  • Dee Richard
  • Alan Seabaugh
  • Scott Simon
  • John Schroder
  • Kirk Talbot
  • Conrad Appel
  • Barry Milligan
  • Jeff Landry
  • John Kennedy
  • Bill Cassidy
  • Clay Higgins
  • Steve Scalise
  • Ralph Abraham
  • Mike Johnson

Give up?

Well, to make it more interesting, I’ll throw in these names:

  • Jeff Sessions
  • Tommy Tuberville
  • Tom Cotton
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Devin Nunes
  • Kevin McCarthy
  • Marco Rubio
  • Matt Gaetz
  • Ron Desantis
  • Rick Scott
  • Doug Collins
  • David Perdue
  • Brian Kemp
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Rand Paul
  • Cindy Hyde-Smith
  • Michael Guest
  • Tate Reeves
  • Roy Blunt
  • Ben Sasse
  • Christopher Sununu
  • Chris Christie
  • Chris Collins
  • Jim Jordan
  • Rick Santorum
  • Pat Toomey
  • Lindsey Graham
  • Tim Scott
  • Kristi Noem
  • Lamar Alexander
  • John Cornyn
  • Ted Cruz
  • Mitt Romney
  • Liz Cheney

Each of the aforementioned is among the 172 members of the U.S. House of Representative, 48 U.S. senators 12 governors and 27 Louisianans who signed Grover Norquist’s no-new-tax pledge, which reads simply enough:

I, ______, pledge to the taxpayers of the ______ district of the state of ______ and to the American people that I will: One, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and Two, to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates

Of the 20 Louisiana legislators who signed the pledge, seven are still in office. They are Hollis, Mills, Peacock, Henry, Hodges, Seabaugh and Schroder. Schroder is no longer in the legislature, having moved up to State Treasurer.

Landry, a former member of the U.S. House, is now Louisiana’s attorney general with an eye on the governor’s office just up the street. Kennedy and Cassidy, of course are Louisiana’s two U.S. senators while Higgins, Scalise, Abraham and Johnson are in the House. Abraham, an unsuccessful candidate for governor last year, is a lame duck and will exit Congress next Jan. 20.

Norquist, who founded the organization Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) wears his capitalist idealism on his sleeve. He’s been widely quoted saying thing like:

“Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.”

He advocates standing on one’s own two feet:

“We want to reduce the number of people depending on government so there is more autonomy and more free citizens.”

Norquist feels that such reliance on government weakens one’s character:

“The welfare state creates its own victim/client constituency. By making individuals free and independent, we reduce the need for ‘charity’ to those truly needy citizens what we can certainly afford to help through real charity.”

Moreover, he is convinced that government spending, fueled by entitlements, is harmful to the U.S. economy:

“What’s hurting the U.S. economy is total government spending. The deficit is an indicator that the government is spending so much money that it can’t even get around to stealing all of the money that it wants to spend.”

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown unquestionably crippled the US—the world—economy, necessitating Congress to pass a $350 billion paycheck protection bill to bail out companies with forgivable SBA loans of up to $10 million which, of course, caused Norquist to pitch a hissy fit even before another $330 billion was added to the relief package. He wrote a letter urging lawmakers not to approve a second stimulus bill, saying:

“Government spending is inhibiting the fast recovery we want in jobs and incomes, not stimulating it.”

But what Norquist neglected to point out is his Americans for Tax Reform had just received up to $350,000 in stimulus money from the first bill. In other words, he got his and now he doesn’t want anyone else to get theirs because it’s wasteful government spending, it kills incentive, creating victimhood.

Oops. Maybe all those members of congress, legislators, and governors listed above might like to reconsider signing off on Norquist’s “Don’t do as I do, do as I say do” pledge..

Perhaps Norquist should “funnel” that guvmint money to the CHOCTAW INDIANS of Mississippi, the tribe he helped Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Ralph Reed and JACK ABRAMOFF funnel more than $1 million away from the Choctaw back in 1999.

Of course, when it came time to put up or shut up, Norquist chose to shut up by REFUSING TO TESTIFY before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s hearing on lobbying abuses.

But perhaps the best illustration with the fewest words to describe Norquist’s role in the sordid affairs with Abramoff, DeLay, Reed, and Rove can be seen HERE. If all this doesn’t leave you needing a shower, I just don’t know what could.

Unless it’s this:

Others that received PPP funding included the Ayn Rand Institute (between $350,000 and $1 million), Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s The Daily Caller ($350,000 to $1 million), Newsmax, the conservative TV network owned by Trump ally Christopher Ruddy ($2 million to $5 million), and (wait for it), the shipping business owned by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s family ($350 to $1 million). Chao just happens to be the wife of (ahem) Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. They’re all right HERE.

(Ayn Rand, for those who may not know, was a Russian émigré who fled the communist revolution, became an actress in the US and who wrote The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Atlas Shrugged has become something of a capitalism bible to her followers.)

To borrow from Charles Dickens, we seem to have the ghosts of capitalism past and the ghosts of capitalism present in one tidy little story. I can’t wait for the ghost of capitalism future to make its appearance.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t include one last Norquist quote because it’s really a gem:

“Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.”

 

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You have to wonder what the Louisiana Ethics Board is trying to conceal.

Back in March, the neutered ethics board sued the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in an effort to prevent state auditors from peeking at information in its case files that the auditors say is necessary to conduct a proper performance review of the board.

Well, there may be a plausible explanation but on the surface of it all, the ethics board’s action screams of some kind of cover-up. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but then when you examine some of the board’s actions, that too, is understandable.

You may remember one of the first actions taken by Bobby Jindal soon after taking office back in 2008 was to gut the board in what he deemed at the time reform that produced the “gold standard” of ethics.

What it did, instead, was make then-pending ethics investigations of a couple of legislators go away. One of those legislators is now a college president. Go figure.

When Jindal announced his “reforms,” there were 11 members of the ethics board. Soon after that, there were two. Nine of the 11 members, including the board chairman, vice-chairman and board administrator promptly RESIGNED in protest—or disgust, take your pick.

In its lawsuit, filed in state court in Baton Rouge, the board contends that information contained in the files is confidential and privileged. State Auditor Daryl Purpera countered that his office has not only the right but the obligation to see the information—and to keep it confidential.

It’s most likely that auditors are not interested in any particular case, but it is nevertheless interesting to consider some of the board’s fancy footwork in dodging any responsibility in holding public officials’ feet to the proverbial fire.

Take State Police, for example. Back in April 2018, the board CLEARED —in secret, at that—four State Troopers accused of taking a taxpayer-funded vacation in a state vehicle that took them to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas en route to a convention in San Diego.

The troopers, the board determined, did not take the detour to the tourist spots on their own volition, but upon the instructions of higher-ups in the department. There was only one “higher-up” who could give those instructions and that was then-State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, who ultimately resigned under pressure in the wake of that trip.

But then, 16 months later, in August 2019, the board then managed to twist logic beyond recognition when it also CLEARED Edmonson of wrongdoing, according to his attorney, Gray Sexton. Sexton formerly served as (ahem) head of the State Ethics Commission but apparently had no problem representing clients before the board.

Sexton said he had received a letter from the board that cleared Edmonson but he refused to make a copy of the letter available, claiming that it was “confidential.”

That seems to be the way the Ethics Board operates these days: confidentially, in secret, behind closed doors, out of sight from, and with no accountability to the public.

Auditors are seeking full access to board records from 2013-2018, specifically inclusive of investigative case files, files for cases with waivers/suspensions, and ethics board executive meeting minutes.

The board provided some of the records but has withheld the investigative case files and executive board meeting minutes, justifying the refusal by claiming state law “provides that documents obtained or prepared in connection with an investigation are not only confidential but also privileged.”

The board’s refusal and lawsuit appear to be part of a trend of state boards, commissions and agencies trying to prevent auditors from delving into their operations.

In recent years, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Louisiana Pharmacy Board, and the Department of Economic Development have taken legal action to protect their records from the prying eyes of auditors. Purpera’s office won against the Medical Examiners and Pharmacy boards but lost a court decision against LED.

Purpera said the effort to obtain records for auditing purpoises is an ongoing battle. “We’ve been fighting for records for the last 25 years,” he said.

 

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Floyd Hamilton III has been waging a lonely battle with the Veterans Administration for 14 years and today, May 20, is the 11th anniversary of  his father’s death in the Alexandria Veterans Hospital on May 20, 2009. It was the day after his 84th birthday.

His battle is with the doctor who was supposed to be caring for Floyd Hamilton, Jr. but who failed to do her job, according to Hamilton III.

And with the bureaucracy.

The most frustrating part is the three-page LETTER from Assistant District Attorney Hugo Holland back in October 2016 in which Holland declined to pursue the matter because, according to his investigation, Dr. Shivani Negi committed no wrongdoing in her care for Hamilton’s father.

Curiously, while the VA Hospital is in Rapides Parish, Holland’s letter was on Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier’s letterhead. Holland is employed as an assistant DA by a number of district attorneys, including, apparently, Rapides Parish. Still, it raises questions about who paid Holland to conduct his investigation—Rapides or Calcasieu.

Regardless, Holland said here was “no information that any document was filed in Louisiana which contained any false statements” and that “no false documents were presented to the State of Virginia’s Board of Medicine,” where Negi’s license was issued.

Former Louisiana congressman Charles Boustany, himself a physician, had filed a complaint about “unethical conduct” by several individuals, including Dr. Negi, who he said misrepresented herself when applying for her license in Virginia when she checked the box “NO” to the question if she had ever been denied a license.

In a well-rehearsed shuffle that only a trained bureaucrat can pull off, the Virginia licensing board said that yes, Negi was denied a license by the State of Florida but that she had been given 14 days in which to withdraw her application—which she subsequently did.

Ergo, the lie never occurred, according to the State of Virginia.

LouisianaVoice, way back in July 2016, ran the STORY of Negi’s falsifying her Virginia application as well as records of complaints from her work in the state of Maryland.

But why did the State of Florida deny her application? Well, it seems that when she applied for her license in that state, she failed to disclose an incident in which she altered an admission order sheet after the fact. The Maryland investigation had concluded that Dr. Negi “inappropriately altered the medical records after the fact by adding her order for blood sutures to the chart order shed sometime after December 6, 2000, 2:30 a.m., and by trying to make it appear as though it was written by December 5, 2000, 10:00 p.m.

“Furthermore, the committee is dismayed by Dr. Negi’s inability or unwillingness to admit to this inappropriate alteration of the medical records. The committee unanimously agreed that this inappropriate alteration of the medical records and the physician’s implausible response to our questioning, reflect not only bad judgment but also unethical behavior,” the report said.

So now, we have two occasions in which Dr. Negi lied on official forms and yet she continues to treat patients at the VA Hospital in Alexandria.

Hamilton said he believes Dr. Negi withholds critical medical care from patients she believes are ready to die. He said, “She told me he was 84 years old and had a good life, and why do I want him coded. Dr. Negi not only put in orders to take him off of the breathing machine she also took him off of antibiotics and had him taken off of ICU.”

Hamilton says Dr. Negi took those actions against the wishes of the family.

LouisianaVoice also published a story in June 2016 which detailed complaints about Dr. Negi from family members of patients as well as from medical staff who provided written statements or testified in depositions as to Negi’s inappropriate remarks in the presence of family members and patients. [To see that story, click HERE.]

One cannot assign a specific case such as that of Floyd Hamilton’s to the Trump administration, especially since the problems began long before Trump took office.

On the other hand, Trump promised to fix veterans’ problems when he got elected, he vowed that he would instruct his staff “that if a valid complaint is not addressed, that the issue be brought directly to me. I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to.”

Trump loves to fire people, and if Dr. Negi presents a problem for veterans and their families, we have a situation made to order for him.

Instead, he has broken his promise by PURGING 200,000 VA healthcare applications.

And Floyd Hamilton, III continues his lonely battle with the bureaucracy.

 

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There are so many ways a public agency can waste your taxpayer dollars. Some are out there for everyone to see like when contracts are awarded to a favored vendor even though that vendor didn’t have the low bid.

Or when a contractor is paid $175 per 100-square-foot tarps on rooftops in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina only to have the contractor (Shaw Group) subcontract the work to A-1 Construction for $75 a square and to have A-1 hire a second subcontractor, Westcon Construction at $30 per square, who finally pays workers $2 per square.

Other times, the waste is concealed from view and without someone doing a little digging, no one ever knows how thousands or dollars are frittered away by bureaucrats who nothing better to do than to quietly spread the spoils around among the politically-connected.

So it was in March of last year that Southern University’s Grievance Committee held hearings on the appeals of four professors who had been terminated. When the four professors indicated that they wanted the hearing to be in open meeting as opposed to executive session, their request was rejected out of hand.

The state’s open meetings law [R.S. 42:14 (A), (B), and (C)] allows for all personnel matters to be discussed [without any official vote being taken] in executive session unless the employee(s) being discussed requests that discussion be held in open session. Such request by the employee(s) would supersede any move for executive session.

But the Grievance Committee’s chairperson announced—without benefit of a public vote by the committee [also a violation of the open meetings statute] that a private vote had been conducted prior to the convening of the committee meeting at which it was decided to hold the executive session to discuss the professors’ grievance.

I was there to cover the hearing and the four professors and I promptly filed suit against Southern for violation of the open meetings law. The trial was held in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

Southern presented the unique argument that the school’s grievance committee was not a public body—even though every member was an employee of Southern and the committee was acting on behalf of Southern’s administration. Unique indeed.

Even more bizarre, Southern attorney Winston DeCuir, Jr., in his cross-examination of yours truly, tried to question my right to be a party to the suit by asking how many other events I’d covered for LouisianaVoice at Southern. The answer was none—as if that had any legal bearing on the matter at hand. He then asked why I picked that hearing to cover and I replied truthfully that I had been alerted that the hearing might produce an interesting story for LouisianaVoice.

The presiding judge had little problem in ruling for the four professors and yours truly, awarding a total of $5,000 ($1,000 per plaintiff), plus attorney fees and court costs. So, counting the award, court costs and attorney fees, we’re already looking at something approaching $8,000-$10,000 all because DeCuir did not provide proper legal counsel to the committee when it decided to break the law. [He was there and should have advised the committee that it was treading on thin legal ice.]

But Southern wasn’t finished. Rather than cut its losses and pony up the money, DeCuir appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeal. Nothing like throwing good money after bad.

In January, the FIRST CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEAL handed down its decision. The lower court’s decision was upheld without a dissenting opinion. Unanimous, in other words.

Moreover, the First Circuit assessed additional attorney fees of $1,400 and additional court costs of $1,804. And that’s not counting what DeCuir will bill the university for his solid legal advice.

So, Southern learned its lesson, right?

Not quite.

At DeCuir’s advice, the university has now taken writs to the Louisiana State Supreme Court—all to argue that Southern University and its Grievance Committee are not public bodies.

Your tax dollars at work. Not a lot of money in the overall scheme of things, but an example how quixotic legal battles by state agencies make thousands upon thousands of dollars disappear into contract attorneys’ bank accounts.

Which also raises another question: Can defense attorneys always be counted on to give the best advice to clients when that advice might conflict with the attorney’s financial advantage of keeping the meter running?

 

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When Kimberly Gail Womack was found dead in the bedroom of her Jarreau residence in Pointe Coupee Parish, her daughter Kathryn Simpson assumed there would be a thorough investigation into her death.

Womack, had died little more than a month shy of her 49th birthday of “blunt force trauma to head by assault,” according to the official death certificate. She suffered “left sided (sic) subdural hematoma (brain hemorrhaging generally associated with traumatic brain injury) because of a blow or blows to the head, and “multiple fractured ribs.

Her death was assigned to the parish coroner and Simpson had every reason to believe authorities would devote their energy to find her mother’s killer.

That was on Aug. 1, 2008, and more than 11 years later, no one has been charged with the killing and authorities have attempted to deflect Simpson’s inquiries into her mother’s case, saying (a) that she died from a fall and (b) her lifestyle was the primary contributing factor in her death.

Eighteenth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney Tony Clayton has even implied to Simpson that she “will never know” the full story of Womack’s death.

Those words now seem prophetic since after more than 11 years, the case appears no closer to resolution than ever.

Kim Womack’s “lifestyle” kept resonating with Simpson, who was aware her mother was involved with a West Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputy.

The only problem was, unbeknownst to Simpson, the deputy, WBR Sheriff’s deputy was married. It’s not known if Womack was aware that inconvenient fact.

When the deputy, whom Simpson says she had known all her life, was a no-show for her mother’s memorial, “I got suspicious.”

Clayton refused to provide the investigative report to Simpson. “He told me he would let me see the information but he could not let it get out because of the media got hold of it, it could ruin the deputy’s life and he wasn’t going to do that,” Simpson said.

She said she then went to the office of the deputy’s wife and “slapped my mom’s picture down in front of his wife. I asked if she knew the woman in the picture.” She said she told the woman that her mother was having an affair with her husband and my mom “has now turned up dead.”

Womack had accompanied the deputy to a training session in Lake Charles about three weeks before her death, Simpson said.

She said the man’s wife told her she would present her husband with what Simpson had given her and that the two women would talk the following day.

“I called her the next day and she wasn’t ugly, but she said she couldn’t talk to me anymore,” Simpson said.

“The deputy went to Tony Clayton’s office and threw a fit the next day,” she said. “And that’s the last I ever heard of it (the investigation).”

Ty Chaney, chief investigator for the Pointe Coupee Parish Coroner’s Office, did write a two-paragraph letter dated Jan. 28, 2020 that he attached to the six-page autopsy report in which he stipulated that “This death was a result of a left side Subdural Hematoma from Blunt Force trauma to head.

“This is still a pending homicide investigation with Pointe Coupee Parish Sheriff Office.” The autopsy report added that she suffered “multiple bruises and abrasions on the upper and lower extremities as well as the midfrontal region of the face.”

The problem with any investigation at this point is that Womack’s body was cremated by Rabenhorst Funeral Home of Baton Rouge on Aug. 4, 2008, just three days after her death.

Louisiana R.S. 13:5719 says “…If, after the necessary investigation, the coroner is satisfied that there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death, he shall issue a permit for cremation.”

An autopsy was completed but the coroner’s report made it plain that there were “suspicious circumstances. By cremating the body, any evidence that might have been overlooked was gone forever.

When prosecutors and law enforcement investigators are less diligent about solving crimes that are not sufficiently high-profile or because victims lack name recognition, social status or proper connections, or when prosecutors just go for the low-hanging fruit (read: easy cases), then justice is not being served on an equal and impartial basis.

Far from it. In fact, it smacks of either laziness or favoritism.

Clayton earlier this week formally announced his candidacy to succeed his boss, DA Ricky Ward who is retiring. This story likely will invoke howls of a political hatchet job. In an election year, that would be an expected reaction for a political candidate under fire. The truth is, however, that I know little about Tony Clayton and have no axe to grind with him. Nor do I know of any other potential candidate for the DA’s post in the three-parish 18th JDC.

The only dog I have in this hunt is contempt for any public official who appears to be shirking his duty to the people he or she serves or who is otherwise giving less than his/her best. And after 11 years of inaction on the Kim Womack case, it would appear that someone has gone to sleep on the job in the 18th JDC.

The alternative would seem to be that someone is indeed being protected.

 

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