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Archive for the ‘Public Records’ Category

Apparently Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has never read the First Amendment. Neither, apparently, has 32nd Judicial District Court Judge Randal Bethancourt. Nor does it seem that either has ever checked into the constitutional status of Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute.

Larpenter made national news last Tuesday (August 2) when he sent a posse of six deputies to the home of a suspected blogger and hauled away two laptop computers because the blogger said bad things about the high sheriff. Somehow, six men to confiscate two laptop computers approaches overkill, but perhaps that’s the way things are done in Terrebonne Parish. After all, the laws that apply to the rest of us don’t seem to hold much water with Larpenter and Bethancourt. https://theintercept.com/2016/08/04/sheriff-raids-house-to-find-anonymous-blogger-who-called-him-corrupt/

The blogger, after all, had said some really bad things about Larpenter and Parish President (and former State Rep.) Gordon Dove and Dove’s business partner Tony Alford, who landed a huge benefits package brokerage contract for Larpenter’s office, and their jointly-owned trucking firm, and Dove’s former legislative assistant Debbie Ortego who was given a $79,000-a-year job as Dove’s new officer manager, and Debbie’s husband Dana who is Dove’s Risk Manager, and Dana’s nephew Parish Attorney Joe Waitz, III, District Attorney Joe Waitz Jr.’s son, and Sheriff Larpenter’s wife Priscilla who has a six-figure job as manager of Tony Alford’s office, and Jackie Dove who is married to Assistant District Attorney Sye Broussard. There were a few other names in the organizational flow chart compiled by the publisher of the Internet blog http://exposedat.in/wp/ but it gets complicated and somewhat confusing after that.

But the gist of the story is that certain connected entities have successfully evaded their responsibility to pay nearly $400,000 in parish taxes, malfeasance on the part of local officials for not pursuing the collection of the delinquent taxes with, in the words of the late John F. Kennedy, “great vigor,” nepotism, ethics violations, and violations of environmental regulations.

To give you a bit of background, LouisianaVoice had a post two years ago about Dove and his trucking company which got into trouble with the environmental watchdogs in Montana who, unlike their counterparts in Louisiana, tend to do their jobs with no consideration given to oil company political contributions and highly paid oil and gas lobbyists milling around the State Capitol’s rotunda with steak restaurant vouchers for famished legislators. https://louisianavoice.com/2014/06/01/gordon-dove-fox-in-the-house-natural-resources-committee-henhouse-or-perhaps-its-just-louisiana-jindaltics-as-usual/

As we read through the mystery blogger’s most recent post about Terrebonne Parish (the one that got him into trouble with Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt), we couldn’t help but be impressed with the detailed thoroughness with which he laid out his case, supported by document after document.

He had documents and links to documents to support every claim in his post and yet all that made no difference to the two officials who went after the presumed publisher of the blog, one Wayne Anderson who just happens to be a police officer for the City of Houma and who formerly worked as a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s deputy.

Despite his denials that he is the owner of the blog, he was placed on paid leave a little more than an hour after the raid.

Regardless whether or not Anderson is being truthful in denying authorship of the blog, the entire thing should be a moot point. The blogger, Anderson or whomever, has a right to free speech guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. It’s not that there hasn’t been an effort to thwart freedom of speech. Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute comes immediately to mind.

http://law.justia.com/codes/louisiana/2013/code-revisedstatutes/title-14/rs-14-47

That law was passed way back in the beginning of John McKeithen’s last term as governor. It was also the start of the final four-year term for Attorney General P.F. “Jack” Gremillion of whom former Gov. Earl Long once said, “If you want to hide something from Jack Gremillion, put it in a law book.”

Bethancourt said he had to stay within the “four corners” of the warrant and affidavit (whatever that means) and that he was unable to discern if Alford was a public official (under the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Sullivan v. New York Times which ruled that for a public official to claim libel, he must prove not only malicious intent but “reckless disregard for the truth”)—despite Alford’s status as a member of a local levee district. Louisiana’s criminal defamation statute, he said, is “pretty broad” and that he would the state to have a “look-see” at what was contained on the computers that might have defamatory statements on them.

The only problem with the judge’s interpretation of the state’s “pretty broad” defamation statute is that it is non-existent.

David Ardoin, Anderson’s attorney, correctly pointed out that Bethancourt made a mistake in approving the warrant to raid his client’s home because in 1981, the second year of former Gov. Dave Treen’s term of office, the law was declared unconstitutional. http://www.lsli.org/files/unconst_report2016.pdf

Just to put things in their proper perspective, that was 35 years ago. Way to stay current on the law, Judge. And Judge, one more thing: since the law was held unconstitutional, it would seem that neither your nor the sheriff—nor anyone else, for that matter—has any right to have a “look-see” at what is contained on Anderson’s computers. That, yer honor, is invasion of privacy.

I happened to run into former Gov. Edwin Edwards last Friday when we each were guests on different hourly segments of the Jim Engster Show in Baton Rouge. I asked him if he remembered the defamation law and he immediately responded, “Of course. It was later declared unconstitutional.” A pretty sharp mind for a man who turned 89 on Sunday (August 7).

When I explained what had occurred in Terrebonne Parish, he said, “It sounds to me like the sheriff has some very serious legal problems. I would love to be that blogger’s attorney in that civil litigation.”

Sheriff Larpenter and Judge Bethancourt have greatly overstepped their authority and their responsibility to the citizens of Terrebonne Parish. So much so that the local newspaper, the Houma Daily Courier, took a big risk in alienating the local power structure when it took the sheriff to task in a sharply worded EDITORIAL on Sunday (Aug. 7). The paper, however, stopped short of condemning Judge Bethancourt for going along with the sheriff’s Gestapo-like tactics.

Just a cursory read of ExposeDat makes it abundantly and undeniably clear that there are some cozy—too cozy—relationships that border on political incest in Terrebonne Parish. Too much authority and power is vested in the hands of too few people to allow for a workable system of checks and balances. Those few control how millions upon millions of public dollars are spent. Whenever that occurs, there is no oversight and invariably, greed becomes the motivating factor that drives virtually every action.

And it is the citizens who are the ultimate losers.

Local media are subject to economic realities, they can be—and are—squeezed by those in power so that any real investigative reporting is tempered by whatever financial pressure (read: advertising revenue) can be applied by those with the most to lose.

Because of that, bloggers like ExposeDat who are not beholden to the Chamber of Commerce or the local banks are more important than ever before.

Whenever a blogger draws the ire of a public official or is referred to as a “chronic complainer (as in the case of LouisianaVoice recently), it only means that blogger has struck a nerve. Whenever someone says “They’re just a blogger” like a State Trooper ally of State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson recently said in an attempt to discredit LouisianaVoice, we just smile and say, “Yep. We are ‘just a blogger’ who exposed an attempt by Edmonson to enrich his retirement benefits by about $30,000 a year—illegally, we might add—and stopped that little scheme in its tracks.

To ExposeDat, we strongly urge the publisher, whoever you are, to keep the heat on. You’ve already done the heavy lifting and we support your lonely vigil. Don’t relent. If you know you’re doing the right thing, then follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “Never give up. Never, Never, Never.”

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quid pro quo

ˌkwid ˌprō ˈkwō/

noun

A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something.

Unless decisive action it taken over the next few days, our theory that nothing gets done about official chicanery, shady dealings and outright corruption will have been validated at the highest levels of state government.

And lest there are those who think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, let me assure them that I will keep pounding the keyboard as long as I am physically and mentally able to put the glare of the spotlight on them and their deeds.

At one point in 2015, someone said to me, “Once Bobby Jindal leaves office, you won’t have anything to write about.”

Not a chance.

Unfortunately, as long as politicians are intoxicated by money and power, there will be plenty to write about. And, as Johnny Mathis sang his song The Twelfth of Never, “that’s a long, long time.”

Take Kristy Nichols, for example. Someone, please. (Sorry, Henny Youngman.)

Or, just for fun, compare the strikingly similar cases of Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

Kristy, as LouisianaVoice reported last September, jumped the Jindal ship to join Ochsner Health System as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs (read: lobbyist).

https://louisianavoice.com/2015/09/17/more-on-kristys-new-job-it-seems-ochsner-gets-17-6-million-for-running-chabert-hospital/

The only problem with that was that as Commissioner of Administration for Jindal, she presided over virtually every facet of state government except the legislative and judicial branches, but worked closely with those as well. State law prohibited her from lobbying the administrative and legislative branches but apparently there was nothing to prevent her from lobbying local governmental entities.

On November 5, 2015, less than two months following our story, Kimberly L. Robinson, an attorney with the Jones Walker law firm, acting on behalf of Ochsner, requested an advisory opinion on the question of whether or not Kristy could legally lobby the state.

A month later, Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards named Robinson as the new Secretary of the Department of Revenue, prompting her resignation from Jones Walker.

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/12/john_bel_edwards_appoints_kimb.html

Robinson was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Kristy.

Sexton was an obvious choice, given his years as Chief Administrator for the Louisiana Board of Ethics. His knowledge of the system was so keen that in 2007, he pulled his own end-run when he resigned and the board immediately rehired him in a new capacity which allowed him to skirt a requirement under a newly-passed ethics law that he disclose clients in his private law practice (how’s that for irony?).

http://blog.nola.com/times-picayune/2007/07/ethics_administrator_quits_the.html

But back to Kristy’s dilemma.

On December 16, Sexton submitted a request to the ethics board to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion. Then, on January 22, 2016, Sexton submitted an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Kristy. That was followed by a request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion on March 31. The board granted the request to withdraw at its April 15 meeting.

The chronology was provided to LouisianaVoice in an e-mail Tuesday (Aug. 2) from Deborah S. Grier, Executive Secretary for the Board of Ethics. Here is that email:

——– Original message ——–

From: Deborah Grier <Deborah.Grier@LA.GOV>

Date: 8/2/16 9:14 AM (GMT-06:00)

To: azspeak@cox.net

Subject: RE: Opinion on Kristy Nichols: Public Records Requests

Good morning, Mr. Aswell:

Pursuant to your public records request of July 29, 2016 regarding an opinion issued by the Board with respect to former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols’ employment as a lobbyist by Ochsner Health System, please be advised of the following:

A request for an advisory opinion dated November 5, 2015 was submitted by Kimberly L. Robinson with the Jones Walker law firm on behalf of Ochsner Health System and Kristy Nichols.  Ms. Robinson subsequently left the private practice of law and was replaced by R. Gray Sexton as counsel for Ms. Nichols as indicated in correspondence to our office from Mr. Sexton dated December 11, 2015.  On December 16, 2015, a request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion was submitted to our office.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the request for an advisory opinion at its December 18, 2015 meeting.

 Mr. Sexton, by correspondence dated January 22, 2016, submitted to the Board an Application for Declaratory Opinion on behalf of Ms. Nichols.  A request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion was received by this office on March 31, 2016.  The Board considered and granted the request to withdraw the Application for Declaratory Opinion at its April 15, 2016 meeting.
No opinion has been rendered by the Board with respect to this issue.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Deborah

Deborah S. Grier
Executive Secretary
Louisiana Board of Ethics

So, what does all that mean?

Could it be that Ochsner and Kristy have decided to let sleeping dogs lie? After all, if she proceeds with lobbying efforts and no one files an official complaint, then it’s no harm, no foul, right? That would certainly run true to form for Jindal’s Gold Standard of Ethics.

A quick check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed that Kristy is not registered among any of Ochsner Health System’s 10 lobbyists. Sexton told LouisianaVoice today that Ochsner had apparently decided not to pursue the matter and it was his understanding that the company was pursuing “other plans” for Nichols. “Ochsner has a number of other lobbyists,” he said.

So if she is not a registered lobbyist, then just what is it that she does to earn her keep as Vice President of Government and Corporate Affairs?

Or was her employment simply some form of payback as we initially suggested in light of the $31 million Ochsner received in takeover of the Leonard Chabert Medical Center by Southern Regional Medical Corp. and Ochsner as part of Jindal’s haphazard state hospital privatization plan?

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/terms-of-the-ochsner-deal-at-leonard-chabert-medical-center.pdf

We’d no sooner received Ms. Grier’s email on Tuesday than the Baton Rouge Advocate posted a couple of stories, also on Tuesday, that caught our eye.

The first involved a claim by Gonzales City Council candidate Wayne Lawson that Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa and Gonzales businessman Olin Berthelot attempted to bribe him not to seek a city council seat against incumbent Neal Bourque.

The Pelican Post news website first published the report that Matassa and Berthelot had offered Lawson $1,200 and a parish job if he would withdraw from the race. The deadline to withdraw was last Friday (July 29) at noon. Lawson, after posing for a photograph with the cash, a parish job application form and candidate withdrawal forms, returned the money and documents to Berthelot’s office without completing either of the forms.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/communities/ascension/article_d9fda80a-58df-11e6-884c-d3779607197c.html

Ricky Babin, District Attorney for the 23rd Judicial District, said his office would investigate Lawson’s claims. He said the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office are also investigating the allegations.

The Attorney General’s Office may be in something of a quandary as it embarks on that investigation, however.

The second Baton Rouge Advocate story, by reporter Gordon Russell, conjured up the ethics complained filed against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_6f7a7990-58e9-11e6-9cd1-a36f0eb42bbf.html

https://tomaswell.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/ethics-complaint.pdf

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/03/between-beating-guilty-pleas-sexual-harassment-lawsuit-and-ethics-complaint-iberia-sheriff-louis-ackal-has-his-plate-full/

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/03/09/one-week-after-louisianavoice-story-feds-hand-down-three-count-indictment-of-iberia-parish-sheriff-ackal-top-deputy/

In his story, Russell said that Landry, after trailing incumbent Buddy Caldwell by two percentage points in the primary election for Attorney General last October, received the endorsement of third place finisher Geri Broussard Baloney of Garyville in St. John the Baptist Parish, who had polled 18 percent.

With her endorsement in his back pocket, Landry, a former U.S. Representative, easily won the November runoff over Caldwell (who can forget Caldwell’s concession speech?). Soon thereafter, Baloney’s daughter, Quendi Baloney, was given a $53,000-a-year job by Landry.

At the time of her hire, all would-be employees of the AG’s office were required to sign a form agreeing to background checks and were also asked, in writing, if they had any criminal record.

In her case, she did. In 1999, she was charged with 11 felony counts of credit card fraud and theft, eventually pleading guilty to three counts, according to court records from Henrico County, Virginia. She was sentenced to six years in prison, all of it suspended.

Her new job? Well, it’s in the AG’s fraud section. More irony.

But in the end, her background is of less interest, given that her conviction was 17 years ago, than the fact that she was given her job as apparent payback for her mom’s endorsement of Landry following the first primary election in October.

A spokesperson for the AG’s office, Russell wrote, did not respond to questions about whether other candidates had applied for Quendi Baloney’s job or whether Landry had hired any other convicted felons.

For her part, Quendi Baloney told The Advocate that her arrest and conviction were “devastating,” but had made her a “stronger, harder-working ethical adult…”

She forwarded to The Advocate a link to the state’s new “Ban the Box” law which prevents state agencies from asking applicants about their criminal records. That law, however, did not take effect until after she was hired.

It’s going to be more than a little interesting to see how Landry’s investigation of Matassa and Berthelot unfolds in light of the same day’s revelations about his own actions.

But we’re willing to wager that when the dust settles on the issues of Matassa, Berthelot, Nichols, Ackal (the state ethics complaint, not the federal indictment) and Baloney, we’ll still be able to say:

Nothing gets done.

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Earlier this week, we posted our story about growing frustration over the fact that time after time, when official corruption and wrongdoing are exposed, nothing is done.

https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/25/in-a-state-where-graft-and-corruption-abound-honesty-and-law-enforcement-have-taken-a-permanent-leave-of-absence/

And it isn’t just the wrongdoing or questionable activities exposed by LouisianaVoice that feeds our exasperation. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a member of the media or a state agency, the fact is the vast majority of the cases are quietly ignored until they go away. Ignored, that is unless it’s some hapless inner city resident caught with a couple of joints or a civil servant fudging her timesheets because her agency’s budget has been cut to the bone, forcing shortcuts on her so she can maintain an overburdened caseload.

In those cases, justice is swift and severe.

But for those in positions of power and influence, it’s quite another story.

Only in Louisiana would a sheriff under federal indictment for beating defenseless prisoners and turning vicious dogs on them and who even threatened a federal prosecutor have the gall to petition the courts to give him his gun back. (Well, perhaps Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be so brazen, but we digress.)

http://addictinginfo.org/2016/07/20/violent-sheriff-who-threatened-federal-prosecutor-wants-gun-back-because-hes-scared-video/

Nowhere is Louisiana’s chronic case of legal periodontitis more evident than with the state’s “gold standard of ethics” presented to us way back in 1984. Because of his gutting state ethics laws, the Louisiana Ethics Commissions by all appearances is unable to collect more than $1 million in fines and penalties it has assessed against 248 political candidates. These candidates run the gamut—from sheriffs to current and former legislators and a member of the Board of Elementary and secondary Education.

Thank you, Bobby Jindal.

Jindal’s ethics reform was of such a high “gold standard” that it removed all enforcement powers of the Ethics Board and handed those duties to an administrative judge appointed by the governor—in this case, Jindal. The reform had the effect of making ethics enforcement just another political animal controlled by the governor in the same fashion as the Office of Inspector General, neither of which now have any real powers.

Ten of the 11 Ethics Board members immediately resigned in protest.

Perhaps it was only coincidence, but just 10 days after taking office—and before Jindal introduced his ethics reform bill—he was himself hit with a $2,500 ethics fine after failing to report that the Republican Party of Louisiana spent $118,265 on direct mail to promote his successful 2007 candidacy.

http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2008/01/jindal_to_pay_ethics_fine.html

Jindal spokesperson at the time, Melissa Sellers, said Jindal would pay the fine to avoid a public hearing. The only trouble was, she said his campaign would pay the fine, an ethics violation in itself. Ethics Commission regulations prohibit the use of campaign funds for personal expenses, including ethics fines.

Political consultant Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport remembers the backroom dealings in drafting the ethics reform of 2008. “By way of my pro bono consulting for the old Ethics Board, I knew details of what House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Terrytown), Rep. (later Senator) Rick Gallot (D-Ruston), Sen. Bob Kostelka (R-Monroe), Jindal’s Executive Counsel Jimmy Faircloth, Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell, and Ann Wise were concocting,” he would later write.

The new laws bestowed upon Wise, an unclassified employee serving at the pleasure of the governor, the responsibility of selecting administrative law judges who would hear and rule on future ethics cases. “She was, in fact, working with Tucker, Gallot, Kostelka, and one Jindal insider identified her as one of the first people Tucker brought aboard their operation,” Stonecipher said. “At the time all of this was going on, Bobby refused to meet with Hank Perret, Chairman of the Ethics Board, with whom I was working. Under pressure, Jindal finally agreed to a half-hour meeting but would not meet without Teepell there and (Jindal) ultimately used the thirty minutes to command the discussion—never allowing it to approach what Hank was there to tell him,” he said.

“The top players and designers (Tucker, Gallot, and Kostelka) had (at the time discussions were ongoing) active and serious ethics charges against them winding through the system,” Stonecipher said (emphasis added). “Tucker had two charges and Gallot had seven. When the smoke cleared after the new laws took effect, each of them beat the rap in all cases.” Stonecipher said the top political reporters in Louisiana were informed all those details. “None of them ever wrote a story,” he said. “My articles which went to them were never acknowledged.”

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2009/09/rep_rick_gallots_ethics_charge.html

http://www.thegramblinite.com/news/view.php/396049/Appeals-court-upholds-Gallot-ruling

So Gallot, Chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee and a key Jindal ally in pushing for changes in the state’s ethics laws, was the subject of seven conflict-of-interest charges involving his legal representation of a company in business dealings with Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors on which his mother was simultaneously serving.

Ethics Board Chairman at that time Frank Simoneaux of Baton Rouge (he was not re-appointed by Jindal when his term expired) called the Gallot case the first real test of state ethics laws since the Jindal reforms went into effect.

Another case pending at the time was that of Lafourche Parish Sheriff Craig Webre. He was charged with a conflict of interest because he was part-owner of Smart Start of Louisiana. He was accused of using his office for financial gain by selling ignition interlock devices to drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated.

It’s interesting to note that neither Webre nor Gallot denied the facts laid out in the charges. Instead, each invoking a statute of limitations in claiming that the board had only one year to file the charges while ethics board attorneys said the time limit for prescription was two years.

In November 2009, a panel of three administrative judges dismissed the charges against Webre.

So, to recap:

  • Jindal’s campaign paid his fine for him.
  • Webre was exonerated.
  • Kostelka, Tucker and Gallot all “beat the rap.”

Tucker was chosen Speaker of the House during Jindal’s first term.

And Gallot?

Well, he went on to be elected to the State Senate and on Tuesday (July 26), he was unanimously chosen by the University of Louisiana System as the new President of Grambling State University. To be fair, though, at least his mother no longer sits on the board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_d8c82986-5350-11e6-b653-a7be43e9ff0c.html

Gallot even found the time to write an op-ed in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he addressed his close relationship to the state’s movers and shakers and outlined his plans for Grambling. Oddly, he never got around to discussing ethics in his column.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/opinion/article_24c4f454-55a4-11e6-8f90-93862ea22176.html

For now, Louisiana appears to be stuck with a real albatross: A State Ethics Board that is powerless to collect more than $1 million ethics fines from those 248 candidates, some of them dating as far back as 25 years. The amount represents an average fine of $4,252 per candidate, though of that 248, there were 20 who had fines in excess of $10,000. Of that 20, six had fines of $20,000 or more; four were on the books for $30,000 or more and one was for $41,440.

Of the $1,054,487 in fines assess since 1991, only $57,665, or a scant 5 percent, has been paid, records show.

Court records show that in the majority of cases, fines assessed prior to 2015 that have gone unpaid have resulted in the filing of lawsuits by the Board of Ethics and in many of those cases, judgments against the individuals have resulted.

To be fair, the recipient of that $41,440 levy, James Fahrenholtz, has paid nearly half ($19,342) of his fine. That’s not to say Fahrenholtz, a former member of the Orleans Parish School Board doesn’t have other problems. In an unrelated matter, he was arrested in April 2015 for theft of a lobbyist’s iPad tablet.

Besides Fahrenyholtz, those owing $10,000 or more include:

  • Donald Pryor, former candidate for Orleans Parish Registrar (paid $1,757 to date);
  • Albert Donovan, former legal counsel to Gov. Edwin Edwards and a candidate for Secretary of State: $31,000 (paid $5,453 so far);
  • Gary Wainright, former candidate for Orleans Parish District Attorney: $30,200 (paid nothing on assessment);
  • Percy Marchand, former candidate for State Representative: $26,660 (paid nothing to date);
  • Thomas Robichaux, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $20,060 (paid $800);
  • James Perry, candidate for State Representative: $18,060 (paid nothing);
  • Edward Scott, candidate for U.S. Representative: $17,380 (paid nothing);
  • Robert Murray, candidate for State Representative: $17,080 (paid $160);
  • Jason Wesley, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $16,000 (paid nothing);
  • Isaiah Marshall, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council; $14,600 (paid $1,240);
  • Patrick Tovrea, candidate for Jefferson Parish School Board: $14,220 (paid nothing);
  • Joel Miller, candidate for Washington Parish Sheriff: $12,360 (paid nothing);
  • Melva Vallery, office unknown: $12,000 (paid nothing);
  • Marvin Frazier, candidate for Sabine Parish Sheriff: $11,800 (paid $4,031);
  • Myron Lee, candidate for State Representative: $10,900 (paid nothing);
  • Sandra Hester, candidate for Orleans Parish School Board: $10,660 (paid nothing);
  • Remic Darden, office unknown: $10,600 (paid $350);
  • Thelma Brown, candidate for East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council: $10,000 (paid nothing);
  • Ali Moghimi, candidate for Monroe Mayor: $10,000 (paid nothing).

Other notable personalities hit with ethics fines and the amounts paid on their fine include:

  • State Rep. John Bagneris: $4,680 (nothing paid);
  • Livingston Parish Council Chairman Ricky Goff: $1,760 (nothing paid);
  • State Rep. Michael Jackson: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Former U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister: $1,260 (nothing paid);
  • Former Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Ernest Wooton: $2,000 (nothing paid);
  • Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kyra Orange Jones: $2,500 (nothing paid).

Here is a complete list of UNPAID fines assessed by the Board of Ethics

In January, the Ethics Board staff drafted an opinion on former Commission of Administration Kristy Nichols and her job as a lobbyist for Ochsner Health System which typically, was not adopted by the full board.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_22f710cd-dda5-5b79-9545-db933add8f6e.html

That opinion said state law would prohibit Nichols from advising Ochsner on any matter involving the Division of Administration (DOA) until October 2017. It also said she could not deal with legislators who handle the state budget (and that should include all 105 representatives and 39 senators because they all must vote on the state budget.

http://www.ethics.la.gov/AgendaAttachments/27389/PublicAgendaAttachment.pdf

Rather than making a definitive decision, which was—and is—its responsibility, the Louisiana Board of Ethics boldly postponed action—at the request of Ochsner—until February.

Well, February has come and gone and the Ethics Board has yet to post anything online and we are now back to our original lament: Nothing gets done.

 

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In continuing to examine the methods and motives of unknown individuals in the ongoing attempt to discredit and embarrass Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) member Calvin Braxton, Sr., several things are worth noting.

At the same time, LouisianaVoice has learned that six of the seven members of the LSPC, including Braxton, may be serving on the commission illegally and others before them may not have been legitimate appointees, as well.

It’s not enough that LouisianaVoice was sent anonymous letters by someone with a bent for getting Braxton thrown off the commission, but it also appears from the timing of a report critical of Braxton’s behavior following his daughter’s DWI arrest that the report’s author may well have been coerced into filing the report.

There is also the question of how did the legal counsel for the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) wind up with an internal report? The LSTA is a private organization connected to the Louisiana State Police (LSP) only by virtue that its membership is comprised of active and retired state troopers. The LSTA has no input, or at least should have no involvement in LSP internal investigations other than disciplinary matters involving state troopers.

To recap briefly, Braxton’s daughter was arrested for DWI, speeding, improper lane usage and open container violation on Dec. 5, 2015. According to an official report filed by Troop E Commander, Capt. Jay D. Oliphant, Jr., Braxton subsequently demanded that Oliphant transfer the trooper, Jayson Linebaugh, to New Orleans for 60-90 days to “get his mind right.”

Oliphant explained the only reason a trooper would be assigned to New Orleans would be to supplement the New Orleans Police Department in an ongoing criminal enforcement detail. Assignment to New Orleans would be done only in such event, “certainly not as punishment for arresting his daughter,” the report said.

But the timing of the report, as well as all three anonymous “tips” about the matter received by LouisianaVoice, is terribly suspect.

In February, Braxton objected to the adoption of the commissions January meeting minutes as written because the proposed minutes did not fully summarize key points raised in the January meeting about campaign contributions made by LSTA through its director, David Young.

In a matter of weeks, the “tips” began arriving in the email box as well as the post office box of LouisianaVoice. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/07/26/determined-effort-to-discredit-lspc-members-reveals-self-righteous-hypocrisy-vindictiveness-of-state-police-association/

Then, on July 15, the commission chose active trooper Thomas J. “TJ” Doss, the LSP representative on the commission as its President. Braxton, however, nominated then-Interim President Lloyd Grafton of Ruston and subsequently cast the only vote for Grafton. Grafton refused to vote for himself and cast his vote for Doss, who did not reciprocate the courtesy when he voted for himself.

All of which evokes the question of timing in the glut of anonymous “tips” as well as a not-so-anonymous letter by LSTA legal counsel Floyd Falcon to Gov. John Bel Edwards requesting Braxton’s removal from LSPC.

That letter was dated July 11, just three days before the LSPC’s July 14 meeting. Falcon’s letter also asked Edwards to bar Braxton from participating in or voting on commission matters.

Not only is the timing of Falcon’s letter, as well as his very possession of Oliphant’s report, more than a little suspicious, but the date of Oliphant’s report, as well, raises eyebrows.

And that should be key issue.

Oliphant, like Braxton, is from Natchitoches and he is said to be on friendly terms with both Braxton and Natchitoches Parish Sheriff Victor Jones. Oliphant’s report quoted Braxton as claiming that Sheriff Jones had experienced problems with Trooper Linebaugh and also wanted the trooper removed from Natchitoches Parish after Linebaugh had also arrested Jones’s son for DWI in August 2015. Jones, Oliphant said in his report, denied having any problems with Linebaugh.

Oliphant’s report was DATED JUNE 2, 2016. All contact between Oliphant and Braxton occurred between the Dec. 5, 2015, date of his daughter’s arrest and Dec. 14, 2015—more than six months after the arrest of Braxton’s daughter and nearly six months after the last communication between Oliphant and Braxton.

So why the six-month wait before writing a report?

There are several questions that should be asked of everyone concerned:

  • Was Oliphant coerced to write the report about his friend?
  • Was he deliberately placed in a precarious position between friends Braxton and Sheriff Jones?

Most important of all, however, is this:

  • Why the six-month wait before writing a report?
  • Why is there no report from Linebaugh himself?
  • How is that Falcon came to be in possession of the June 2 report in so short a time as to be able to pen his letter (with the report attached) only nine days later? (Perhaps he has the same “anonymous” sources as LouisianaVoice.)

If any public official attempts to bring pressure on a law enforcement official in retribution for the arrest of a family member, that should be reported immediately—as in the same day, not six months down the road when memories may begin to cloud about details. And there should be a report from the trooper directly involved in the incident.

By everything LouisianaVoice has been able to learn about Oliphant, he is a super straight cop who goes strictly by the book. One former law enforcement official who knows both Oliphant and Sheriff Jones said Oliphant was “honest and completely above-board, a poster child for what law enforcement should be. If he wrote and signed the report, it most likely happened just the way he said.”

But even the strongest can be subjected to pressure when it’s applied in the right place (like a subtle, even unspoken threat to job security or promotions) by the right people in the right position of authority.

That in turn raises these questions:

  • Who is in a position to apply such pressure?
  • And who would have the most to lose from a rogue commission member who refused to go along to protect wrongdoing?

For the time being, those questions will be left to conjecture. But the answer can most probably be found in a very small cadre of players.

Meanwhile, there is another minor controversy brewing over the legitimacy of six of the seven board members (Doss, we assume, is elected by a vote of classified state police officers, according to the Louisiana State Constitution).

The remaining six members, one from each Congressional District, are appointed by the governor.

Article X, Part IV, Sec. 43(c) of the 1974 Louisiana State Constitution says of nominations for APPOINTMENT TO LSPC:

The presidents of Centenary College at Shreveport, Dillard University at New Orleans, Louisiana College at Pineville, Loyola University at New Orleans, Tulane University of Louisiana at New Orleans, and Xavier University at New Orleans, after giving consideration to representation of all groups, each shall nominate three persons. The governor shall appoint one member of the commission from the three persons nominated by each president.

Of course we made the requisite public records request of LSPC to learn if such nominations were received. The request was for such nominations dating back to January 2003. But the LSPC RESPONSE went even further, back to Aug. 7, 2002 with its letter seeking three nominations from Dr. Kenneth Schwab, President of Centenary College in Shreveport.

Schwab responded on Jan. 15, 2003, with only one nomination, that of Joseph Cage, Jr.

There were other four other letters to Dr. Scott Cowen, President of Tulane University in New Orleans, on June 4, 2003; to Dr. Norman Francis, President of Xavier University in New Orleans on June 8, 2004 and again on Oct. 6, 2005, and to Dr. Joe Aguillard, President of Louisiana College in Pineville, also on Oct. 6, 2005, but none after that date. There were no responses to those letters.

So, at least for the past 13 years, only one of the six university presidents has made even a single nomination for one vacancy on the commission.

Members serve staggered terms of six years per term but are prohibited from serving more than two and one-half terms, or 15 years.

With at least four governors, including Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco, Bobby Jindal and now John Bel Edwards never having received the constitutionally-required three nominees for each vacancy—and the LSPC has experienced considerable turnover in membership during that period—none of the present membership with the exception of Doss is legally serving.

The question now is what can—or will—be done about it? Does this quirk make all actions of the commission, including the hiring of special legal counsel Taylor Townsend, null and void? What about all the trooper appeals of disciplinary matters that have come before the commission down through the years? Some of those who were disciplined and appealed a decade or more ago have probably retired by now. What about per diem paid all those illegitimate commission members for attending meetings over at least the past 13 years?

That requirement of the State Constitution was put in there for a reason and should have been followed to the letter.

Obviously, that was not the case.

 

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Somebody wants a piece of Calvin Braxton and they’re willing to go to great lengths to extract their pound of flesh—even to the point of sending anonymous emails and letters to LouisianaVoice in an effort to use this medium as a vehicle on which to ride him out of town.

There also is a seven-page letter to Gov. John Bel Edwards from a Baton Rouge attorney “respectfully” requesting that charges be brought against Braxton and that he be removed from office.

Braxton is President of Natchitoches Ford-Lincoln as well having interests in several other automobile dealerships and businesses in the Natchitoches, Leesville and Marksville areas.

http://natchitochesford.com/

https://coraweb.sos.la.gov/CommercialSearch/CommercialSearchDetails.aspx?CharterID=342154_7Q83

He also is a member of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) which hears appeals of disciplinary action taken against Louisiana State Troopers and which recently conducted a sham investigation of political activity by the board of directors of the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA, not to be confused with LSPC) that one commission member said appeared to be “something suspect.”

And that, apparently is the crux of the vendetta against Braxton.

Commission regulations, like State Civil Service regulations governing state employee activity, prohibit state troopers from participating in political campaigns by endorsing, campaigning for, or making contributions to candidates. Those regulations were put into effect as a trade-off to protect state employees from being pressured into supporting a particular candidate or incumbent at the risk of losing state employment should the wrong candidate win.

But members of the association Board of Directors, as evidenced by an audio recording of one of the association’s affiliate members—a copy of which LouisianaVoice has experienced considerable resistance in obtaining—made the decision to funnel its campaign contributions through association Executive Director David Young. Young wrote more than $45,000 in personal checks to various candidates, including $10,000 each to Bobby Jindal and Gov. Edwards, over a period of several years and was “reimbursed” by the association for his “expenses” on behalf of LSTA.

https://www.latroopers.org/about

Young told the commission in February that the contributions were structured in that manner because there were “questions regarding the ability of a state employee to make a contribution. So in order to avoid any of that, if I make a contribution as a non-state employee, there could never be a question later that a state employee made a contribution.”

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_ffd5d5d3-e12a-575a-8b44-d4079c73bb30.html

The only problem with that circular logic is that the money eventually still came from the individual troopers in the form of membership dues and that was what raised the objections by several retired members of LSTA in the first place.

Braxton has been something of a thorn in the side of the LSTA as well as other members of the LSPC. In that same February meeting, Braxton objected to the approval of the January minutes because the minutes as proposed did not adequately or accurately summarize some of the key points raised about the contributions in January.

He became a marked man from that point on and it didn’t help when at the July meeting, he nominated member Lloyd Grafton of Ruston as the new commission chairman. He cast the lone vote for Grafton as Thomas J. “T.J.” Doss, the State Police representative on the commission, was elected.

http://laspc.dps.louisiana.gov/laspc.nsf/b713f7b7dd3871ee86257b9b004f9321/85d048928ae51fa086256e9a004cc8e8?OpenDocument

Now Doss, a state trooper, must preside over appeals by fellow state troopers and could conceivably be called upon to investigate or rule on disciplinary matters involving his superiors which could cause a serious conflict of interests.

But the effort to oust Braxton, or to at least make him uncomfortable, started long before his nomination of Grafton. In fact, it started just about the same time he questioned the minutes of the January meeting back in that February meeting.

It began with an email to LouisianaVoice in which it was claimed—without any documentation—that Braxton had threatened a state trooper over the trooper’s arrest of Braxton’s daughter for driving while intoxicated.

That was followed by an anonymous letter postmarked July 5 in which the writer, in longhand, began by extolling the efforts of LouisianaVoice “to expose the corruption and dishonesty that permeates some of our Louisiana agencies—most notably La. State Police.” The writer at least gets credit for a smooth diversionary tactic.

After blowing smoke up our toga, the writer went on to describe how he/she likes to eat out often but “It’s amazing (and shocking) what one can overhear in a restaurant while waiting for companions to arrive. More amazing is that people are stupid enough to bandy about sensitive matters (and names) in public places.”

The writer, who signed the letter “Citizen Chicken” because of not feeling “comfortable enough to sign my name,” went on to say in the two-page letter how he/she “recently heard snatches of a conversation that…made me suspect State Police was the topic.”

Apparently hearing with amazing clarity in a crowded restaurant, the writer described the discussion as touching “on some official who was throwing his weight and position around and threatening folks. Seems this official’s daughter wad been picked up for DWI. ‘Braxton’ contacted the troop and reportedly told them that they had better hope they never came before him on disciplinary charges.”

The conversation, the writer said, conveniently “quieted then” and no more was heard.

“I believe what I heard was clearly a report of intimidation by someone who (I later discovered) was a commissioner of LSP.”

Wow! That’s really a thorough summation of an incident about which the writer could only pick up “snatches.” It would appear the writer might have a rewarding career as an investigator for the Attorney General or the Office of Inspector General or perhaps even some federal agency.

The really weird part is while Braxton is from Natchitoches, the letter’s envelope was postmarked Baton Rouge.

Before I go any further, it should be pointed out that if Braxton did indeed try to browbeat or intimidate a state trooper over doing his job, he should be called on the carpet for that. There’s no excuse for that type of behavior, which would appear to be documented by more official documents than an anonymous letter which I’ll get to momentarily.

I attempted to talk to Braxton about this at the July commission meeting but members had been already instructed in an executive session earlier in that meeting not to talk to the media and Braxton complied with that, even to the point of walking away from me.

But even as the commission as a body—and the LSTA legal counsel—choose to ignore or even justify the attempted circumvention of rules regarding the campaign contributions, it’s interesting to see the determined backdoor effort to bring down Braxton for his alleged lapse in judgment and abuse of his position—if, of course, that is in fact what happened.

On the heels of that anonymous letter, LouisianaVoice received another anonymous, unmarked envelope containing a five-page official State Police Incident Report.

That report, submitted by Troop E Commander Capt. Jay Oliphant, Jr., described the Dec. 5, 2015, early morning stop of a Ford truck on LA. 494 and the DWI arrest of Braxton’s daughter. She subsequently submitted a breath sample which showed a blood alcohol concentration of .139%. A reading of .08 percent is considered intoxicated under state law and the driver was arrested for first offense DWI, for speeding 68 mph in a 55 mph zone, improper lane usage and an open container violation.

Oliphant said in his report that he contacted Braxton later on Dec. 5 “as a courtesy” and advised him of the arrest and that Braxton accused the trooper, Jayson Linebaugh, of targeting “a select group of individuals, maybe even him or his family,” according to the report.

The report also claimed that Braxton said “he might not help Trooper Linebaugh if he gets in a bind on the job, which requires him to appear before the Louisiana State Police Commission” and that he “was not through” with the matter.

A week later, on Dec. 12, Oliphant’s report said, Braxton called him and demanded that Trooper Linebaugh be reassigned to New Orleans for 60 to 90 days to “get his mind right.” Oliphant said he advised the only way a trooper would be assigned to New Orleans would be to supplement the New Orleans Police Department in an ongoing criminal enforcement detail, but “not as punishment for arresting his daughter.”

As it turns out, that anonymously sent copy was not the only copy of Oliphant’s report that LouisianaVoice received.

A routine public records request was made of Gov. Edwards’ office for any correspondence from LSTA attorney Floyd Falcon pertaining to Calvin Braxton and the governor’s office promptly emailed a copy of that report prefaced with a two-page letter from Falcon addressed to Edwards and dated July 11, 2016. That was just three days prior to LSPC’s most recent meeting at which the “investigation” of the campaign contributions was conveniently swept under the rug with the recommendation by LSPC special counsel Taylor Townsend that no further action be taken on the matter.

Townsend, who holds two state contracts through LSPC totaling $75,000, received taxpayer funding to conduct an “investigation” for which there is no final written report. There are those, including Commission members, who would like to see what they got for their money.

Townsend, it should be noted, also has contributed $10,000 to Edwards’ campaigns.

Falcon, in his letter, itemized ways in which he said Braxton “abused his position,” and ended by requesting that Edwards “immediately have specifications of charges prepared and served on Calvin W. Braxton, Sr. and that after a public hearing that he be removed from office for cause. We suggest he not be allowed to participate or vote on Commission matters until these charges are resolved.”

While LouisianaVoice in no way condones Braxton’s actions if events did come down as described in Oliphant’s report. His actions, if true, are inexcusable. But Falcon’s letter is itself a pretty bold position from a legal representative of LSTA which certainly abused state regulations against participating in political activity, the pitiful excuse for a thorough “investigation” notwithstanding. There can be no defense of that “investigation”—the conclusion of which left one commission member wondering “if someone could start an association of state employees, appoint himself as executive director, collect membership dues and make political contributions in his name and then be reimbursed with members’ dues.” Civil Service regulations, like those of the LSPC strictly prohibit such political activity but, of course, a silly little matter like a state law didn’t deter LSTA.

You can read Falcon’s letter and Oliphant’s accompanying report in their entirety HERE

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