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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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“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

–Alexander Pope

The so-called “investigation” by the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) into the laundering of campaign money by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) through the association’s executive director turned into a major sham that only served to reinforce the old adage that crap flows downhill.

But the good news is state civil service employees may now pursue a method whereby they can make their own heretofore verboten political campaign contributions.

Hyped for two weeks as an investigation that would “name respondents” for the association’s deliberate circumvention of state regulations prohibiting political activity on the part of individual state troopers, the “report” of Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend, hired to conduct the investigation and to make recommendations back to the commission, was a major dud in every respect.

His recommendation at Thursday’s (July 14) meeting: Do nothing. Punt. Abdicate the commission’s responsibility.

The term “deliberate” is not used lightly here. It was, after all, LSTA Executive Director David Young, in whose name more than $45,000 was contributed to various political candidates, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, who told the commission that the campaign contributions were made through him in order that “there could never be a question later that a state employee made a contribution.” Young said he wrote the checks, dating back to 2003 and the association would reimburse him. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/01/15/louisianavoice-exclusive-at-long-last-it-can-be-disclosed-that-the-reason-for-all-the-problems-at-state-police-is-us/

For two weeks, word has circulated that Townsend’s report would name names and would be sharply critical of the association’s practice.

There is even word of an audio tape at a contentious meeting of association members from Troop I in Lafayette at which it was disclosed by association representatives that LSTA officers made the decision as to whom would receive campaign contributions.

That tape was never mentioned in Townsend’s brief “report” on Thursday (July 14). Nor were any names given as those directly responsible for the decision to contribute campaign money to candidates.

Instead, Townsend said the commission has no jurisdiction over the association or over Young. While that was an accurate assessment openly acknowledged before Townsend was ever brought on board, it was also acknowledged prior to his being hired that the association did have investigative and disciplinary powers over individual state troopers found in violation of state law. And while Townsend was quick to absolve the commission of any responsibility for Young and the association, he conveniently neglected to bring up the commission’s responsibility for enforcement of laws and regulations when individual state trooper actions are involved.

Because the LSTA is a 501(c) non-profit charitable organization, it is free, under certain restrictions, to make political contributions. So, by having Young make personal contributions in his name and then filing an expense report, the LSTA conveniently bypasses state law by funneling money to political candidates through Young.

Carrying his verbal report to its obvious conclusion, state civil service employees may need no longer worry about a similar prohibition against their making campaign contributions. All they have to do is form an association and get IRS approval of their status as a 501(c).

Of course, while state police have received two recent pay increases totaling 50 percent in some cases (and, by the way, they still want more), state civil service workers have been routinely denied even their paltry 4 percent annual merit increases for more than five years now, so they, unlike their fortunate state trooper counterparts, could hardly be expected to afford to make token campaign contributions.

So, the question is how is it that an investigation which only a couple of weeks ago seemed almost certain to result at least in suspensions for identical infractions that forced three of the LPSC members to resign since April was suddenly rendered impotent? https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/14/two-more-members-of-lspc-quit-over-political-contributions-while-pondering-probe-of-lsta-for-same-offense/

To find the answer to that, one must go right to the top—the man who ran on the strength of his West Point Code of Honor.

It was John Bel Edwards who reappointed State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, most likely solely on the strength of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association insistence.

Asked by LouisianaVoice on Oct. 27, 2015, at 10:57 a.m. (before he took the oath of office) what his intentions were regarding the reappointment of Edmonson Edwards professed he had no intentions either way:

Please tell me your intentions as to the re-appointment of Mike Edmonson.

 

Tom Aswell

LouisianaVoice

 

From: John Bel Edwards

Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 12:50 PM

To: Tom Aswell  

Subject: Re: QUESTION

 

I don’t intend one way or the other

Being as charitable as possible, we now are forced to speculate that Edwards was being less than truthful at the time.

Edmonson was Bobby Jindal’s boy so why would Edwards feel obligated to keep him on? The LSTA even drew the line and said no to Edmonson’s request to have the association write a letter to Edwards recommending his reappointment.

Well, before he was Bobby Jindal’s boy, he was the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association’s boy. The Sheriffs’ Association wanted him to stay around because he is easily controlled and manipulated by the sheriffs.

The Sheriffs’ Association endorsed Edwards when the outcome of his runoff election against U.S. Sen. David Vitter was still in doubt. He needed that endorsement and the condition that went with the endorsement was that Edwards would keep their boy on. https://louisianavoice.com/2015/12/16/lsp-unable-to-locate-sergeants-critical-letter-warning-of-danger-edmonson-is-reappointed-by-gov-elect-edwards/

And don’t forget that Daniel Edwards is Sheriff of Tangipahoa Parish—and an influential member of the Sheriff’s Association—and probably has more than a little influence with his brother, the governor.

Consequently, anything that might implicate—or even embarrass—Edmonson would, by extension, embarrass Gov. Edwards and the Sheriffs’ Association. Accordingly, the report by former State Sen. Taylor Townsend had to be watered down or even killed.

In short, everyone simply circled the wagons.

And that’s now what we were led to expect from one who espouses the West Point Code of Honor.

(Note to self: Stop expecting.)

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The Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee will meet Tuesday at 11 a.m. to consider confirmation of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reappointment of Mike Edmonson as State Police Superintendent just as a complaint has been filed with the State Police Commission by a retired state trooper.

Even though Edmonson has been superintendent for eight years, going back to the beginning of the Bobby Jindal administration, his reappointment for another term must be meet the approval of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee just as other gubernatorial appointees must pass muster with the committee.

Butch Browning’s reappointment as State Fire Marshal was confirmed by the committee last week.

The Edmonson confirmation hearing on Tuesday stands as the most controversial of all appointments by Edwards despite his having already served eight years as superintendent.

That’s because of reports of inconsistent and uneven discipline meted out for certain offenses to only token punishment for offenses ranging from abetting underage gambling to quotas for DWI arrests to payroll fraud to stalking by a trooper to a state trooper having sex in his patrol car while on duty—all documented by LouisianaVoice.

All those revelations came on the heels of LouisianaVoice’s story in 2014 about an attempt orchestrated by Edmonson to pad his retirement by about $30,000 a year despite his having locked in his pension years earlier.

Generous retirement benefit boost slipped into bill for State Police Col. Mike Edmonson on last day of legislative session

That attempted came when Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) slipped an amendment onto SB 294 by Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell (D-New Orleans) during the closing minutes of the 2014 legislative session. Morrell’s bill originally was a benign bill dealing with procedures for formal, written complaints made against police officers. Thirty-seven senators and 90 members of the House, including then-Rep. John Bel Edwards, voted in favor of the amendment.

Reps. John Bel Edwards and Kevin Pearson will request investigation of Edmonson retirement amendment source

And now comes retired State Trooper Scott Perry with his official complaint to the State Police Commission over the appointment of Maj. Jason Starnes as Interim Undersecretary of Management and Finance.

The problem with his appointment is that Starnes’s estranged wife, Tammy, is Audit Manager for LSP and Jason Starnes, with his promotion, will supervise her department.

Between them, the two earn more than $225,000 a year. Jason Starnes is paid $129,000 per year and Tammy receives $96,600.

While nepotism laws would seem to prohibit such an arrangement, and while it certainly appears to be unethical, there appears to be a loophole that has been cited in numerous opinions by the Ethics Board. That exception says if the employee, in this case, Tammy Starnes, has been in her position for a year or more, it is permissible for an immediate family member to supervise her.

When Tammy Starnes initially joined LSP after transferring from another state agency, her $92,900 salary at the time was $11,700 more than that of Jason Starnes and was in charge of monitoring LSP’s financial transactions, including those of her husband but now their lines of authority are reversed.

Jason Starnes, in addition to his $129,000 salary, also reportedly is receiving free housing, courtesy of LSP, according to one source.

Since separating from his wife, he is said to be living on the state dime in the LSP Training Academy VIP quarters.

Louisiana Title 42 covers the Code of Governmental Ethics. Part II, Section 1111 A(1) of Title 42 says in part, “…No public servant shall receive anything of economic value, other than compensation and benefits from the governmental entity to which he is duly entitled, for the performance of the duties and responsibilities of his office or position.”

Free living quarters would certainly fall under the description of economic value.

Depending on whether or not the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee has the cojones to give Edmonson’s record something other than a cursory look, the debate over his nomination could spark lively debate.

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) is the only senator to vote against Riser’s amendment to Morrell’s SB 294 two years ago and she chairs the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Adding to the intrigue, if indeed there is to be any intrigue with Edmonson’s nomination is two other members of the committee are….Morrell and Riser. And Morrell would be justified if he was still smarting from Riser’s hijacking of his bill two years ago.

Given that Edmonson was originally appointed by Republican Bobby Jindal, it’s somewhat interesting that the committee is made up of four Democrats and three Republicans.

On the other hand, his nomination for reappointment now comes from a Democratic governor, which could put the four Democrats in an uncomfortable position of having to oppose a fellow Democrat’s nomination.

The bottom line, however, is that Edmonson is neither the fair-haired boy of the Republicans or the Democrats; he is the creation of the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association, one of the most powerful political influences in the state.

Make no mistake about that. It was the Sheriff’s Association that dictated that Jindal appoint Edmonson, who’s only qualification was his experience as an LSP public information officer. One former law enforcement official said unless an appointee has experience supervising personnel, there is no way he can be qualified to lead an entire department, especially one as large and far-ranging as LSP.

The association’s only criteria was the appointment of someone they could control.

And they got him.

But it would not be unprecedented for the committee to at least ask probing questions. Committee members threatened to withhold confirmation of Bruce Greenstein as Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals in 2011 if he didn’t reveal the name of CNSI, a company he formerly worked for, as winner of a huge DHH contract. And after being grilled over his dealings with with the Regents in a fiber optics projects involving eight Louisiana research universities, Ed Antie of Carencro abruptly withdrew his name for consideration for a seat on the Board of Regents.

Here are the names and email addresses of the members of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee:

After Tuesday, we will know for certain if the committee members have the courage to make difficult but morally correct decisions or if they will collapse in the proverbial puddle at the feet of the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association.

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I have been accused of “intellectual laziness” by one of our readers.

That comment came after I posted my last story about Billy Nungesser’s negating 18 writs of mandamus filed over his failure to take certain actions and to produce public documents requested by the Plaquemines Parish Council in 2010 during the time he served as Parish President. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/26/insight-into-nungesser-disregard-for-laws-revealed-in-his-blatant-disregard-for-public-records-demands-other-actions/

“Must be a slow news week,” said the writer, who identified himself only as “Who Cares.” He went on to say, “Reporting on topics six years old is intellectual laziness.”

Well, Who Cares, or whatever your real name is (probably a political ally or even Nungesser himself), it really wasn’t intellectual laziness, but an effort to let readers know the type individual who now holds the second-highest elective office in state government.

The point of that story was to illustrate the past may well be prologue (to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare’s The Tempest…or was it that 1967 episode of Ironside?), i.e. if he was capable of such abuse of office then, who’s to say he won’t attempt the same type shenanigans as lieutenant governor?

Oops, sorry. We almost forgot: he already has. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/04/12/louisiana-has-a-new-clown-prince-but-its-egg-not-a-pie-all-over-lt-gov-nungessers-face-after-succession-of-blunders/

So, Who Cares, there was a relevance to the post and if you thought that was old news, read on.

Precisely five years ago today (April 28, 2011) Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell sent quite a testy letter to Nungesser who at the time was ramping up his first run for lieutenant governor barely six months after his October 2010 re-election as Parish President.

And lest anyone think our rehashing of Campbell’s five-year-old letter is an endorsement for his election to the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter, it’s not. We have not and do not intend to make an endorsement in that race.

But Campbell took Nungesser to task for his political exploitation of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and for his failure to take the lead in coastal restoration prior to that disaster.

Here is Campbell’s letter in its entirety:

            I received your letter on your thoughts of running for Lieutenant Governor. You wrote that you have been busy helping Plaquemines Parish and our state to recover from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. You described “struggles with federal bureaucrats” and your amazement that a foreign company (British Petroleum) would be put in charge of cleaning up the spill.

            You’ve concluded that you can do the most good for Louisiana by leading the effort to rebuild our image as Lieutenant Governor. You asked for my opinion, so here it is:

            I wrote to you and all Louisiana elected officials after watching you and Gov. Jindal on national television following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil well. You and the governor were taking every media opportunity to express your anger at BP and the federal government.

            My question then, and now as well, was: Where have you been?

            You have been leader since 2007 of the parish that is Ground Zero for coastal erosion, and yet, I have heard not a word from you about the part played by other “foreign” and multinational oil companies in damaging Louisiana’s coast.

            Louisiana political leaders have known for years that oil and gas production has contributed heavily to the destruction of our marshes. It is also well-established that the force of Katrina which ravaged Plaquemines Parish and southeast Louisiana, was heightened by the loss of our barrier islands to erosion.

            The silence of you, Gov. Jindal and other elected officials from coastal Louisiana is deafening when it comes to asking major oil companies to pay for the damage they’ve caused. Your later father (William Nungesser), who (sic) I knew well, worked for the only statewide politician to make such a demand, Gov. Dave Treen. He was absolutely right.

            As destructive as it has been, the BP oil spill is minor compared to the devastation of coastal erosion which costs Louisiana a football field of land every hour. Maybe it is easier to go on CNN and rant about BP and a federal government perceived as unpopular in Louisiana than to stand up to powerful corporations doing harm to our coastline.

            I have written to you, Mr. Jindal, Mr. Vitter, Ms. (U.S. Sen. Mary) Landrieu, Mr. (U.S. Rep. Steve) Scalise, and others on this issue and I never get a reply. Maybe when you run for Lieutenant Governor, you can tell the rest of the story. I would welcome a frank discussion with you on Katrina, BP, coastal erosion and the oil industry. Let’s ask Tulane to host an event in New Orleans. Let’s determine who owes who (sic) for what. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,

Foster Campbell

Public Service Commissioner

 C: Louisiana Elected Officials

     Prof. Oliver Houck (Tulane University Law School)

No further comment seems necessary.

 

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Last of four-part series:

There are those isolated cases scattered across the legal landscape in which a citizen or member of the media goes to court and wins a public records case against a reticent public official but even those occasional victories in the interest of transparency are bittersweet at best.

It goes without saying anyone would rather win than lose; that’s a no-brainer. So prevailing in a case against an elected official or appointee bent on blocking the free flow of information always evokes a certain smug euphoria.

On the other hand, each victory in a public records lawsuit should prompt members of the media and governmental watchdogs alike to ask five basic questions:

  • Why was litigation necessitated in the first place?
  • Why aren’t officials more forthcoming with information?
  • Were they trying to hide something embarrassing or incriminating?
  • Or were they just being obstinate as a matter of general principle?
  • Was fighting disclosure worth the legal costs and the potential of fines for noncompliance—and even the possibility of criminal charges?

The IND, a Lafayette news organization has most likely asked each of those questions repeatedly in the case of Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope and his determination to shield 588 pages of emails from Pope’s workstation at the Lafayette City Marshal’s office.

For his part, Pope must be dwelling on the final question: Was it worth it?

http://www.katc.com/story/30893257/independent-wins-public-records-suit-against-city-marshal

At issue is Pope’s alleged use of his office—and the city’s computer—to campaign for Lafayette Parish Sheriff candidate Chad Leger over his opponent in the October 2015 election, Mark Garber. Garber ultimately won that election.

But when The IND requested those emails, apparently withheld some records and deleted others that were nevertheless captured on the Lafayette City Government servers through which all emails to and from city departments are routed.

Fifteenth Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards on Dec. 14 issued an order enjoining Pope from withholding any requested records. The IND originally made its public records requests on Oct. 8 and again on Nov. 30 and on Jan. 4 of this year, Edwards ruled that Pope’s response was “woefully inadequate,” that his withholding of documents was “arbitrary,” and his failure to respond “unreasonable.” http://theind.com/article-22457-Judge-Marshal-Pope’s-response-still-‘woefully-inadequate’.html

By the time Judge Edwards was finished with Pope, the tally was nearly $100,000 in penalties (at $100 per day for each day Pope failed to respond to the requests, or $17,300), plus attorney and expert fees and court costs—and, get this: 173 hours (one hour for each day of non-compliance) of community service instructing government employees on public records law. Oh, the irony!

Just for good measure, Judge Edwards sentenced Pope to one month in jail for contempt of court, suspending all but seven days and reducing that to house arrest.

The judge’s ruling also held Pope personally responsible for all costs and penalties.

Former Lafayette City Attorney Mike Hebert testified during cross-examination that all email traffic “got routed through LCG (Lafayette City Government) servers, and thus is as much the property of LCG as it would be the marshal’s. As soon as we became custodians we became responsible for producing the records,” he added.

Pope, for his part, fell back on the tried and true “everybody does it” explanation for his using his office for political fundraising purposes. “I’m a political figure,” he said. “I can use my office for my campaign. My predecessor did it, too.” That argument apparently failed to impress Judge Edwards.

Edwards also came down hard on Pope when Pope showed up in court in uniform and armed with his handgun, both of which are contrary to Louisiana law regarding police appearing in court as defendants.

Edwards said that and his “everyone does it” defense provided “remarkable insight” into how Pope runs his office. http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/news/crime/2016/03/24/judge-sentences-lafayette-city-marshal-jail-contempt/82208738/

Appropriately enough, on April 1, Pope’s house arrest was postponed while he appeals his contempt conviction. http://theadvocate.com/news/acadiana/15361890-123/house-arrest-for-lafayette-city-marshal-brian-pope-postponed-during-appeal-in-public-records-case

The Lafayette case is one of the ugliest public records lawsuits in the state since the brouhaha over the LSU Board of Supervisors’ furtive selection of F. King Alexander as LSU President. But that doesn’t mean things can’t get nastier. With the explosion of Internet blogging generating more public records requests, any immovable objects (resistance or reluctance in complying) is certain to be met by the irresistible force (litigation).

Bloggers like Elliott Stonecipher, Jason France, and yours truly, along with citizens like James Finney, Barbara Ferguson, and Charles Hatfield, some members of the media, and legislators like State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard are going to keep pushing for more sunshine so long as there continues to be contracts with 50 blank pages or superficial “investigations” like the charade recently carried out by State Police in the Burl Cain and Angola State Penitentiary episode.

We are going to keep digging as long as we have officials attempting to sneak illegal retirement benefit increases into legislative bills during the closing minutes of legislative sessions. We will keep making public records requests into questionable methods of investigation and punishment carried out by autonomous boards and commissions like the State Dentistry Board and State Board of Medical Examiners. We will continue to ask questions when we observe a double standard in how we are expected to comport ourselves as citizens and how public officials are allowed to conduct themselves in their official capacities—be they agency heads, elected officials, regulatory boards and commissions or law enforcement agencies.

And when we encounter that immovable object, that resistance to transparency, we will continue to haul your butts into court until we are on a first-name basis with every judge in Baton Rouge. Reluctance or denial on your part will only strengthen the resolve on our part.

After all is said and done, we deserve two things from our government:

  • An even playing field where all live under and abide by the same rules;
  • The right to see, hear, and know that even the most obscure agency carries out its business in an upright, honest and fair manner.

We will accept nothing less.

And we shouldn’t have to sue someone to earn that right

 

 

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