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Archive for the ‘State Agencies’ Category

Bobby Jindal, the Rhode Scholar who rode into town on the crest of a billion-dollar surplus nine years ago this month, rode out 12 months ago leaving the state wallowing in red ink and now it is learned that he inflicted even more fiscal carnage on his way out the door.

And knowing the way in which he and his final Commissioner of Administration, Kristy Nichols, juggled the books, it’s not at all unreasonable to think that Jindal’s final example of fiscal irresponsibility may well have been an intentional act of political chicanery carried out to buy him time so that his successor would be left with the mess to clean up. (Of course, Kristy didn’t become commissioner until Paul Rainwater left in 2012, but that does not change the fact that a lot of dollars were moved around—swept—before and after she was promoted.)

Hey! It’s not that far-fetched. He did it with the Office of Group Benefits. He did it with higher education. He did it with the LSU Hospital System. Boy, did he do it with the hospital system—with a contract containing 50 blank pages, yet!

By the time Jindal left office, virtually the only state agency left with a shred of credibility and integrity was the office of the Legislative Auditor—and that’s largely because the office has complete autonomy and is independent from outside political pressure, particularly from the governor’s office.

And now, coincidentally, it is that same Legislative Auditor who has issued a damning AUDIT REPORT that reveals a major SNAFU (if that’s truly what it was) in which the Jindal administration “misclassified” a $34.6 million default payment made by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems made in 2011.

The payment was made to Louisiana Economic Development after the shipyard failed to meet required hiring quotas but instead of using the money to pay off equipment the state had financed for Northrop Grumman, the audit says the Division of Administration “swept” the money when it was balancing the budget. As a result, the state has already paid some $2 million in interest and administrative costs on the equipment, and is potentially on the hook for some $6.2 million more.

Bobby and Kristy loved the process of “sweeping” agencies of excess funds lying around in order to try and plug gaping holes in the state budget that dogged Jindal every single year he was governor. “Sweeping” for funds is something like picking up crumbs off the floor in an attempt to gather enough to make a bundt cake.

“Since the debt could not be immediately defeased (a provision that voids a bond or loan) because of the limited prepayment options, the funds should have been segregated into a sinking account for defeasement of the debt, not a statutorily dedicated fund account that could be swept by legislative action,” the audit report says.

But the Louisiana Office of Economic Development (LED), then headed by $300,000-a-year Director Stephen Moret, failed to do that and, presto! The funds got swept by the Jindal Housecleaning Service and as a result, the state “will continue to incur additional interest and administrative costs until the debt (on the equipment) is defeased,” the audit reads. “If not defeased before the Oct. 2022 … the state will incur more than $6.2 million in additional interest and administrative costs.”

LED entered into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with Northrop Grumman in the early 2000s. The company had acquired Avondale Shipyard in Jefferson Parish and Northrop Grumman, under the terms of the deal, agreed to maintain employment levels of some 3,500 jobs a year with an economic impact of $1 billion. In return, the state agreed, among other things, to issue bonds to finance more than $34 million worth of cranes and equipment that would modernize the shipyard.

But dreams and schemes are made of fragile things. Northrop Grumman fell short of its job requirements and LED notified the company in early 2011 that it wasn’t living up to its employment obligations. Northrop Grumman agreed to settle with the state for $34.6 million, which represented the acquisition cost of the equipment. It wired the money to LED in March 2011, the report says.

But the state didn’t use the money to pay off the debt on the equipment, nor did it set the funds aside in an escrow account to pay it off in the future. Instead, it “swept” the money into the Louisiana Medical Assistance Trust Fund, was enacted during the 2011 session to help supplement the state’s Medicaid program.

But don’t worry, folks. It’s just another example of the superb financial management of the state’s resources about which Jindal would boast—in Iowa, certainly not Louisiana—during his comical quest for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015, his final year I office.

And now the state finds itself hanging out to dry while trying to come up with that long gone $34.6 million, plus about $2 million in interest and administrative costs.

In a written response to the audit’s findings, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne pointed out that Jindal’s actions, while ill-advised, were nonetheless legal. “The (Jindal) administration’s decision to use the funds for other purposes was not prohibited by the terms of the (agreement) with Northrop Grumman,” he says, noting that the Legislature approved of the financial maneuver.

Perhaps, but we all know the definitions of the legal thing and the right thing are sometimes poles apart. In this case, those responsible knew what that $34.6 million was for and they chose to do what was legal but not what was right.

The question now is does the Office of Risk Management carry excess coverage that would allow the State to make a claim for recovery of the money on the basis of stupidity? Should Jindal, Nichols, and Moret be asked to dig deep into their pockets to come up with the money?

Nah. It’ll never happen.

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In the parlance of the criminal justice system, money laundering is sometimes called “washing” or “scrubbing.”

But dirty money is always dirty money, no matter what efforts are taken to make it appear legitimate.

The same is true of politics. Having just gone through a gut-wrench senatorial campaign, we’ve seen up close and personal how political ads come in all manner of misleading half-truths and outright lies. Case in point: the absurd promises of State Sen. Bodi White (R-Central), who ran ads during his recent unsuccessful campaign for Mayor-President of Baton Rouge about how he was going to improve schools, cut the dropout rate, and attract better teachers.

The problem? Neither City Hall nor the mayor have squat to do with public education; that’s the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s turf. What’s more, White was fully aware of this, so his ads amounted to nothing more than pure B.S., or, to be more blunt: bald face lies.

And now, thanks to Stephen Winham, our human Early Warning System who often tips us off to interesting stories, we have the laundering of Bobby Jindal’s image by some groupie/writer for the National Review named Dan McLaughlin.

The scrubbing, however, comes a tad early; even in Louisiana, the citizens aren’t likely to forget the carnage wreaked by Jindal so quickly.

McLaughlin, it seems, is an attorney who practices securities and commercial litigation in New York City. He also is a contributing columnist at National Review Online (Go figure). He is a former contributing editor of RedState (No surprise there), a columnist at the Federalist and the New Ledger. During his spare time he is a baseball blogger at BaseballCrank.com.

McLaughlin has written at least a dozen or so insipid pro-Jindal pabulum-laden claptrap-filled columns, all of which could just as easily have been written by Timmy Teepell.

In his most recent contribution to National Review (the entire story is not contained at this link because I’m too cheap to subscribe), McLaughlin WRITES that “Jindal took on the enormous challenge of cutting government in a state that is culturally deep-red but economically populist, and he paid a great political cost for his efforts.”

Apparent, he wrote that garbage with a straight face.

There’s more from McLaughlin who wrote in an earlier column for RedState that Jindal was the BEST CANDIDATE for the Republican presidential nomination and that (get this) Jindal ruled in one of the presidential debates (never mind Jindal never got past the undercard debates in which all participants were weak also-runs).

McLaughlin wrote that Jindal’s low approval ratings “and the desperate wails of his Democratic successor over the condition of the state’s budget seem to support” the view that Jindal left the state in financial disarray.

Seriously? McLaughlin conveniently overlooks the fact that the “view” that Jindal’s leaving the state in disastrous shape took shape long before John Bel Edwards and long before Jindal abandoned his post for his delusional pursuit of the presidency.

McLaughlin made no mention of Jindal’s administration coming up with a contract to give away two of the state’s learning hospitals that contained 50 blank pages.

He ignores the matter of how Jindal doled out plum board and commission positions to big contributors to his campaign, how he rolled over anyone who disagreed with him by either firing or demoting them, how he took tainted campaign contributions from felons and refused to return the money, or how he gutted the reserve fund of the Office of Group Benefits in order to try to close gaping budget deficits that occurred every single year of his governorship.

“The path to smaller government requires persistence, backbone, and a willingness to accept compromises and a lot of defeats,” he wrote.

Correction, Mr. McLaughlin: the path to Bobby Jindal’s version of smaller government requires ruthlessness, vindictiveness, and unparalleled selfishness.

While one might justifiably think that Jindal’s political career is dead and buried, is it even remotely possible that he might be plotting a comeback?

Already, there are the first rumblings that Jindal is eying the 2019 gubernatorial campaign.

Just in case, perhaps someone should send McLaughlin a copy of my book, Bobby Jindal: His Destiny and Obsession. Not that he would change his mind, but at least he would have no excuse for not knowing.

And just in case you’ve not ordered your copy yet, click on the image of the book at upper right and place your order immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After all, what else can they do to him?

Fast forward to November 7, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Just because a cat has kittens in the oven doesn’t make them biscuits.”

It’s a quote attributed to Malcolm X, reprised by Kelsey Grammer in an episode of the number one sitcom Frasier, but actually has its origins in New England. It means, “Just because you were born here, it doesn’t make you one of us.”

It could just as easily be updated to apply to State Superintendent of Education John White’s lame explanation of a settlement of a lawsuit by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) against citizens James Finney, a technical college math instructor and Mike Deshotels, a former educator and past executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators.

White was quoted in the Baton Rouge Advocate as saying the ruling by 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark “merely resolved what had been a conflict between two laws” because federal law instructed the department not to release data that could be used to personally identify a child while state law mandated the disclosure of all public records.

http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/courts/article_76e860ca-8bd9-11e6-9963-cf5829bedcf3.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

Bull feathers.

Department legal counsel Joan Hunt said in a Wednesday email to members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that a declaratory judgment was sought to resolve “tension” between free disclosure of public records and protection of student information according to federal law.

Balderdash.

Neither Deshotels nor Finney ever requested information that would identify a single student.

Period.

And John White knew that. Period.

Since becoming Superintendent of Education in January 2012, White has made a career of stalling on compliance with public records requests if not denying them outright.

LouisianaVoice was once forced to sue white over public records and won an award of $2800 ($100 per day for each day delayed per request), plus court costs. The only downside of that judgment was that White was not held personally liable, meaning the $2800 and court costs were picked up by Louisiana taxpayers.

But in suing two Louisiana activist citizens (who admittedly had been something of a nuisance to White with their monitoring of the department), White reached a new low in attempting to avoid being held accountable for the manner in which he runs the department.

His lawsuit, in terms of disgraceful acts, ranks right down there with those judges in Monroe who sued the Ouachita Citizen, a newspaper in West Monroe. The newspaper’s sin? It made public records requests of the court.

Do we detect a disturbing trend here? You bet we do. The Louisiana Department of Education, district courts, and other public bodies have virtually unlimited financial resources at their disposal and most, like the Department of Education, have in-house legal counsel like Joan Hunt. They can initiate lengthy—and costly—legal action against any citizen and people like John White and district judges don’t have to pay a penny of the costs of litigation, courtesy of Louisiana taxpayers.

Private citizens do not enjoy that same advantage. It’s not a level playing field. And even if the public body does not sue, it can drag its heels on compliance, forcing the citizen making the request to either give up or enter into expensive legal action with no guarantee the court will uphold the public’s right to know.

At last Monday’s hearing, Judge Clark let it be known that her patience was wearing thin with public officials who attempt to hide behind legal maneuvers in an attempt to avoid compliance with the law.

The LDOE attorney opened by saying the department had “informal guidance” from the federal government that “we do not have to comply with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests.”

Perhaps sensing the mood of the court, the state withdrew its demands for attorney fees from Deshotels and Finney, adding that “only two people are interested in the data.”

Judge Clark said it was an “improper purpose” to deny information to the public as a retaliatory action.

“Counsel should meet and work this out,” she said. “The public (meaning the court) takes a dim view of public officials using public resources to delay compliance with public records laws.”

Deshotels attorneys J. Arthur Smith and Chris Shows met outside chambers for more than two hours with LDOE attorneys but were unable to arrive at an agreement on the release of the requested documents.

When informed of the continued impasse, Judge Clark, visibly angry, said, “I am issuing a subpoena for John White to be in court at 9:30 tomorrow (Wednesday) morning for cross examination.”

When White got word of that, it was something akin to Moses coming down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments. Suddenly minds came together and miraculously, there was accord and LDOE agreed to three stipulations which settled the suit filed in April by White and the department against Deshotels and Finney. http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/education/article_536e2fac-b5e2-575c-87f6-1a991bf0f455.html?sr_source=lift_amplify

The first stipulation mandates that the suppression of data in the economically disadvantaged and English language learner or English proficiency sub-groups of the Education Department’s multi-stat reports is not in compliance with the Louisiana Public Records Act.

The department agreed not to suppress student enrollment data in responding to requests made under the act in the second stipulation.

The final stipulation says requested data will be made available to the public dating back to 2006.

Deshotels said the declaratory judgment filed against him and Finney was never about clarifying the legal issues relative to certain public records and student privacy as claimed by White.

Instead, he said White’s action was “purely an attempt to discourage citizens from seeking to independently research the claims and conclusions made by White and his staff.” “If citizens are forced to face legal challenges and high legal fees for seeking public records, the Department can continue to manipulate and spin what should be factual information about the operation of our schools.”

Sadly, Judge Clark’s ruling will do little to expedite timely compliance with future public records requests to other state agencies.

Even as this is being written, former commissioner of administration Kristy Nichols has already cost the state more than the original judgment against her in another lawsuit by LouisianaVoice.

LouisianaVoice received a pittance in a lawsuit in which the Division of Administration (DOA) under Nichols had dragged its heels for more than three months on several separate public records requests.

LouisianaVoice calculated DOA owed some $40,000 in penalties for non-compliance but was awarded less than $2,000, plus costs and legal fees, by the court. Even then Nichols appealed the decision. And although the court held Nichols personally liable, meaning she alone was responsible for the penalty, the state is picking up the tab for that appeal, which partially upheld the district court ruling.

Nichols, still not satisfied, and still not paying a cent of the legal costs (though LouisianaVoice is paying its legal costs, applied for writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

As of this date, the state has spent far, far more than the penalty imposed on it in trying to avoid paying the penalty and LouisianaVoice has spent more than it will ever be awarded, provided the Supreme Court even upholds the lower court.

And while the obvious question is: Is throwing good money after bad a wise way to spend state funds? An original penalty of less than $2000 has now cost the state several times that in defense costs and the tab is still running.

And John White’s obfuscating dribble notwithstanding, that’s what Louisiana citizens are faced with in trying to hold its state government accountable.

 

 

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Trying to write about Troy Hebert, former director of the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC), without getting mired down in controversy is a little like trying to run in knee-deep mud.

Likewise, attempts to make sense of it all is akin to trying to interpret a paint factory explosion as an expression of avant garde art.

avant-garde-art

It’s long past time to move on. Hebert is no longer conducting his misrule at ATC and he’s going about as far in his bid for U.S. Senator as Bobby Jindal did in his equally comical quest for the Republican presidential nomination. But flies have experienced less difficulty escaping from spider webs than we have in moving past the saga of Hebert et al.

It’s no longer a matter of LouisianaVoice writing about Troy Hebert; now it’s sub-factions sending messages back and forth, accusing each other of lying, threatening lawsuits, and still more anonymous sources coming forward with new information. https://louisianavoice.com/2016/09/20/fbi-agent-says-hebert-cleared-of-corruption-n-o-publication-way-off-in-identifying-our-story-source/

We no sooner pose our story about New Orleans attorney and former State Sen. Julie Quinn’s three-page letter to New Orleans CityBusiness demanding a retraction of its story about Quinn’s alleged representation of clients before ATC in applications for liquor licenses than we received copies of documents appearing to refute all of Quinn’s refutations.

This time, rather than offer denials of Facebook postings or legal representation, this unknown person, using the synonym “Sherlock Holmes” (not too terribly original), sent a screenshot of a Facebook post Quinn said she did not send. Also included were documents indicating that Quinn may have indeed represented clients in liquor license application matters.

Here is the complete text of that email:

From: Sherlock Holmes [mailto:] Sent: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 3:28 PM To: azspeak@cox.net Subject: Julie Quinn is LYING to you

Tom,

In your September 20, 2016 article you reported that LA attorney and former state senator, Julie Quinn told Louisiana Voice that she had never represented a client before ATC and quoted her as stating “I don’t do liquor licenses and I have NEVER in my career represented a single client in a liquor permit matter” (emphasis added).

Interestingly, in the letter to City Business from Quinn’s law partner, Mr. Alsterberg, (that you have attached to your October 4, 2016 article) he states: “…in fact, throughout her entire career, Ms. Quinn has only assisted a single client in this type of matter [alcohol licensing], which occurred four years ago on behalf of a restaurant located in the warehouse district, not a bar located in the French Quarter.”

Based on these two contradictory statements, it is clear that Ms. Quinn LIED  to you. 

Also, the attached emails, articles and Facebook post provide irrefutable evidence that Ms. Quinn, and now her law partner, continue to lie about her business dealings involving the ATC and also about her Facebook activity. I WONDER WHAT SHE IS TRYING TO HIDE????

Julie Quinn has represented (or held herself out to state governmental officials and the media as representing) at least 6 clients in ATC related matters between Jan 2013 and March 2016 including: a business in Grand Isle that was operating under a previous owner’s permit; a French Quarter business that had its permit revoked and had a bad reputation in the area for being a location frequented by prostitutes, panderers, johns, and were multiple arrest for drugs and weapons were made; and 3 French Quarter strip clubs.   

The attached documents also show that Quinn did in fact do more than “post links to two articles” on her Facebook page and that she did in fact make a Facebook post insinuating that “she just killed a politician.”  As you will see, the Facebook post provided were made in near proximity to your article about the FBI investigating Troy Hebert.

In addition to his email message, “Sherlock” also included DOCUMENTS that included copies of the Facebook screen shot, emails that alluded to representation of clients applying for liquor licenses, and news stories citing Quinn as the source of a Facebook post of a cartoon about confessing to killing “a politician.”

With stories in the queue about a significant court ruling on public records, flood recovery efforts and potential a judicial conflict of interests on the part of a Baton Rouge judge, this should be the final word in the sordid saga of Troy Hebert.

But it probably won’t be.

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