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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

Last July I published my book Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption.

Now, it looks as though a book about district attorneys and judges might well be in order.

Somehow, it seems the ones we elect to protect us and to administer justice evenly and fairly are running amok with no regard for the law, ethics, propriety, or for the citizens they are elected to serve.

This is by no means a blanket condemnation of all DAs or judges but the behavior of the few is beginning to take its toll on the public image of the many and there needs to be a cleansing.

DAs have gone to jail, they have initiated frivolous disputes with judges, they bring in hired guns from elsewhere to do jobs they should be doing [if they and their staffs aren’t qualified to perform their jobs, they should get out and leave the work to those who can] and some even are said to use their offices as leverage to obtain property and businesses from defendants in exchange for a dismissal or reduction of pending charges.

Louisiana judges have been accused of:

  • Hiring his GIRLFRIEND to review medical records for his office;
  • Presiding over his girlfriend’s DWI case;
  • Molesting TEENAGE GIRLS;
  • Texting RACIST REMARKS in a jealous dispute with a sheriff’s deputy with whom she was having an affair (the judge submitted her resignation today);
  • Engaging in SEXUAL MISCONDUCT which led to his resignation;
  • Interfering in a female friend’s APPEAL which resulted in his suspension from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal and which has thrown the 2nd Circuit’s overturn of a $20 million award into turmoil.
  • Accepting kickbacks which resulted in the impeachment and REMOVAL from the federal bench.
  • Accepting bribes from bail a bail bondsman which resulted in his conviction, along with 13 others convicted in the FBI’s OPERATION WRINKLED ROBE

There are others, of course. But add to that the unique idea that a Baton Rouge attorney who has been SUSPENDED FROM PRACTICE for a year is a candidate for a vacant city.

Donald Dobbins says the law requires only that he hold a law license to qualify for judicial office but not to be a judge because judges cannot practice law. He qualified exactly three weeks before he was suspended by the State Supreme Court for failure “to provide competent representation to clients” and that he “neglected legal matters, failed to communicate with clients, failed to refund unearned fees and unused costs, failed to properly supervise his non-lawyer start, resulting inf false affidavits being filed in the court record, failed to reduce a contingency fee agreement to writing, forged client signatures on settlement checks and failed to place disputed funds in his trust account.” He says he has no intention to withdraw.

One Supreme Court justice called the one-year suspension “overly lenient,” saying he preferred “no less than a three-year actual suspension, if not disbarment.”

And then there are the judges in Terrebonne and St. Tammany parishes who took it upon themselves to issue warrants that were in direct violation of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of expression.

In the Terrebonne case, Sheriff Jerry Larpenter prevailed upon an obliging JUDGE RANDAL BETHANCOURT to issue a search warrant so he could raid the home of a blogger who hurt Larpenter’s feelings. That ended up costing the sheriff’s office about $250,000 in a federal lawsuit stemming from the illegal raid.

That was in August 2016. Three years later, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith arrested a former deputy who sent an email to the family of a murdered woman in which he was critical of the sheriff’s office for not making an arrest in the 2017 murder of Nanette Krentel.

The warrant was signed by DISTRICT JUDGE RAYMOND CHILDRESS District Judge Raymond Childress. After the local district attorney recused himself and referred the case to the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, the AG’s office promptly washed its hands of the entire affair after noting that the Louisiana Supreme Court had held that criminal defamation (the justification for the warrant) was unconstitutional insofar as statements made in reference to public figures engaged in public affairs.

No story about law enforcement and the judicial system would be complete without a story from Iberia Parish where Louis Ackel turned the word sheriff into a term of fear and dread.

Bo Duhé, 16th JDC District Attorney, crossed swords with Judge Lori Landry by accusing her of making accusatory remarks to the effect that the DA’s office “deliberately incarcerate African Americans more severely and at a higher rate than others” and that the DAs office knew or should have known about misconduct at the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office that eventually led to the convictions of several deputies in a civil rights case.

Her remarks prompted Duhé to seek her honor’s removal from more than 300 criminal cases throughout out the 16th JDC which includes the parishes of Iberia, St. Martin, and St. Mary.

Duhé, of course, claimed that Judge Landry’s remarks were unfounded. He further argued that Landry, the 16th JDC’s first African-American judge, was “biased and prejudiced” against his office to such an extent that “she cannot be fair or impartial.”

After considerable posturing disguised as testimony in court subsequent hearings, Duhé and Landry kissed and made nice, declaring that they were recommitted to working together and the DA’s office rather unceremoniously dismissed the recusal motions.

Just another day in Louisiana’s hallowed halls of justice.

[You may order Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption ($30) by clicking on the yellow DONATE button in the column to the upper right of this post or by sending a check to Tom Aswell, P.O. Box 922, Denham Springs, LA. 70727.]

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, Southern learned its lesson, right?

Not quite.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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You gotta love it when someone gets burned for their hypocrisy, tries to jump out in front of the story, and that effort falls flat.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who rails against illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, has the proverbial egg all over his face and his brother Benjamin’s 10-minute VIDEO on Youtube in an effort to blunt the effects of a stellar investigative report by the Baton Rouge Advocate landed with a thud.

And of course, The Hayride internet blog also attempted to come to Landry’s rescue, accusing the Baton Rouge paper of doing a hatchet job on poor Jeff.

Both Ben Landry and The Hayride accused the paper of attacking brother Jeff Landry because he’s a conservative but in doing so, neglected to observe that The Advocate has long been the unofficial official organ for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), quite possibly the most conservative businessmen’s club in the state of Louisiana.

But the bottom line is it’s pretty hard to defend Landry for his latest escapade: being part of a $17 million scam to hire Mexican welders and pipe fitters under H-2B visa rules through three companies owned by Jeff and Ben Landry.

Under terms of the deal, the Mexicans would work for CB&I, the prime contractor on the $7 billion Cameron LNG project in Hackberry in Cameron Parish. The three Landry companies would be subcontracted to a company run by Houston labor broker Marco Pesquera.

Pesquera made millions of dollars by defrauding the immigration system to bring more than a thousand Mexican laborers to the Gulf South but his luck finally ran out when he was convicted and began a three-year prison sentence in December for fraud.

Ben Landry, in his “Poor Me, Poor Jeff” video, blamed all his brothers’ woes on The Advocate and its reliance on a convicted felon for building its case against the attorney general.

Not said in that 10-minute diatribe was the fact that prosecutors like Jeff Landry often use jailhouse snitches, i.e. convicted felons, as the preferred ploy to convict defendants, frequently putting away innocent people, so playing the convicted felon card would seem rather disingenuous. I guess it’s okay when prosecutors do it.

It’s especially curious when you consider how Jeff Landry went to such great lengths to shield Pesquera and his company and his companies’ ties to Pesquera as well as how they embellished their claims for a need for foreign labor, documentation required by the feds.

H-2b visas are supposed to be issued only if there is a shortage of American workers to perform the needed work.

Southern Innovative Services was approved for 113 welders and pipefitters from Mexico and Evergreen got the nod for 195.

Records provided to The Advocate by the Louisiana Workforce Commission showed that 113 local welders and pipefitters applied for positions with Evergreen Contractors, one of three Landry companies involved in the scheme.

Pesquera told The Advocate that none of the Landry companies hired a single American for work—and never intended to.

Brent Littlefield, Jeff Landry’s campaign mouthpiece, refused to respond to repeated questions from The Advocate as to whether Evergreen hired any American welders or pipefitters.

While Evergreen obtained a contractor’s license in June 2018, his other two companies, Prime Response and Southern Innovative Services, have never obtained one as required by law and Jeff Landry, normally quick with the lip, has not responded to questions about the companies’ status regarding state contracting licenses.

And while Jeff Landry, who disrupted a State of the Union Address by President Obama while he was a member of Congress by holding up a sign opposing the drilling moratorium in the Gulf following the BP spill, was uncharacteristically mum in responding to The Advocate’s questions, his brother most certainly was not in his Youtube video.

The Advocate newspaper is on a crusade against my brother—my guess is, for no other reason than because he is a conservative,” Ben Landry said.

You have to wonder if Landry may have used his position as attorney general to lean on CB&I to hire those Mexican workers that he was importing at the same time he was publicly positioning himself as a dedicated opponent of illegal immigration.

Jeff Landry, it seems, couldn’t be satisfied with being a full-time attorney general; he just had to find a way to enrich himself while in office.

Funny, isn’t it, how politicians can conveniently bend their moral compasses so that north is south and east is west.

 

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Pre-trial intervention (PTI) programs, in theory at least, are designed to give those charged with a first offense—such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), for example—to keep the conviction off their record by participating in a program of community service or a series of classroom sessions, usually extended over a period of several weeks.

The purpose of the programs, again in theory, is that not every person charged with an offense should be subjected to criminal prosecution and that there are those who can be prevented from becoming repeat offenders through proper intervention.

The problem with Louisiana’s PTI programs is that there is no uniform application or oversight, allowing local district attorneys complete autonomy in how the programs are administered.

Instead of serving their intended purpose, many local PTI programs have morphed into cash cows and as such, lend themselves to widespread abuses at the expense of other programs such as indigent defender boards and local law enforcement.

In May 2018, former Baton Rouge Advocate (now Associated Press) reporter Jim Mustian wrote an excellent story that illustrated that very point. His entire story may be seen HERE.

Mustian showed that from 2012 to 2017, two parishes in particular had taken advantage of the program to create a lucrative source of income for prosecutors while a third did even better during the years from 2012 to 2017.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier saw income for his office increase threefold, from $556,000 in 2012 to $1.65 million in 2016. Jefferson Parish did even better with its income from PTI programs increasing four times, from $335,000 to $1.37 million during the same period.

But Rapides Parish DA Phillip Terrell has turned the practice into an art form, boosting his PTI revenue by a factor of seven, from $302,000 in 2012 to a mind-blowing $2.2 million in 2017.

Still, that influx of new dollars didn’t keep Terrell from requesting more than $2.5 million in parish funds for his office in 2018 despite a looming budgetary shortfall of $427,000 for the parish.

That was enough to attract the attention of online publication Politico, which normally devotes its attention to stories of national and international significance than to the budgetary problems of a parish situated in the middle of Louisiana. Politico’s story can been read in its entirety HERE.

Rapides Parish Treasurer Bruce Kelly wondered why the DA’s office was suddenly asking for more funds than at any time in his 30 years in the parish treasurer’s office knowing, as he did, that the DA had a new fleet of vehicles with leather seats.

He soon learned why.

Pre-trial diversion, otherwise known as pre-trial intervention, or PTI.

The DA’s income from court fines had dropped by nearly half, from $900,000 to $500,000 over the past three years. That corresponded with a similar drop in traffic tickets issued—from 12,000 per year to 7,000.

At the same time, however, Terrell’s office had significantly increased its PTI program, allowing offenders to pay money to the DA in exchange for charges being dropped and their cases dismissed, thus keeping their tickets or arrests off their records as though they never happened.

Offenders were charged dismissal fees ranging from $250 for traffic tickets, $500 for misdemeanors and as high as $1,500 for felonies.

And Terrell’s office, Kelly learned, was keeping that money for itself—money that should have gone into the parish’s general fund to be shared with indigent defender offices and the sheriff’s office.

Believing Terrell was depriving the parish of fine money to which it was entitled, Kelly and the parish leadership filed suit against Terrell’s office in an effort to get the court to force the DA to share its PTI revenue.

Terrell responded that he could make as much as he wanted through PTI because…well, because the law didn’t say otherwise.

And he was right in the assertion that there were no statewide standards to the implementation and operation of PTI programs and thus, no restrictions as to his ability to exploit the program.

To make his case, he brought in a hired gun in the person of Hugo Holland, a prosecutor who normally works only as a prosecutor in criminal cases and who appears to be on the payroll of several parish district attorneys simultaneously, from Caddo Parish in north Louisiana to Calcasieu Parish in the state’s southwestern extreme.

The battle between Terrell and Rapides Parish Police Jury took on true Trumpian overtones when Holland threatened the police jury members with investigations into their own use of funds if they did not agree to drop their fight with his client. When that tactic failed, Terrell filed a countersuit arguing that he did not owe any money to the parish and calling the police jury’s lawsuit “politically-driven.”

It’s easy to see why Terrell is so possessive of his sudden stream of income—and why similar battle lines could be drawn between prosecutors and parish governing bodies as more and more DAs are made aware of the untapped revenue windfalls currently available to them.

It’s also pretty easy to predict an intense lobbying campaign by the Louisiana District Attorneys Association (LDAA) to protect PTI programs from regulation should some state lawmaker have the temerity to introduce legislation to rein in such a lucrative enterprise.

I’m willing to bet even money that Arkansas would have a better chance of beating LSU today than any such bill would have of making it out of committee.

 

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