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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

LouisianaVoice keeps trying to prod the Attorney General’s office into getting off its backside in the investigation of that RAPE of a 17-year-old girl by a convicted rapist in a Union Parish Detention Center cell in April 2016, but it seems Jeff Landry is far too occupied with some grand scheme that he thinks will ultimately land him in the governor’s office.

In our monthly tabulation, it has now been 19 months and counting since the girl, who was being held in a cell after being picked up on a drug charge, was raped not once, but twice, by an inmate who had already been convicted of aggravated rape in Claiborne Parish and was awaiting sentencing while being held in adjacent Union Parish.

To refresh your memory, because the district attorney is a member of the Union Parish Detention Center Commission which operates the center, DA John Belton recused himself and requested that the AG conduct an investigation of the incident. The victim has since filed a LAWSUIT over the incident and now Landry’s office is attempting to lean on that as a legitimate reason for not providing a status of its so-called criminal investigation.

Back on Oct. 17, we submitted our monthly request as to the status of the assault investigation to both the AG’s Public Information Office and to its Criminal Investigation Section. The next day, Oct. 18, we received following response:

—–Original Message—–
From: AG Landry News [mailto:aglandrynews@ag.louisiana.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 1:49 PM
To: Tom Aswell <azspeak@cox.net>
Subject: Re: QUESTION

This matter is under investigation.

Thanks!

Ruth

So, we did our obligatory monthly report of inactivity on Landry’s part. But then on Wednesday (Nov. 15), we received the following response from Assistant Attorney General Luke Donovan, Executive Division:

From: Donovan, Luke [mailto:DonovanL@ag.louisiana.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 4:30 PM
To: azspeak@cox.net
Cc: Dirmann, Shannon <DirmannS@ag.louisiana.gov>
Subject: PRR 17-0159 Tom Aswell, Louisiana Voice

Good afternoon Mr. Aswell,

In response to your public records request pursuant to La. R.S. 44:1 et seq, the information you requested has been processed. You sought records related to the following:​

… any documents or reports pertaining to the status of the attorney general’s investigation of the rape of the 17-year-old girl in the Union Parish jail cell last April. That’s the investigation 3rd JDC District Attorney John Belton asked the attorney general’s office to investigate because of a conflict of interests.

Louisiana’s Public Records Act, specifically La. R.S. 44:3(A)(1), exempts records held by the office of the attorney general which pertain “to pending criminal litigation or any criminal litigation which can be reasonably anticipated, until such litigation has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled….”  

Therefore, the records which you seek are exempt from production at this time.

If our office can be of any further assistance, please let us know.

Sincerely,

Luke Donovan

Assistant Attorney General, Executive Division
Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry
Phone: (225) 326-6712  Fax: (225) 326-6098
www.AGJeffLandry.com

Well, that prompted my immediate response:

Your response is pure, unadulterated B.S.

That’s only because your boss is more interested in promoting his campaign for governor than doing anything on this case for the past 19 months. I’m not at all sure what you mean by “criminal litigation,” but I do know what “criminal investigation” and “civil litigation” are. The first is an investigation and, if warranted, an indictment and trial on criminal charges—and I suggest 19 months to investigate an assault in a confined area when the date, the victim and the assailant are all known to prosecutors is more than enough time to conclude an investigation and to indict. Any litigation would be a civil matter and completely unrelated to criminal charges as that would be a separate matter altogether. The information I am seeking is the status of the criminal investigation, i.e. has the alleged perpetrator been formally charged? If so, what was the charge and is there an arraignment/trial date?

To try and hide behind “pending criminal litigation” is a bit disingenuous. But then I would expect nothing better from Jeff Landry.

The only thing I neglected to say (and I wish I had, so I’ll say it here) is this:

Judging from the manner in which he can drag a matter out, perhaps Landry should consider offering his services as defense counsel for Roy Moore.

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I was in attendance at one of my grandchildren’s school Veterans’ Day programs on Thursday and unable to attend the first meeting of the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) in several months but suffice it to say something major is brewing with this newly-made over body.

And whatever it is doesn’t to appear to bode well for the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA).

It was the first meeting of the commission since August which, coincidentally, was also the last meeting for former Chairman State Trooper T.J. Doss and former Vice Chair Monica Manzella. Both have since resigned and Doss, LouisianaVoice is told, has been on extended sick leave.

Doss was succeeded to the chairman’s position by Baton Rouge attorney Eulis Simien, Jr. and Dr. Michael W. Neustrom of Lafayette replaced Manzella as vice chairman.

But most puzzling was the executive session entered into by the commission.

When the motion was made to go into closed session the belated reason given was to discuss pending litigation—even though there is no pending litigation at the present time against the commission.

Upon exiting, however, commission legal counsel Lenore Feeney amended that reason, saying the executive session was for the discussion of “allegations of misconduct,” according to some in attendance.

And upon returned from behind closed doors, commission members were said to be in a much fouler mood than when they went in, an indication there may have been something a little more intense taking place out of sight of attendees.

Simien, normally an amiable sort, immediately launched into a lecture to those there about how business would be conducted differently in the future and that decorum would strictly adhered to.

If there is to be any investigation of “alleged misconduct,” it could be on one or both of two issues: that San Diego trip taken by State Police in October of 2016 and which resulted in disciplinary action against three troopers who have appealed their discipline to the commission.

The commission voted to consolidate the three appeals into one case and also decided to discard the non-report of Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend who was paid $75,000 to investigate and report on possible illegal campaign contributions by the LSTA to various politicians.

The campaign contributions were actually made through the LSTA’s executive director David Young’s personal checking account. Young subsequently billed the association for reimbursement in an apparent effort to circumvent state law prohibiting political activity by state classified employees.

Taylor’s contract, for which he was paid $75,000, called for him to investigate the matter and submit a report of his findings to the LSPC. Instead, he simply told the commission that he recommended “no action” be taken on the matter and the board, which had a completely different makeup at that time, accepted his report.

Since then, the entire board membership, as well as its executive director, has changed dramatically, with almost all the members resigning for various reasons.

Townsend has yet to submit a report the board even though he has been asked to do so on several occasions.

Now, apparently, with a new board in place—with the exception of two positions which remain vacant—a change of heart has taken place and the commission is at least acting like it is serious about investigating the contributions.

One thing is for certain, however:

If the commission was unsure of the real reason for Thursday’s executive session, that can only mean its purpose was illegitimate to begin with. There are specific reasons for executive sessions and the law is narrowly written so as to prevent abuse of the state’s open meeting laws.

To give one reason going into executive session only to change the reason upon exiting is subterfuge in its most blatant form and an action that thumbs its nose at the law itself—from an agency whose very purpose is to ensure compliance with the law.

If there is to be an executive session, public bodies in Louisiana are required to give notice in advance, as an agenda item—in other words, in writing—and to give the reason. Anything else is a lie. They can’t make up the rules on the fly. And they certainly can’t go into closed session and decide the reason for the secrecy after the fact.

Any legal counsel who advises a public agency, body, board, or commission should know the state’s open meetings law (R.S. 42:11) and the Executive Session provision (R.S. 42:16) forward and backward. That requirement comes with the job. http://parlouisiana.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Open_Meetings_Law.pdf

We thought they had learned that in one memorable meeting several months ago when Townsend suggested an executive session and when asked the reason, said—with a perfectly straight face—“We don’t have to give one.”

Uh…yes you do. And it’s more than a little disturbing that it took a layman to inform him of the law at that meeting.

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Welsh Alderman Jacob Colby Perry is the second defendant in recent weeks to prevail against the so-called SLAPP lawsuits and in so doing, may teach the plaintiffs a little economic lesson.

SLAPP is an acronym for strategic lawsuits against public participation or in a more familiar vernacular, they could simply be called frivolous or harassment lawsuits. There intent is precisely what the acronym means: to prevent critics from participating in public discourse by filing costly lawsuits against critics.

On Tuesday, 31st Judicial District Court Judge Steve Gunnell dismissed all four defamation lawsuits against Perry and in finding the litigation to be without merit, he assessed the four plaintiffs with court costs and Perry’s attorney fees.

An affidavit filed with the court by Perry claims those attorney fees to be $16,000, or $4,000 per plaintiff which would make the idea of a SLAPP suit seem somewhat counterproductive in that it cost the plaintiffs pretty tidy sums of money and they still didn’t shut him up.

Judge Gunnell held off making a decision as to whether or not the suit should be dismissed with or without prejudice until he conducts further research on the matter. With prejudice would mean the plaintiffs would be unable to resurrect the lawsuit while a dismissal without prejudice would leave the plaintiffs open to pursue the suit at a later date.

“The legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for redress of grievances,” Perry said in his Memorandum of Support for the Special Motion to Strike pursuant to the state’s anti-SLAPP legislation. “The legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To this end, it is the intention of the legislature that the Article enacted pursuant to this Ace shall be construed broadly,” his memorandum said.

LouisianaVoice recently prevailed in another SLAPP suit for defamation and was also awarded attorney fees, though substantially less than Perry’s award.

Perry has openly questioned the need of a town of 3,200 residents for 18 police cars, a budget of $593,000 for patrol, $295,000 for police communications and a projected police department expenditure for the entire year of nearly $1.1 million, or nearly $114,000 in excess of the department’s budget. That amount includes a $76,120 salary for Police Chief Marcus Crochet, an amount that represents a 37.5 percent increase in his base pay. And that doesn’t count the $6,000 in annual supplemental pay from the state.

Despite the fiscal drain on the city budget, Crochet created a separate account called “Welsh Police Department Equipment & Maintenance and has diverted more than $178,000 from traffic fines into that account instead into the city’s general fund—all with the acquiescence of the mayor, one of four plaintiffs who sued Perry for DEFAMATION.

Mayor Carolyn Louviere, her daughter, Nancy Cormier; her son, William Johnson, and Crochet all filed separate defamation suits and all four used the same attorney, Ronald C. Richard of Lake Charles, to do so.

Not only that, but Perry was on the receiving end of several other negative actions:

  • A recall petition was started against him while he was in Japan on military orders, serving his annual two-week training;
  • Postcards were mailed to Welsh residents that depicted Perry and Andrea King, also a member of the Board of Aldermen, as “terrorists” (See story HERE) and that Perry violated campaign finance laws by failing to report income from a strip club in Texas of which he was said to be part owner and which allegedly was under federal investigation for prostitution, money laundering and drug trafficking (See story HERE);
  • He was removed from the town of Welsh’s Facebook page (most likely the least offensive of the reprisals.

Each of the nuisance suits say essentially the same thing: that Perry besmirched the reputations of her honor the mayor, both of her children, and the bastion of law enforcement and fiscal prudence, Chief Crochet.

And Mayor Louviere, who inexplicably wants to build a new city hall when the town is flat broke, is currently under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics, according to the Lake Charles American Press AMERICAN PRESS. She also wants to shut down a bar that just happens to be adjacent to a business owned by her son.

And her son, William Joseph Johnson, who Perry says used his mother’s office in an attempt to shut the bar down, has a story all his own.

Johnson, back in 2011, was sentenced in federal court to serve as the guest of the federal prison system for charges related to a $77,000 fraud he perpetrated against a hotel chain in Natchitoches between October 2006 and January 2007. And that wasn’t his first time to run afoul of the law.

At the time of his sentencing for the Louisiana theft, he was still wanted on several felony charges in Spokane County, Washington, after being accused of being hired as financial controller for the Davenport Hotel of Spokane under a stolen identity, giving him access to the hotel’s financial operations and then stealing from the hotel.

The only thing preventing Spokane authorities from extraditing him to Washington, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith said, was that “we just don’t have the funds to bring him back.” The Spokane Review, quoting court documents, said, “Police believe Johnson is a longtime con artist who has swindled expensive hotels across the country.” (Click HERE for that story.)

“William Joseph Johnson, Jr. remains on federal probation,” Perry said. “He has yet to pay back all of the restitution that he owes.

In his lawsuit against Perry, Johnson says he “has a long-standing positive reputation in his community and parish” and that he (Johnson) suffered “harm to reputation (and) mental anguish.”

In a written statement following the ruling, Perry said:

“I am very pleased with the outcome of this matter,” Perry said. “I look forward to returning to the job that the People of Welsh elected me to perform. I also applaud my experienced legal team for their outstanding work.

“The rights of citizens to engage in the decision-making of government and provide input are unique to our country. These unique values make our country great. And, more Americans

should participate in government today.

“SLAPPs infringe on the rights granted to the citizens of the United States of America. Litigation should not be used to censor, silence, and intimidate those who are only exercising their rights as an American.

I am proud to be a citizen of a state, the State of Louisiana which is one of 28 states in the United States, that has implemented Anti-SLAPP laws to protect the Constitutional rights of its citizens from frivolous lawsuits filed by lawyers overzealous for clients and publicity.”

There was no immediate word on whether or not Richard would appeal the decision on behalf of his clients.

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No sooner had I posted a story earlier today lamenting the depth of political corruption and chicanery in Louisiana than up pops yet another story about which every single one of the state’s 4.5 million citizens should be irate.

While this is not a call for the pitchforks and torches, the citizenry should be up in arms over a letter to State Rep. Helena Moreno (D-New Orleans) from a New Orleans teacher named Gwendolyn V. Adams.

It’s a letter that should go viral because it hammers home once again the question of one of the best examples of political corruption in the state.

Legislator’s Tulane scholarships.

Tulane is one of the biggest tax scams going. Act 43 of the 1884 legislature obligated Tulane to give scholarship waivers to state legislators and to the mayor of New Orleans and they in turn select the recipients of the scholarships.

Altogether the 145 scholarships cost Tulane something on the order of $7 million per year, based on current tuition costs. https://admission.tulane.edu/sites/g/files/rdw771/f/LegislativeScholarshipFAQ.pdf

So, what did Tulane get in exchange for such a legislative requirement?

Tax exemptions. Specifically, property tax exemptions totaling about $25 million per year. https://louisianavoice.com/2013/10/22/deja-vu-all-over-again-house-clerk-butch-speer-denies-public-access-to-tulane-legislative-scholarship-records/

The scholarships are supposed to go to deserving students in legislators’ respective districts who otherwise might not be able to afford a college education. Instead, they quickly became a form of political patronage whereby family members, judges and political cronies shoved deserving students aside, taking the scholarships for their kids. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_00a.htm

I first wrote about the issue way back in 1982 and it has been written about by numerous publications and reporters since but the abuse persists as legislators continue with their “in-your-face practices of doling out scholarships to family, friends and political hacks.

The story I wrote was about then-State Sen. Dan Richie awarding his scholarship to the relative of Rep. Bruce Lynn of Shreveport who gave his scholarship to Richie’s brother.

The practice has continued unabated ever since with scholarships going to recipients like family members of former Crowley Judge Edmund Reggie, who received some 34 years’ worth of Tulane scholarships valued at about $750,000, based on 1999 tuition rates. The son of former St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Walter Reed received a scholarship valued at about $172,000 over four years. http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/scholarships_13a.htm

The latest to come to light is Rep. Moreno who, although she represents a district in Orleans Parish, awarded her scholarship to the son of her Jefferson Parish political consultant Greg Buisson, whose company, Buisson Creative, was paid nearly $14,000 by Moreno in 2010.

She is currently a candidate for New Orleans City Council at-large.

Here is Adams’s letter to Moreno:

Dear Rep. Morano (sic):  

I write to you as an educator for 27 years as a classroom teacher, 4.5 years as a professional development educator for teachers, and private tutor/LEAP tutor at  a local charter school, and express my profound disappointment in your decision to award $150,000 to the son of a Metairie-based political consultant on your payroll.  

For the years 2012-13, 2013-14, and 2014-15, you gave your Tulane University Legislative scholarship – worth over $150,000 in free tuition – to the son of your paid political consultant, Greg Buisson. Greg Buisson, a resident of Metairie, is a long time controversial fixture in Jefferson Parish politics.

According to the New Orleans Advocate (October 24, 2013), “State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, has awarded her scholarship for the last two years to Collin Buisson, son of Greg Buisson, a veteran political consultant who has been handling Moreno’s campaigns and communications since she quit television journalism and went into politics in 2008.”

Greg Buisson has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his Jefferson Parish political connections and Buisson could certainly afford to pay his son’s Tulane tuition. For a number of years, Buisson has been on Moreno’s political payroll, earning thousands of dollars as her political consultant. In fact, I understand he ran your unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 2008. 

Rep. Moreno, are you now the Queen of Cronyism in regional politics? 

Further, the following article discusses your dismal record that includes awarding hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to students outside of New Orleans.

Rep. Moreno, you do not deserve promotion to New Orleans City Council At-large. You’ve proven yourself to be disloyal to the thousands of hardworking families and deserving students in your own Legislative District 93 – qualified students from McDonough 35, Joseph S. Clark, St. Augustine and other schools in the district you are supposed to represent. You’ve passed over these students to award much more than $150,000 to your privileged political consultant – a Metairie, Jefferson Parish resident! It’s just beyond insulting!  

What is your excuse? Were these scholarship monies awarded to the family of your political consultant in lieu of payment for services that should have been recorded in the State of Louisiana Board of Ethics Campaign Finance Disclosure Forms? Is the only way to get your attention: pay for play?  

We don’t need this corruption in New Orleans city government.  

I cannot imagine you serving as New Orleans City Council President. Maybe the Jefferson Parish School Board? Do not reward political cronyism. 

Sincerely,

Gwendolyn V. Adams

 

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You would think a room full of lawyers wouldn’t have to be told the legal definition of a public meeting as it pertains to cameras. But then again, members of the Louisiana State Law Institute’s Children’s (LSLI) Code Committee aren’t used to media coverage.

So, it might be somewhat understandable that they were a little surprised when blogger Robert Burns showed up with a video camera. But freaked out to the point that members demanded that Burns turn off his camera? Seriously?

It’s a poor reflection on a committee, whose membership includes a judge and a ton of lawyers, to even suggest, let alone demand, that Burns, who publishes the video blog Sound Off Louisiana, shut his camera off during its meeting on Friday. And it’s even more astonishing that one member, an attorney, would tell Burns that his interpretation of the open meeting laws entitled him to record the meeting on video was incorrect.

Judge Ernestine Gray, a judge of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court since 1984, should certainly know better than to chirp, “As an individual, I have a right not to be on there (the video).”

Um…sorry, your honor, but you do not have that right. This was an open meeting of an official state government body and the open meetings statutes clearly contradict your claim. And it’s a sad indictment of our judicial system that you, a sitting judge, should lay claim to such blatantly inaccurate privilege.

The committee was meeting pursuant to House Concurrent Resolution 79 of the 2016 legislative session in which State Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge) requested that LSLI “study and make recommendations to the legislature regarding abuse of incentives in the adoption process.”

The full text of HCR 79 can be seen HERE.

LSLI was to have a report to the legislature “no later than 60 days prior to the 2018 regular session of the legislature.” That would put the committee’s deadline somewhere around Jan. 18, 2018 and more than a year after passage of HCR 79, nothing had been done by the committee, which found itself up against an imposing deadline when it convened last Friday.

In fact, member Isabel Wingerter kept repeating during the meeting that there was no way the committee could have a report completed in time for proposed legislation to be introduced in 2018.

Edmonds, however, told members that while he had gone through the committee out of respect, there would be legislation filed for the upcoming session and that he already had a number of co-sponsors for his anticipated bill.

Abuses in the child adoptive process is a subject that Burns has already done extensive work on and, with his assistance, LouisianaVoice is going to be taking a long look at those who broker adoption deals between birth parents and adoptive parents and how those individuals can sometimes become part of a “bidding process,” playing one set of adoptive parents against another in order to broker a better deal.

It’s a murky area, virtually unknown outside the immediate circle of those families actually involved in the process of adoption and frankly, those involved would like to keep it that way. While LouisianaVoice is coming in a little behind the curve already established by Burns, we feel strongly that the entire process deserves a thorough investigation—from the aforementioned so-called “bidding process,” to the shirking of responsibility for investigating same by various state agencies who consistently punt when the subject of a possible criminal enterprise is brought to their attention.

All that probably explains the sensitivity to video on the part of the committee members but it certainly does not excuse either their attempted evasion of the open meetings law or of their trying to make up new law on the fly.

The meeting started with LSLI staff attorney Jessica Braum can be heard on the video whispering to Burns to turn his camera off. “It’s a public meeting,” Burns responds, “and I’m going to videotape it.

Burns said Braum made her request after being prodded to do so by fellow LSLI member attorney Todd Gaudin.

Moments later, Burns was again confronted, this time by committee member Isabel Wingerter who asked if he was videotaping the meeting to which Burns responded, “Clearly, yes.”

“We are not sure that’s appropriate,” Wingerter said. “What would you do with the film?”

Burns responded with a question of his own: “Is this or is this not a public meeting of a public body?”

“Yes, it is.”

“That’s all I have to explain,” Burns said, “and I’m not going to explain any further.”

It was at this point in the exchange that Judge Gray said she had a right not to be on video. “Not if you’re part of a public body,” Burns said. “Not if you’re attending a public meeting.”

Baton Rouge attorney Todd Gaudin inquired of Wingerter if Burns would be publishing the video. When Wingerter relayed the question to Burns, he again responded, “Is this a public meeting?” When she again affirmed that it was, Burns said, “It has every right to be republished.”

And this was when it really got interesting. Gaudin, whose practice primarily is in the area of adoption services and who served as the attorney for a prospective adoptive couple who ended up losing the child to another couple at the last minute, told Burns, “I don’t agree with your interpretation of the statute.”

That’s quite a statement coming from someone who is supposed to know the law.

Burns, digging his heels in, told the committee, “I have a right to videotape these proceedings and short of law enforcement coming in here and dictating it be turned off and escorting me out, the camera stays on.”

The camera stayed on.

And for Gaudin’s erudition, it can be found in R.S. 42:13. Here is the link: Public policy for open meetings.

And just in case he’s too busy to read the entire statute, here are the relevant parts:

  • “Meeting” means the convening of a quorum of a public body to deliberate or act on a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. It shall also mean the convening of a quorum of a public body by the public body or by another public official to receive information regarding a matter over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power.
  • “Public body” means village, town, and city governing authorities; parish governing authorities; school boards and boards of levee and port commissioners; boards of publicly operated utilities; planning, zoning, and airport commissions; and any other state, parish, municipal, or special district boards, commissions, or authorities, and those of any political subdivision thereof, where such body possesses policy making, advisory, or administrative functions, including any committee or subcommittee of any of these bodies enumerated in this paragraph.
  • Every meeting of any public body shall be open to the public unless closed pursuant to R.S. 42:16, 17, or 18. (R.S. 42:16, 17, and 18 give very specific reasons under which a public body may enter into executive session—that that is a moot point since the committee never entered into executive session.)

And there is this statute which addresses the right to video record public meetings:

23. Sonic and video recordings; live broadcast

  • A. All or any part of the proceedings in a public meeting may be video or tape recorded, filmed, or broadcast live.
  • B. A public body shall establish standards for the use of lighting, recording or broadcasting equipment to insure proper decorum in a public meeting.

Again, it’s worth mentioning that the members of the LSLI Children’s Code Committee are law school graduates.

Could it be that Gaudin, Wingerter, Judge Gray, and Braum were all absent on Videotaping Public Meetings day?

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