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Archive for the ‘Transparency’ Category

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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The saga of Mangham contractor Jeff Mercer is taking on all the ugly characteristics of a conspiracy between the state, the 4th Judicial District Court, and the 2ND Circuit Court of Appeal.

Mercer is the contractor who was forced out of business by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) when DOTD withheld more than $11 million he was owed when he resisted SHAKEDOWN EFFORTS by a DOTD inspector who demanded that Mercer “put some green” in his hand and that he could “make things difficult for mercer.”

He is also the man who dug his heels in and sued DOTD, eventually winning a staggering $20 million JUDGMENT after a jury trial in Monroe’s 4th JDC.

And he is the man who saw his verdict overturned by the 2nd Circuit.

It’s not like LouisianaVoice didn’t obtain INTERNAL DOCUMENTS from DOTD that supported Mercer’s claim that he was owed the money. They did. In spades.

But then, more information became public. This time, it was about 2ND Circuit Court Chief Judge HENRY N. BROWN, who assigned the case to himself despite his ties to DOTD.

Brown subsequently wrote the opinion which reversed the unanimous state district court verdict. Subsequent to that adverse opinion, Mercer learned of Brown’s ties to DOTD and filed an application for rehearing and a motion to recuse and vacate the panel’s opinion which, of course, was denied.

But then even more damning information surfaced, including reports of ex-parte communications, unauthorized computer accessing, and apparent falsification of discussion of an alleged DE NOVO REVIEW by Brown of Mercer’s trial court record.

A year after Mercer’s motion to recuse was denied, Brown and his law clerk were gone. Brown was FORCED TO RESIGN after being suspended for his alleged behavior toward colleagues who were considering an appeal involving a close female friend of Brown’s.

So, Mercer did what anyone so aggrieved would do: He filed a 71-page PETITION TO ANNUL the 2nd Circuit Court’s judgment.

And that’s when the appearance of a tight-knit conspiracy begins to take shape.

The petition to annul was filed in 4th JDC in Monroe on September 27 but now the 2nd Circuit Court, which is not even a party to the original lawsuit, has jumped into the fray in an effort to seal documents sought by Mercer.

If that seems a bit confusing, it is. The 2nd Circuit’s MOTION, itself under seal, seeks an ex parte order to seal documents of the 2nd Circuit which Mercer feels would demonstrate rampant corruption in the 2nd Circuit which would in turn, justify overturning the appeal court’s reversal of his trial court verdict.

In a head-scratching claim in its decision to reverse the lower court verdict, the 2nd Circuit said Mercer had not proven the DOTD official had acted with malice or had prevented him from submitting contracts to the state.

No malice? Shakedown attempts? Withholding $11 million owed Mercer (which had the effect of preventing him from bidding on future contracts).

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what would constitute the definition of “malice” in the eyes of the 2nd Circuit if such intimidation didn’t do the trick.

If all that isn’t bizarre enough, motions are scheduled to be heard Thursday by 4th JDC Judge J. Wilson Rambo.

Rambo, of course, was a central figure in another case involving the DESTRUCTION OF DOCUMENTS in a lawsuit by developer Stanley Palowsky, III.

The words of a judicial CONSPIRACY first appeared in connection to that case and nothing we have heard or read since then has removed the cloud over the entire 4th JDC.

Documents the 2nd Circuit seeks to seal include objections to jurisdiction as well as internal documents, bench memos, and drafts of opinions.

“If the judge (Rambo) seals it (the record), they’ll bury this,” Mercer said.

His words could well be prophetic.

Which would justifiably raise the question: What price justice?

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The wheels of justice are prone to turn slowly. Anyone who has ever had to deal with the courts can pretty much verify that. Even routine litigation can take up to a decade—or longer—for resolution.

So, when The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal denied a motion by Mangham contractor Jeff Mercer to recuse Chief Judge Henry Brown at 10:23 a.m. on August 3, 2017, it was more than a little surprising when Judge Pro Tempore Joe Bleich of Ruston was able to whip out a three-page supporting opinion—drafted, neatly typed and filed by the clerk—two minutes later, at 10:25 a.m.

In fact, Mercer’s attorney, David P. Doughty of Rayville, is of the opinion that it’s simply impossible and that “[t]he logical explanation is that this supporting opinion was drafted prior to the hearing ever occurring,” which might indicate to those familiar with the machinations of the courts to conclude that someone within the 2nd Circuit was not quite playing by the rules.

By examining the timeline included in the link at the bottom of this story, one can see in the sixth and seventh entries that the order to deny the motion was issued at 10:23 a.m. on August 3 and Bleich’s supporting opinion filed by the clerk at 10:25 a.m. that same day.

One can also see how the principals involved probably thought Mercer would never be privy to the internal records of the court which revealed the expeditious manner in which Bleich’s supporting opinion was generated.

But they obviously underestimated the Mangham contractor who has already been forced out of business by DOTD and the 2nd Circuit and by this time, had nothing to lose by pursuing a string of public records requests which led to revelations of skullduggery on the part of Brown and his law clerk, Trina Chu.

Both Brown and Chu would be gone in little more than a year.

A little background may be in order for Bleich. His BIOGRAPHY, as provided by the Louisiana Supreme Court, notes that he was assigned in January 2016 by order of the supreme court as judge pro tempore of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal to fill a vacancy created by a retirement. He was scheduled to serve from January 14 through April 30, 2016 or until the vacancy is filled, which occurred first. But in August 2017, of course, he was still serving.

Bleich received his undergraduate degree from Louisiana Tech University and his law degree from LSU Law School and served as a district court judge for the Third Judicial District Court (Lincoln and Union parishes) from 1982 to 1996 when he was elected Associate Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court to fill an unexpired term. He “retired” later that same year when he lost his bid for election to a full term and has practiced law in Ruston and served as a pro tempore judge in various district courts.

Bleich wrote a flowery three-page supporting opinion complete with legal “research,” peppering it with effusive praise for Judge Brown, finding “not a scintilla of bias by Judge Brown.”

Most observers would agree that that’s a lot of legal research and writing to cram into two minutes.

The only problem with that, besides, of course, the dubious speed with Bleich supposedly penned his gushing respect and admiration for Brown in his supporting opinion, was that it might have been a bit premature.

Little more than a year later, Brown would be gone from the bench, forced to resign after being SUSPENDED for his alleged behavior toward colleagues who were considering an appeal involving a close female friend of Brown’s.

He received an order from the Supreme Court to vacate the appeal court building in downtown Shreveport and to not take any judicial actions after complaints were filed that he had created a hostile environment toward colleagues who were hearing the appeal of a civil lawsuit against his friend who had been found liable for more than a million dollars in her own case which was also on appeal before the 2nd Circuit.

But the story, particularly as it relates to Mercer, goes much deeper and involves several officials in the 2nd Circuit and the possible illegal access of court files, including those in the Mercer case.

Mercer was a contractor on highway construction projects in Ouachita, Morehouse, Bossier, LaSalle and Caddo parishes—projects totaling nearly $9 million. He filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) in which he claimed DOTD inspectors attempted to shake him down for kickbacks and equipment or risk not having his work pass inspection.

When his payment for his work was subsequently withheld, he sued and a 12-person jury in 4th Judicial District Court in Monroe unanimously AWARDED him $20 million on December 4, 2015. The official judgment was rendered on February 10, 2016.

DOTD appealed the decision to the 2nd Circuit and Chief Judge Henry Brown, along with Judges Jeff Cox and Jeanette Garrett composed the three-judge panel which heard oral arguments. Brown sat on the panel despite the fact that his father had worked for 44 years as a civil engineer for DOTD, a fact he neglected to disclose.

Brown even wrote the opinion of the 2nd Circuit panel which reversed the unanimous state district court verdict. That decision was filed on June 7, 2017. It was only after that decision that Mercer subsequently learned of Judge Brown’s failure to disclose his father’s employment with DOTD. He filed an Application for Rehearing and a Motion to Recuse and Vacate the Panel’s opinion.

It was that motion to recuse on which the August 3 order was issued at 10:23 a.m., followed by Bleich’s opinion of more than three pages was researched, drafted, typed and filed by the clerk within the next two minutes.

A year later, on August 22, 2018, Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Detective Doug Smith was told by 2nd Circuit Judicial Administrator Lillian Richie that she and other court employees had become aware that Trina Chu, Judge Brown’s clerk, “may have intentionally exceeded her authorization” while handling court documents on the court’s computer network.

Smith subsequently wrote a six-page report that reads more like a Trumpian chapter from the ongoing Ukraine investigation than routine court business with reports of unauthorized photocopies, access to restricted computer files, copying of confidential files onto a USB drive, and a string of emails that indicated ex parte communications (communications with respect to or in the interests of one side only or of an interested outside party to the exclusion of attorneys for the opposing parties) with Judge Brown’s friend Hahn Williams, the subject of the appeals case that ultimately got Brown removed from the bench.

One of those emails instructed Williams on how to transmit a document to her attorney so that it could not be traced back to her: “you can send the document to him (attorney) as is because it has no information that can be traced back to me on the document. Save it to a jump drive and give it to him so he won’t have to type much.”

Nor were the ex parte communications limited to Chu, Mercer claims, but also included Judge Brown receiving an email and documentation regarding his friend’s case. “The documents emailed to Judge Henry Brown were the confidential Second Circuit documents related to the Succession of Houston case…and actually sent to his Second Circuit email address,” Mercer says in his latest Petition to Annul (the 2nd Circuit Court) Judgment.

According to the 2nd Circuit panel’s decision, all three judges conducted a de novo review of the Mercer case on appeal. De novo appeal is an appeal in which the appellate court uses the trial court’s record but reviews evidence and law without yielding to the lower court’s ruling—as if the trial was being heard anew.

In Mercer’s case, there were nine volumes of exhibits comprising nearly 8,700 pages of required reading by each judge in a de novo review of the record.

“[t]he 2nd Circuit sign sheet for the record and exhibits, however, reveals that the panel, in making the de novo review, must have relied solely on Judge Brown’s review of the record,” Mercer claims in his petition to annul. “Judge Cox never checked out either the original or duplicate record or exhibits, and after the April 4, 2017, oral arguments, Judge Garrett never checked out the duplicate record. Therefore, it was impossible for the entire panel to have made a de novo review of all the trial testimony and exhibits that were seen and heard by the (district court) jury for almost a month,” Mercer says.

“Thus, the Second Circuit’s own records show that a full de novo review of the trial records/exhibits by all three (3) judges never occurred after the case was submitted after the April 4, 2017 oral arguments (emphasis Mercer’s). In essence, one judge (Brown) substituted his opinion for twelve unanimous jurors. Judge Brown wrote a fifty (50) page opinion for the panel, thirty-eight (38) pages of which was discussion of an alleged de novo review fact finding by the entire panel, which never occurred after the case had been submitted.”

The petition says that because of the ill practices of the court, “the June 7, 2017 decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal should be declared null and void, and the original unanimous jury verdict and judgment of February 10, 2016, should be reinstated and the Second Circuit [Court] of Appeal should be recused from any further hearing of this case.”

Mercer has also subpoenaed Lillian Ritchie for her deposition as well as digital copies of all documents obtained through forensic imaging that were copied from Chu’s computer as they relate to his case and all email messages of Jennifer Brown, Judge Brown’s former permanent supervising law clerk (and now general counsel for the 2nd Circuit) from August 26, 2016 through August 30, 2017.

If nothing else, Mercer has peeled back the layers of secrecy, for lack of a better description, that shroud the court’s procedures from the general public—procedures that citizens have the right to know about when they have business before the court.

We live in what is generally considered an open society and as such, we should know what our elected officials—including judges—do and how they do it. Secrecy should have no place here.

Mercer may have opened a tiny portal to how the system works and how more transparency should be the order of the day.

The fair administration of justice demands it.

To review the entire Mercer petition and the eye-opening exhibits, go HERE.

 

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There are certain procedures that must be followed in submitting public records requests to public agencies and with many agencies, if the procedure is not followed to the letter, you will find cooperation nonexistent.

Such is the case with Dr. Arnold Feldman, a pain management physician whose license was suspended by the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners which, just to be sure that he has been silenced, imposed a half-million dollar fine against him.

Dr. Feldman is unfamiliar with the proper method of making public records requests, as evidenced by a number of his requests that LouisianaVoice has obtained. For example, he has on occasion asked for general information instead of requesting specific documents.

In such cases the board, like many state agencies, is unforgiving, responding that his request is “overly broad” without explaining how—or by not responding at all.

It helps if you preface your request with: “Pursuant to the Public Records Act of Louisiana (R.S. 44:1 et seq.), I respectfully request the opportunity to review the following information:

Then you may wish to quote certain passages from the state’s public records statute, i.e. the penalties that non-compliance with the request carry. That puts officials on notice that you are knowledgeable about the public records statute.

And even though Dr. Feldman’s request did not follow these procedures, there are those occasions where the official response is so absurd that the official efforts to deny information becomes obvious.

For example, Dr. Feldman made one request that granted, did not follow protocol when he inquired as to whether or not Hammond attorney George M. Papale had ever been elected as a judge (he has not).

And while the request itself did not specifically ask for a public record, the board’s response in a JULY 9 LETTER by Dr. Vincent Culotta, executive director of the board, was laughable—and incorrect:

“…responses to public records requests are sometimes done with the assistance of counsel and we object to producing such information such information for your request on grounds of attorney-client and work product privileges.”

That is pure B.S. and Culotta knows it. And if he doesn’t, he should be fired because it’s part of his job to know.

Virtually every state agency, upon receiving any request for public records, runs that request by its legal counsel—meaning that practically all public records requests are done “with the assistance of counsel.”

By that line of reasoning, all public records requests could be refused.

A week earlier, in a JULY 2 LETTER, Dr. Culotta responded to Dr. Feldman:

“Specifically, you requested: ‘Has George Papale, who has been paid by this board, ever been an elected judge? Please provide me with a copy of his complete file.’

“I outline for you the objections of the Board to the scope of your request and specifically assert these objections to the production of any of the materials listed therein, if any exists, for the following, non-exhaustive reasons:”

One of the reasons given cited a state statute which provides that the “records and documents in the possession of any agency or any officer or employee thereof, including any written conclusions therefrom, which are deemed confidential and privileged shall not be subject to subpoena by any person or other state or federal agency.”

The key here is the phrase “which are deemed confidential and privileged.”

In the case of all public employees, from the governor on down, certain information is considered public information. This includes job titles, dates of hire and termination, salaries, official travel records, and expense vouchers (hotels, meals, mileage) and payments. In the cases of contract employees, copies of such contracts, terms of payment, job duties, invoices and payments are all considered public records.

How do I know this? I have made similar requests—and received documents—from many state agencies, one of the most frequent being the Louisiana State Police and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

In cases of denial of a valid request, the requester may file a lawsuit against the agency and the person making the decision to deny the records. If the requester prevails, the agency or individual making the decision can be fined up to $100 per day, plus court costs and attorney fees, for denial of each request.

How do I know this? I have been successful in three of four lawsuits over public records or illegal executive sessions of a public body.

As with the State Board of Dentistry, the Board of Medical Examiners is flexing its enforcement muscle against those who do not have the expertise or the financial resources to fight back. A half-million-dollar fine is overkill in every possible consideration. Doctors and dentists have been broken and their careers left in tatters because of similar oppressive, dictatorial actions and it’s long past the time they should be reined in.

And for the record, attorney George Papale is still under contract to the Board of Medical Examiners even after his—and his daughter’s—employment was TERMINATED by another regulatory board, the Louisiana Physical Therapy Board.

The two attorneys had their contracts terminated following widespread complaints about the board’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.

The board was ripped by lawmakers after it was learned it had failed to revoke licenses after physical therapists settled claims of sexual misconduct with patients.

Baton Rouge physical therapist Philippe Veeters was charged with sexual battery and accused of assaulting nine patients but instead of revoking his license, the board merely suspended his license for nine months, prompting State Sen. J.P. Morrell (D-New Orleans) to call the action a “slap on the wrist.”

Dr. Feldman should re-phrase his requests and if unsuccessful, seek a legal solution.

That’s not legal advice; it’s advice from one who has been down the same road on many occasions.

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