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Archive for the ‘TV News’ Category

“LSU police chief retiring next month; national search on tap,” said the HEADLINE in the June 9 Baton Rouge Advocate.

But don’t look for that “national search” to extend far beyond the corporate limits of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And don’t be surprised if an old familiar name is quietly named the new chief.

We don’t want to announce his name just yet, but his initials are Mike Edmonson.

That same day, a Baton Rouge TV STATION announced that current LSU Police Chief Lawrence Rabalais was being forced out after it was learned that his department racked up $1.2 million in overtime pay last year for his 80-person staff.

In case you don’t have a calculator handy, that comes to about $15,000 per person in overtime pay but don’t carve that in stone because some apparently were not getting their share. Records obtained by New Orleans television investigative reporter Lee Zurik, working in conjunction with Baton Rouge station WAFB-TV, showed that two LSU police captains made more than Rabalais in both 2015 and 2016 from logging hundreds of hours of overtime. In 2016, one of those captains made $64,800 in overtime while the other pulled down $61,800 in overtime pay. In another case, an LSU officer made $56,200 in overtime pay, which was nearly $5,000 more than his base pay of $51,300.

Rabalais will be stepping down from his $127,800-a-year job, effective July 5, the school announced. LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard, III said Maj. Bart Thompson would serve as interim chief until a permanent successor is named. “We will begin a national search for his permanent successor and put together plans for a transition plan in the near future,” Ballard added.

When asked if the retirement was voluntary, he said, “Our policy is to not comment on personnel matters, but there have been no terminations at the police department.”

Well, no, when you can pressure someone into resigning or retiring, firing becomes a moot point and administrators can walk away without having to invoke the ugly F-word.

“We will begin a national search for his permanent successor and put together plans for a transition plan in the near future,” Ballard added.

The timing of the Rabalais announcement is more than a little suspect, to say the least.

Something just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Don’t take that as a defense of Rabalais. He certainly had sufficient baggage with the Helen Haire matter to warrant a change. It’s just that the university had the perfect opportunity to cut its losses when her sex discrimination suit wound up costing LSU big bucks after he was named chief over her. Instead, the school waited for an obscure issue like overtime to make its move.

One might then asked why, then, did LSU suddenly take action?

LouisianaVoice has learned that Edmonson, for nine years Superintendent of State Police until his lax managerial practices finally caught up with him in San Diego last October, is near the top of a very short list of candidates for the job.

Don’t be too surprised if he does indeed get the job. In Louisiana politics, the Peter Principle—the theory that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in his or her current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role—is in full effect.

Edmonson’s position prior to being named by Bobby Jindal to head Louisiana State Police was that of public information officer for LSP and as bodyguard for LSU football coaches—and he was very good at those because his duties primarily involved schmoozing those in a position to help his career along.

Unfortunately for Louisiana, that did not translate to effective leadership of the entire agency. In a state where administrators are chosen not for their ability but for their political connections, it is not only the norm but the expectation that mediocre people will occupy the positions of greatest power and influence. The more power and influence to wield, the greater the demand for mediocrity.

And nowhere in state government—and the emphasis is on nowhere—are political influence and inflated egos more prevalent than on the campus of Louisiana State University, aka the Ole War Skule.

It’s almost enough to make one wonder if, when the chance to bring Edmonson into that tight little clique that is LSU presented itself, LSU officials decided to jump at the opportunity and to belatedly “address” the Rabalais problem.

Oh, surely not.

LouisianaVoice was first with the STORY on March 10 that Edmonson was gone from the State Police and the official CONFIRMATION came five days later, on March 15. We also were consistently first on dozens of accounts of Edmonson’s controversial tenure as Louisiana’s top cop for more than four years until other media were finally forced, albeit reluctantly, to begin following the story, and then stepping in to politely accept the credit for his ouster.

Some of the events at which officers have worked overtime were understandable. Besides more than 130 LSU athletic events and Bayou Country Superfest, a three-day music festival held in Tiger Stadium for the past several years, there was the 2016 flood event in Baton Rouge last August and the police shootings of 2016. In the latter case, all police patrols went from one- to two-person patrols, thereby doubling the need for officers on all shifts. There also was the 2014 ice storm, and other crisis or emergency situations; fundraisers on campus;  events held by student organizations; work at other LSU facilities, and others.

Certainly it was a mere coincidence that Rabalais was told to clean out his desk at LSU so soon after Edmonson was told the same over at LSP.

 

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It’s a classic political maneuver whenever a public figure is in trouble: get out in front of the story and release it yourself to make yourself either the good guy or a sympathetic figure—whichever the situation dictates.

Take Superintendent of State Police Mike Edmonson, for example.

First, he yanks a national award intended for a former Trooper of the Year and gets himself nominated instead, which by most standards, is a really shoddy way to treat a subordinate.

The he invites 15 of his best friends, also LSP subordinates, with him to San Diego to watch him bask in the moment—at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 123rd Annual Conference and Exposition held on October 15-18, 2016.

And he dispatches four of those to drive to California in an unmarked State Police SUV permanently assigned to his second in command, Charles Dupuy.

But when he realizes that LouisianaVoice, which has been working on this story for a couple of months now, and New Orleans TV investigative reporter Lee Zurik are planning to release a fairly critical story Monday night about his little escapade, he decides to beat them to the punch by going PUBLIC with his version of events.

But in doing so, this so-called “leader” callously tosses the four who drove the state vehicle under the bus while professing none too convincingly to be “embarrassed” by the whole affair. I mean, it’s a little difficult to be embarrassed when one of the four’s expenses for the trip was approved by Dupuy.

So much for the Loyalty part of that “Courtesy, Loyalty, Service” motto of the Louisiana State Police. If you’re going to give permission (as Edmonson did) for four men to drive to California and they take a state vehicle permanently assigned to your second in command, and that same second in command (Dupuy) signs off on the expenses of the senior member of the four (Williams), then it necessarily means that the top brass of Louisiana State Police (Edmonson, Dupuy, et al) were complicit and Edmonson can hardly discipline the four without coming down on Dupuy as well.

charles-dupuy

Sour grapes? You bet. No one likes being scooped on a story in which so much time and effort has been devoted. And this is not to be taken as criticism of The Advocate. In their shoes, I would not have done things any differently. And it’s certainly obvious that reporter Jim Mustian he did more than a little digging on his own as evidenced by his interview with a spokesman for the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans. We don’t begrudge participation of other media in a story such as this. Indeed, we welcome it. News is the exclusive domain of no one.

But it’s also just as evident that Edmonson had his PR machine cranked up full tilt in a desperate act of damage control.

He allowed those four State Troopers to make the trip in a State Police vehicle, a Ford Expedition—because, he said, it represented a savings to State Police. That was less than two months before he testified before members of the House Committee on Appropriations on December 6, 2016, that his department was in dire need of 658 additional VEHICLES (Scroll to the 7:40 point in the proceedings).

And he did it all on the state dime.

717,200 state dimes, to be precise, or as close as we can come, given the information provided by LSP was incomplete. That comes to at least $71,720 in taxpayer funds as the LSP assemblage partied even as the state barreled headlong toward yet another budgetary shortfall.

Gov. John Bel Edwards only last week issued a call for a 10-day SPECIAL SESSION of the legislature in an attempt to address a projected $304 million budget hole. That session began Monday at 6:30 p.m. and is scheduled to end by midnight, Feb. 22.

It’s not as though Edmonson needed validation badly enough to yank the honor from one of his subordinates. He has, after all, won other major awards:

  • FBI Washington DC, Top 25 Police Administrators Award, 2009
  • Sheriff Buford Pusser National Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award, 2013
  • Human Trafficking, Faces of Hope Award, 2013
  • Inner City Entrepreneur (ICE) Institute—Top Cop Award, 2013
  • American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Martha Irwin Award for Lifetime Achievement in Highway Safety, 2014
  • New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, Captain Katz Lifetime Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Safety, 2015.

Edmonson’s expenses were paid by IACP as the organization’s “honored guest,” according to LSP Maj. Doug Cain, and the travel and lodging expenses of Lafargue, who submitted expense claims only for $366 in meals (though he did turn in a time sheet so he could be paid for attending the event), were apparently picked up by the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) as best we can determine.

Cain said the reason so many personnel made the trip was because there were two other national conferences being held simultaneously: the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies (ASCIA), and the National Safety Council Annual Conference. Edmonson said the conference is an annual event and was included in the LSP budget.

But that didn’t prevent everyone involved from taking time to party hardy. This happy hour group photo was snapped at a San Diego watering hole.

san-diego-happy-hour

That’s Mike Edmonson right up front, on the left. Third from left is his wife and standing behind him on the third row in the yellow shirt is his brother, State Police Maj. Paul Edmonson. When LouisianaVoice requested a list of those who traveled to San Diego, Paul Edmonson’s name was conveniently omitted from the list. Yet, here he is.

The entire affair more closely resembled a frat party than a professional function, given the side trip to Vegas and the barroom fellowship.

Here is the announcement of Edmonson’s award from the Louisiana State Police Facebook page:

Following a nomination process that included numerous highway and public safety leaders from across the country, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson was awarded the “J. Stannard Baker Award for Highway Safety.” Colonel Edmonson was honored with the prestigious award during the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Annual Conference which was held from October 15-18, 2016 in San Diego, CA. The IACP Annual Conference has a reputation for providing quality education on pressing law enforcement topics, and at this year’s conference Colonel Edmonson served on a panel of law enforcement leaders from across the nation to discuss topics such as community and training.

At each year’s IACP Annual Conference, the J. Stannard Baker award is presented to recognize law enforcement officers and others who have made outstanding lifetime contributions to highway safety. The award is sponsored by the IACP, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety. For an individual to receive this award, they must be nominated by a law enforcement agency or other traffic safety group or official. They must also be a full time law enforcement officer of a state, county, metropolitan, or municipal agency or be an individual who has made a significant lifetime contribution to highway safety.

The IACP is a professional association for law enforcement worldwide. The IACP actively supports law enforcement through advocacy, outreach, and education. By establishing partnerships across the public safety spectrum, the IACP provides members with resources and support in all aspects of law enforcement policy and operations. The organization helps members to perform their jobs safely and effectively, while also educating the public on the role of law enforcement to help build sustainable community relations.

The glowing news release, however, does not tell the complete story.

Sources close to the story have told LouisianaVoice that New Orleans State Police Maj. Carl Saizan, a 33-year State Police veteran and former Louisiana State Trooper of the Year, was originally nominated for the award but that the nomination had to pass through Edmonson for his stamp of approval. Instead, Saizan’s nomination was mysteriously scratched in favor of….Edmonson. Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson ultimately signed off on Edmonson’s nomination.

Repeated efforts to contact Saizan for a comment were unsuccessful but LouisianaVoice was told he was not a happy camper about Edmonson’s snub. In fact, he may well have voiced his displeasure to Edmonson because he has since been removed as Region One Patrol Commander over Troop A (Baton Rouge), Troop B (New Orleans) and Troop L (Mandeville) and placed over only Troop N, which is exclusively New Orleans.

Edmonson, for his part, denied any knowledge of Saizan’s nomination. “I don’t know anything about anyone else being nominated,” he said in a telephone interview on February 13. “This was a lifetime achievement award based on my 37 years with State Police, mainly my last nine years as Superintendent,” he said.

Maj. Doug Cain, LSP Public Information Officer, told LouisianaVoice that he submitted Edmonson’s name for nomination for the award in “early May” of 2016 but a chain of emails received by LouisianaVoice indicates that saizan’s nomination was in the works as early as April 7. That timeline coincides with the story we received that upon receiving communication that Saizan was being nominated, Edmonson, or someone on his behalf—and certainly with his blessing—decided that he and not Saizan should be the nominee.

Here is Cain’s email:

From: Doug Cain
Sent: Saturday, February 18, 2017 9:28 PM
To: Tom Aswell
Subject: Re: QUESTION

I submitted app early May.  Don’t know exact date off the top of my head.

For those who may not recall, remember in June of 2014, State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) tried to sneak an amendment onto a bill literally during the closing minutes of the regular legislative session that would have pumped up Edmonson’s retirement benefits by about $55,000 per year. In case you don’t remember, Edmonson feigned ignorance of that maneuver as well, saying he had no knowledge of any such attempt only to later admit differently that he gave the go-ahead to the attempt in the full knowledge he had chosen to lock in his retirement years earlier and that that decision was supposed to be “irrevocable.”

So someone acts on Edmonson’s behalf to benefit him and he then attempts to distance himself from the action by claiming ignorance.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

LouisianaVoice received corroboration of the Saizan story from six independent sources, all from law enforcement veterans—three active and three of whom are retired.

The 15 “guests,” along with their salaries, who traveled to California to witness the presentation at the three-day International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in San Diego on October 16-18 were:

  • Derrell Williams, of Internal Affairs, $132,800 per year;
  • Col. Jason Starnes, recently promoted into the newly-created $150,750 per year unclassified position of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to assist the Undersecretary in the administration of all programs and sections within the Office of Management and Finance. The job description states Chief Administrative Officer shall exercise the duties and responsibilities of the Office of Management and Finance in the absence of the Undersecretary at the direction of the Deputy Secretary. Perk – he receives Free housing at the State Police Headquarters compound (dorm) because he is separated;
  • Special Assistant Superintendent Charles Dupuy, Edmonson’s $161,300 per year alter-ego;
  • Paul Edmonson, Command Inspector of Special Investigations Section ($136,800). He is Mike Edmonson’s brother and was not included in the list provided by LSP of those making the trip but somehow showed up in a group photo of the contingent in a San Diego bar;
  • John W. Alario, son of Senate President John A. Alario, Jr., who pulls down $115,000 per year as Executive Director of the Louisiana Liquefied Petroleum Gas Commission;
  • Layne Barnum, Command Inspector, Criminal Investigations Division ($132,800);
  • Greg Graphia, Operational Development Section consists of the Planning, Public Affairs, and Research Units. The Section functions as staff for Mike Edmonson ($124,100);
  • Special Deputy Superintendent over Bureau of Investigations Murphy Paul ($150,750). The Bureau of Investigation is responsible for the investigation of criminal activity, intelligence gathering, and case and technical support in the State of Louisiana.
  • Chavez Cammon, Criminal Investigations Unit, New Orleans ($96,900);
  • Stephen Lafargue, Secretary-Treasurer of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) and Bureau of Investigations for Troop D in Lake Charles ($112,300);
  • Rodney Hyatt, HQ President of the Louisiana State Troopers’ Association (LSTA) and Lt. of Operational Development Section ($99,800);
  • Master Trooper Thurman Miller, President of the Central States Troopers Coalition of Louisiana ($72,600);
  • Trooper Alexandr Nezgodinsky, Insurance Fraud Section, Baton Rouge ($50,900);
  • Charles McNeal, Investigative Support Section (ISS) LA-SAFE Director ($124,100);
  • Brandon Blackburn, an $18,700-per-year unclassified student/intern who is the son of the late Frank Blackburn who served as legal counsel to the Department of Public Safety (DPS). The younger Blackburn, along with his mother, Cindy Kreider Blackburn, and Mike Edmonson’s wife, Suzanne, paid their own expenses, records show.

With Edmonson, Dupuy and Starnes all in San Diego, it’s a good thing no major emergencies like floods, shootings or petro-chemical plant explosions occurred during their absence. But it nevertheless raises questions as to the wisdom of having the top three LSP administrators out of state at the same time. Cain, however, defended the decision, saying, Command and control is maintained 24/7.”

Yeah, like Bobby Jindal continued to run the state while campaigning for President in Iowa.

The decision to have LSP pay the salaries of such a large group of attendees, as well as travel, lodging, meal and conference registration expenses via state LaCarte credit cards, seems questionable enough. But the justification of having four troopers—Derrell Williams, Rodney Hyatt, Thurman Miller and Alexandr Nezgodinsky—drive a state vehicle from Baton Rouge to San Diego (with an overnight stopover in an expensive Las Vegas casino hotel)—was the most puzzling.

Miller is a member of the Retirement Board and President of the Central States Troopers Coalition of Louisiana, Inc. 

Traveling via Interstates 10 and 8 from Baton Rouge, the four would have had to go northwest from Phoenix about 250 miles for an overnight stay in Vegas and from there, 260 miles southwest to San Diego. The straight-line distance between Phoenix and San Diego via I-8, on the other hand, is 350 miles. That means the 510-mile detour taken by the four was about 160 miles longer than necessary.

The four logged seven days for the round trip—four days driving to California and three days on the return trip—plus the four days at the conference itself.

Not only did fuel for the trip cost $610.98, but the four troopers combined to log 249 total hours during the trip (12 hours per day each for three of the men except for the final day, when 11 hours were claimed by the same three) on their time sheets. Each man was paid for 56 regular hours (224 hours total) for the seven days on the road and for 27 hours each (81 total hours) in overtime pay for the trip. Each also was paid for attending the four-day conference, according to time sheets submitted by the troopers.

Maj. Derrell Williams was the only one of the four to claim no overtime for the 11 days that included the trip and the conference. That’s because those with the rank of captain or above cannot earn overtime pay. They can, however, earn straight compensatory time. His salary and expenses still came to $5,730.

Cain was asked for the justification for taking the vehicle and his email response was: More cost effective to transport 4 individuals and also provide local transportation in San Diego for departmental personnel.”

Edmonson likewise said by the time the cost of flying to San Diego and renting a car was tabulated, it was more economical to have the men drive.

But when their travel time (regular and overtime hours), meals and hotel bills were totaled, the cost of driving the vehicle came to more than $21,000, which does not appear to fit the “cost effective” justification given by Cain or Edmonson. In fact, each of the four could have flown first class for less than that. Edmonson said he would re-calculate the cost of driving the vehicle to California.

On Friday, he heaved the four men under the bus when he announced that they would be required to repay overtime claimed as well as hotel expenses for their overnight stay in Las Vegas. He said Maj. Catherine Flinchum who formerly worked in Internal Affairs, the section Williams now heads up, would conduct an investigation of the trip by the four men.

Interestingly, Williams’s supervisor who signed off on his $2,297.42 expense report was Lt. Col. Charles Dupuy, to whom the vehicle they drove is permanently assigned. That leaves unanswered the question of whether Edmonson’s investigation would extend to his second in command for approving the use of his vehicle and for approving the expenditures.

The bottom line here is that Edmonson knew of and approved taking the vehicle to San Diego and knew of the Las Vegas trip. His signature may not be on the approval for the expenses, but his fingerprints are all over this entire sordid affair. He owns it and no amount of public contrition can change that.

As for others who made the trip by auto, Capt. Gregory Graphia, who also was in San Diego, signed off on time sheets (including the overtime logged) of both Rodney Hyatt and Thurman Miller while Hyatt signed off on Alexandr Nezgodinsky’s time sheet even though he is not Nezgodinsky’s supervisor. A tight little incestuous circle of responsibility, to be sure.

Nezgodinsky, by the way, presents an interesting question in his own right. It seems he has been a State Trooper only since May 2014. So how did a trooper with so little seniority rate a free trip to San Diego? The answer to that may lie in the fact that he was a San Diego city police officer as late as 2012. Perhaps the Louisiana crowd needed a tour guide to the tourist hot spots.

As far as Cain’s somewhat questionable explanation of “local transportation for departmental personnel” goes, Enterprise, which has a contract with the state for discounted rates, still rents cars in San Diego.

One law enforcement official offered a third possible reason for taking the vehicle. “Any way you can check to see if booze for their private parties was transported out there?” he asked.

Cain denied that the Expedition transported anything other than the four troopers.

The total breakdown of costs to the state was almost evenly split between salaries and expenses, records show. Altogether, the salaries for all attendees came to nearly $34,800 and expenses for travel, lodging, registration and meals were $36,233, plus whatever unreported expenses were incurred by Paul Edmonson, according to incomplete records provided by LSP as a result of LouisianaVoice’s public records requests.

Among those costs were hotel bills far exceeding the maximum allowed by state travel guidelines. While several hotel bills were submitted for as much as $299 per night, state guidelines set a maximum limit of $126 per night for several listed cities, including San Diego.

Likewise, the $68-per-day limit for meals ($13 for breakfast, $19 for lunch and $36 for dinner) was routinely exceeded, sometimes just for breakfast. Three examples included meal expense statements of $60 and $72 for breakfast, $68 and $102 for lunch and $96, $120 and $193 for dinner.

redacted-starnes-invoice

redacted-edmonson-invoice

nezgodinsky-original-expenses

nezgodinsky-amended-expenses

hotel-bill

hyatt-expenses

Note the redaction of costs on several of the documents provided by LSP and the overtime hours charged.

The trip could prove embarrassing for the governor who recently posted on his office’s web page his PLAN to “stabilize the FY17 budget deficit of $304 million.”

Included in that plan:

  • No money in the FY17 budget for inflation or merit pay for state employees (so many years now that we’ve actually lost count but a good guess would be seven or eight years—but State Troopers have fared a little better, getting two recent raises that gave some officers increases as much as 50 percent. Those raises, by the way, did not apply to officers of the Department of Public Safety.);
  • No funds for flood related expenses.

Proposed cuts to specific programs included:

  • Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement—$251,674. The costs of the San Diego trip represented 28.5 percent of the cuts to this one program.
  • Louisiana Emergency Response Network Board—$27,625 (the San Diego trip cost two-and-one-half times this amount).
  • Office of State Police, Operational Support Program—$7.38 million;
  • Office of State Fire Marshal, Fire Prevention Program—$900,503;
  • Office of Juvenile Justice—$4.46 million;

Granted, $71,720 doesn’t represent a lot in the overall scheme of things when talking about a $304 million total deficit. Certainly not in any defense of Edmonson, but what if this is not an anomaly? What if this kind of fiscal irresponsibility is typical throughout state government?

If you have wastes of $71,720 here and $71,720 there, and $71,720 somewhere else, to paraphrase the late U.S. Senator from Illinois, Everett Dirksen, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

And remember, that $71,720 doesn’t include airfare, lodging and meals for Paul Edmonson since LSP failed to include him on the list of individuals who traveled to San Diego. Moreover, LSP initially provided expense records that redacted purchase amounts charged to the state LaCarte cards but later, pursuant to LouisianaVoice’s follow-up request, provided copies that were not redacted. But there were still no itemized receipts provided that showed what those purchases were.

Asked for the total cost of the trip, Cain responded, “I don’t have this figure; you have all the relevant documents.”

Well, given the deletion of Paul Edmonson from the guest list, not quite all.

Given the timing of this, the incredible waste of state resources, and the fact that the state continues to grapple with budgetary shortfalls, perhaps the time has finally come for Gov. Edwards to take somebody to the woodshed for a lesson in discretion.

Because, Governor, we’re all “embarrassed” by Edmonson’s repeated lapses in judgment.

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Below is a guest column by retired investigative reporter Ken Booth, formerly of Monroe and KNOE-TV but now living in sun-drenched retirement in Arizona.

A bit of explanation for this column is in order. For some time now, a feud has been brewing in 4th Judicial District Court which includes the parishes of Ouachita and Morehouse.

The dispute, which has been covered extensively by the Ouachita Citizen but largely ignored by other media in North Louisiana, is between Judge Sharon Ingram Marchman and four other judges of the 4th JDC and centers around a clerk for the 4th JDC, Allyson Campbell, whose attendance at her job has been brought into question by Judge Marchman.

Here is a copy of the MARCHMAN LAWSUIT filed in U.S Federal Court, Western District of Louisiana.

 

By Ken Booth

Guest columnist

This is troubling stuff indeed. When the Ouachita Parish court system not only fails to make sure justice is served fairly but goes so far as to allegedly try to cover up destruction of public documents which might prove such failure…. Well, we have more than just irony. Much more.

In what is believed to be an unprecedented move, a sitting 4th Judicial District Court judge has sued four fellow judges and their law clerk in federal court for “cover-up” of law clerk Allyson Campbell’s “history of wrong doing” as well as attempts to expose it all.

Judge Sharon Marchman’s suit grows from a report from the Louisiana Legislative Auditor last year which found some employees of the Court may have been paid for work never performed with time sheets submitted indicating they were there working when in fact they were somewhere else. If that happened that’s payroll fraud, the kind that got former Monroe City Engineer Sinyale Morrison and one of her employees in deep legal trouble.

The relevant part of the audit is found on page 41:

Condition

 Our audit procedures disclosed that some employees may have received compensation when they were not working. It appears that hours reported to payroll on time sheets might have been mis-classified as time worked instead of leave time used. This condition was detected by management and investigated internally before the audit. However, the control system did not detect the condition.

Criteria

Various state statues including, but not limited to, La. R.S. 14:138, govern the payment of public employees.

Internal control procedures must be designed to reduce to an acceptable level the risk that employees could be compensated for time not actually worked.

Cause

Internal control procedures may have failed to detect inaccuracies on time sheets submitted by employees.

Effect

The condition has at least the following effects:

  1. State law may have been violated.
  2. The Court may have compensated some employees for time that they did not work.
  3. If the Court compensated an employee(s) for time that was not worked, that employee also accumulated leave time that was not earned.

41

Here is the full AUDIT report.

State police were reported last June to be investigating the 4th JDC, but no report has ever been issued by LSP on that investigation.

http://www.knoe.com/home/headlines/LSP-investigating-4th-Judicial-District-Court-317689071.html

But it’s the subsequent attempt to squelch any attempt by the public to gain access to these and other related court records that is at the heart of Judge Marchman’s petition who asserts her efforts toward full disclosure have made her a “pariah” in the courthouse, hated and rejected by fellow judges and others.

But that audit and the Marchman suit are but parts of the court saga that seemingly continues to write itself while unfolding like a long-legged crane trying to land in deep soft mud.

If law clerk Allyson Campbell was ever disciplined for misfiling time sheets for leave time taken is not known. Those records have been blocked from release by judicial order of the 4th JDC citing “privacy concerns.” The Ouachita Citizen newspaper had sought these public records and once refused, filed a criminal complaint with the District Attorney.

The Court then sued the newspaper for seeking the release of records which under Louisiana law should be available for public copying or inspection.

A search has revealed nowhere else can be found a case in which a state District Court has sued the news media for seeking to publish public documents. That development, as stunning as it might have been, went completely unreported by other Ouachita Parish media, including two television stations and a daily newspaper owned by Gannett.

In the meantime, District Attorney Jerry Jones requested the Louisiana State Police look into the audit’s finding of possible payroll fraud. Their probe was joined by the state Inspector General. Their findings, turned over to Jones, were forwarded to the Louisiana Attorney General.

Highly partisan scuttlebutt among the higher-ups around the courthouse has it that no wrongdoing was uncovered by the joint investigation but no official report or statement verifying that has to this date been released by the Attorney General.

Whether Judge Wilson Rambo’s law clerk Allyson Campbell got paid for work not performed is but one issue.

Rather, the preponderance of allegations appearing in lawsuits stemming from this mess is that the law clerk involved is demonstrated to have been beyond supervision “let alone discipline, and furthermore defendant Judges were covering up her actions.”

A litigant in matters already before the court, Stanley R. Palowsky, III sued her individually along with five 4th District Court Judges last July accusing Campbell of hiding or shredding filings in his case(s) before Judge Rambo.

Palowsky’s suit alleged the Clerk of Court could not locate as many as 52 different writ applications which had been “missing” for over a year and that Campbell “who was clerking for Defendant Sharp at the time, had used the applications as an end table in her office.”

BROKEN GAVEL?

After the missing 52 writ applications were discovered in Campbell’s office she was reassigned to law clerk duties for Judge Fred Amman who – the Palowsky suit charges—“is her close friend and personal confidant” and Rambo, who was at the time presiding over a Palowsky civil suit before the court, a case in which the missing documents had figured.

Curiously, when your correspondent sought an extra copy of this suit quoted here from the Clerk of Court’s office, the suit had been ‘sealed’ and removed from public view. Fortunately, for the public’s interest, that horse was already out of the barn, so as to speak.

The Palowsky lawsuit asserted that Campbell was apparently the only subject of the Auditor’s report on suspected payroll fraud and that “her office reportedly went vacant for days, if not weeks, at a time.”

The petition went on to allege that Campbell had posted several photos on her Facebook page which “indicated that she…did her job in restaurants and/or bars” while drinking.

Palowsky accused her of identifying her food and drink as having been consumed “at the office.

The ‘sealed’ petition alleged that Campbell “…has a history of destroying and /or concealing court documents and Defendant Judges have covered this up” to protect her.

In one case cited as far back as 2012, Monroe Attorney Cody Rials was said to have complained to Judge Carl Sharp that he had “observed Campbell bragging in a local bar that she had destroyed Rials’ court document” in a case he had pending before Judge Sharp. Although Sharp was said to have found Rials’ story credible, the matter went no further according to the petition.

Campbell, at the time a society columnist for the daily newspaper, wrote a 2014 column called “A modern guide to handle your scandal,” according to the Palowski pleadings.

The court document quoted the Campbell column as having declared that “half the fun is getting there and the other half is in the fix.”

When Rials put his complaint about records destruction in writing, Judges Jones and Sharp interviewed an “unbiased disinterested witness who personally saw and heard Campbell sitting in a bar boasting about shredding Rials’ document so that Sharp would not review it.”

The witness told Sharp and Jones that Campbell told him directly that she had “taken great pleasure in shredding Rials’ judgement” and that she had given Rials a “legal _ _ _ _ ing.”

Courthouse workers have confided that during this approximate time frame they once hauled three roller cans filled with bagged shredded papers to the dumpster located between the courthouse and its annex. There is no way, of course, to know exactly what may have been in those bags which had been retrieved from the basement of the courthouse. However, when the shredding claims surfaced last Summer, the workers discussed whether some or all of it had been what they had disposed of.

That eyewitness to the alleged barroom bragging  has been identified to your correspondent as Monroe attorney Joey Grassi, who was deemed by Jones and Sharp, according to the Palowsky suit, to be “credible.“ However, that investigation also was shut off.

Key fob and in-house videos have reportedly showed that Campbell had not entered the courthouse on any of seven different days in the first part of 2014 even though her time sheets indicated she was there working. Those apparent false time sheets had been approved by Judges Rambo and Amman, which at most private businesses would be considered a firing offense.

THE MARCHMAN LAWSUIT

Judge Sharon Marchman has exposed what she says is a continued cover-up of law clerk Campbell’s actions. To that end she has filed a 33-page federal court civil lawsuit against Campbell, Campbell’s attorney, four fellow jurists and their attorney, and the former Louisiana Attorney-General Buddy Caldwell and his attorney.

In it she claims the named Judges of the 4th District Court, acting under color of law, have retaliated against her because she has opposed their plan to continue their “long-time protection of defendant Campbell,” who has been at the pertinent times mentioned supervised by Judges Rambo, Sharp and Amman.

She calls it a concerted action and conspiracy to hide Campbell “has committed payroll fraud and has destroyed or concealed court documents.” Her suit alleges the defendants have “intentionally withheld information and production of documents from authorities and persons making public records requests.”

Since they were all acting in an administrative capacity, none of them are entitled judicial immunity, she said.

Marchman outlined a pattern of retaliation she says has been carried out against her including “threatening, intimidating, coercing, ridiculing, taunting, harassing, alienating and making false accusations of wrongdoing” against her.

On one occasion last September, according to the Marchman lawsuit, Judge Rambo intentionally walked into her as he as getting off the elevator. The exact words in the petition: “The physical contact was done intentionally.”

By the end of last year after some favorable articles about Judge Marchman appeared, the Judges meeting as a group or en banc ruled the chief judge had to approve all videos and photographs taken in the courthouse. Marchman maintains that was part of a vendetta against her to deny to her any positive press attention, all of this growing out of the alleged unlawful actions of Campbell regarding payroll and documents and its subsequent cover-up.

Shreveport Federal Judge S. Maurice Hicks has been assigned to preside over Marchman’s lawsuit. Whether it will be heard at the federal courthouse in Monroe or Shreveport is not known at this time.

Ironically, Judge Hicks previously presided over a case called “Broken Gavel” in which two Caddo Parish judges were convicted of taking bribes for judicial favors. He sentenced one of them to ten years in the pen and the other five years.

All of this stew of controversies has prompted more than one lawsuit alleging repeated attempts to impede the administration of justice at the Ouachita Parish Louisiana Courthouse. With the exception of the Ouachita Citizen -which until recently was alone in reporting any of it- it all appears to have been too intellectually challenging for other local media.

These developments, however, have attracted newspaper and other coverage outside Ouachita Parish and in some national legal blogs such as ABOVE THE LAW, an American blog that gives news and commentary about the U.S. legal industry, which observed on September 3, 2015:

“Drinking on the job -especially while employed by the taxpayers- is not something you do just because you can. It’s something you do to numb soul-crushing ennui, something that Campbell seems to lack based on excerpts from her famed society column cited in the (Palowsky) complaint.”

Lack of local attention given highly questionable behavior by elected officials is bad enough but when it draws statewide as well as national eyebrows that can trigger potential economic fallout from lack of new investment.

Another 4th District Court Judge in Ouachita, Larry Jefferson, ruled a robbery-kidnap-carjack suspect ‘not guilty’ after a bench trial the other day in spite of DNA evidence which conclusively tied him to his crime against a 71-year-old female victim.

The 24-year-old perp, already a career criminal with an arm-long rap sheet of violent crime had held a pistol to the head of this live-alone grandmother and tried to cash her account out at an ATM where the blood from his cut hand was left and matched a mouth swab taken later, was free again—courtesy of Judge Jefferson—to share the community with his victim.

Certainly, it was not Ouachita Judiciary’s finest hour. Nor was it Jefferson’s first time in an unflattering spotlight. In 1999, the Louisiana Judiciary Commission concluded, “His actions cannot be said to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary” and in fact his actions had eroded both. After Jefferson unilaterally dismissed more than 40 cases before his then-City Court bench, the state Supreme Court suspended him from office for two years.

His ruling in the case of the robbery of the elderly grandmother came within a few days of handing a dirty state police trooper one year and some community service after the man was convicted of stealing drugs from an evidence room and selling about $1-million worth of the dope on the street. The ex-cop could have drawn a maximum sentence of 92 years in prison and fines totaling $76,000.

That non-jewel of judicial behavior reaped headlines across the nation. Veteran Capitol newspaperman Tom Aswell wrote: “If there’s anything dirtier than a rogue cop, it would have to be a rogue Judge.”

“Put the two together,” he wrote, “and an epic miscarriage of justice is bound to occur.”

These glaring cases serve readily to underline the need for public accountability and transparency to which the 4th Judicial District Court should rededicate itself. It’s a standard which sadly these cases suggest strongly has been ignored lately.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Campbell’s letter in its entirety:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Foster Campbell

Public Service Commissioner

 C: Louisiana Elected Officials

     Prof. Oliver Houck (Tulane University Law School)

No further comment seems necessary.

 

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When LouisianaVoice was first contacted about Troy Hebert back in December, one of the things our anonymous source said was that the former Commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control was positioning himself for a congressional run.

While everything the source told us was verified in a month-long investigation, we simply could not bring ourselves to believe that Hebert would seriously believe he could be a serious candidate for Congress.

After all, the Jeanerette native had enough baggage to justify an extra train car on any such expedition to Washington.

For openers, the veteran legislator cum ATC commissioner had, while serving as a state representative, managed to finagle a state contract for debris cleanup following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. That alone was a flagrant conflict of interest but because he was apparently close to Bobby Jindal, the State Board of Ethics chose to look the other way.

Then there is his tenure at ATC, marked by constant battles with his agents. Rumors of racism on his part persisted and he required his agents to rise and chirp, “Good morning, commissioner” whenever he entered the room. At hearings on alcohol permit revocations and other penalties, he insisted on being called “judge,” though he was merely an administrative officer.

So we discounted out of hand the report that he might make a run for a congressional seat. We assumed he was taking aim of the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany who has made his intentions known that he plans to seek the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter.

Nah, we said. The source is simply wrong.

But wait.

Politics necessarily dictate sizable egos and apparently there is none bigger than Hebert’s.

And there it was, when we googled “Hebert announces for U.S. Senate.” Up popped this link: http://www.katc.com/story/31082873/troy-hebert-to-run-for-senate?clienttype=mobile

That’s the web site of Lafayette television station KATC. We clicked on the link and this story appeared on our screen:

Troy Hebert, a former state senator and former commissioner of the state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Office, says he plans to run for the U.S. Senate this fall. 

Hebert, who is from Jeanerette and lives in Baton Rouge, served in the Louisiana state Senate as a Democrat, but later switched to Independent. He was Alcohol & Tobacco Control Commissioner for the past five years and resigned at the end of December. 

Hebert said he plans to run as an Independent.

“Given the number of voters that are fed up with both parties, the large number of registered Independents and the swollen number of republican candidates, simple math shows a great opportunity for voters to elect their first truly conservative Independent United States Senator,” Hebert said. “This realization has some people in high places, with a lot to lose, already trying to keep me out the race. They think I kicked their asses before, just think what I could do as a U.S. Senator.” 

Hebert joins three other Louisiana politicians who have announced they are vying for U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s Senate seat. Vitter announced he would not seek re-election after losing the governor’s race last fall.

U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, U.S. Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, and state Treasurer John Kennedy, also a Republican, have said they are running.

So it’s not the House but the Senate that Hebert is running for. Seems our source was pretty much spot on with this opening line back on Dec. 18, 2015:

“I have watched all of Mr. Herbert’s actions in the last year with amazement. His latest attempts to go around the State to get name recognition for what I hear will be a Congressional run has led me from watching from the sidelines to sending you this information.”

“Herbert also has been holding town hall type meetings across the State after he announced his resignation at end of year so he can get name recognition for his run for Congress,” she said.

Okay, it’s not the House, but that and other information provided us was accurate enough for us to see that our source is up in the middle of Troy Hebert’s business—and he has no idea who it is.

Stand by folks. If you thought last fall’s governor’s race was nasty, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.

As C.B. would say if he were still with us: You can’t make this stuff up.

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