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Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal’s travails (largely of his own making) continue with the filing of yet another in a series of legal actions, this one a federal LAWSUIT filed by a former female deputy.

As is usually the case, no matter how the trial (or settlement, which is more likely) eventually turns out, the real winners will be the attorneys who will have managed to drag out legal proceedings for a minimum of 18 months, barring any further delays in the trial tentatively set for June 4, 2018.

If the case follows the all-too-common trend, however, there is almost certain to be unforeseen delays and continuances that will push that date back even further as attorneys (and there is a gaggle of those) continue to rack up billable hours.

Candace Rayburn, a deputy sheriff for more than five years, claims she was unceremoniously and summarily terminated after she spoke up in the defense of a female co-worker filed an EEOC sexual harassment charge against a male deputy.

Rayburn’s is another in a string of lawsuits filed against Ackal, who was recently acquitted in Shreveport federal court of criminal charges of abusing black prisoners of his jail. Those charges included beatings of prisoners and turning a police dog on a helpless prisoner, a gruesome scene that was captured on video and posted by LouisianaVoice earlier.

Ackal is also being sued for wrongful termination by another former deputy and by the family of a prisoner who died of a gunshot wound while handcuffed and in the custody of Iberia Parish Sheriff’s deputies. The official coroner’s ruling was that the prisoner, Victor White, died of a self-inflicted wound.

The sheriff is also indirectly involved in the manslaughter arrest of a man instrumental in starting a recall of Ackal over the White shooting. https://louisianavoice.com/2017/03/21/man-indicted-for-manslaughter-after-he-is-rear-ended-by-man-later-killed-in-separate-accident-his-sin-was-recall-of-sheriff/

Rayburn initially named both Ackal and the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office as defendants but recently amended her petition to include Ackal as the only defendant.

Ackal, who paid premium fees in his criminal defense, in a classic case of fiscal overkill, has opened up the parish bank in hiring not one, not two, not three, not four, but five defense attorneys, all from the same law firm.

That’s right. Because he’s being sued in his official capacity as sheriff, Iberia Parish taxpayers will pick up the tab for his legal bills—all of them.

Rayburn, who was employed as a Sheriff’s Deputy for IPSO from July 21, 2008 to November

15, 2013, says she received “overwhelmingly positive reviews from her Supervisors” and was even named “Employee of the Year” in 2012.

But when Deputy Laura Segura filed a sexual harassment complaint against Chief Deputy Bert Berry, she voiced her support of Segura. Within two weeks, she says, she was brought before the department’s disciplinary board which recommended a one-year probationary period and that she be offered remedial training. Instead, she claims in her suit, Ackal fired her for “multiple (uncited) policy violations,” actions she claims were committed “with malice.”

Rayburn is claiming loss of pay, loss of benefits, loss of earning capacity, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

She is seeking reinstatement, as well as compensatory and punitive damages.

To say Ackal has lawyered up would be an understatement. He has retained half the Lafayette law firm of Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais: Allison McDade Ackal, Homer Edward Barousse, III, Kyle Nicholas Choate, Joy C Rabalais, and Taylor Reppond Stover.

Rayburn is represented by Justin Roy Mueller, also of Lafayette.

The calendar, rules, and SCHEDULE set forth by the court are simply mind-boggling and serve to illustrate why our courts are so backed up—and why justice is only for those who can afford it.

The court, invoking something called Rule 30(a)(2)(A), placed a limit of 10 on the number of depositions that may be taken in the case, limiting each to one seven-hour day—absent written stipulation of parties to the suit or of a court order.

Should the parties participate in the maximum 10 depositions with each one running the full seven hours allowed, that’s 70 hours of legal fees for which the parish must stand good.

Applying an arbitrary rate of $200 per hour (which most likely is considerably less than the hourly rate the parish paid his attorney in his criminal trial), that comes to $14,000—and that doesn’t count the costs of court reporters, expert fees, filing fees and countless other hours the five attorneys will be billing the parish for, or the Segura settlement which reportedly cost the parish in the ballpark of $400,000.

All in all, with all the legal expenses incurred by Ackal and his deputies in all the lawsuits and criminal charges, the folks in Iberia Parish must be asking themselves about now if they can really afford to keep such a financial liability in office.

Some might even call him high maintenance.

Others might call him a genuine physical threat.

By anyone’s definition, though, he is a loose cannon.

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Question: What’s worse than being a publicity whore?

Answer: Being a publicity whore with a double standard.

Attorney General Jeff Landry has been unabashedly running for governor ever since he was inaugurated as Attorney General in January 2016 and he obvious subscribes to the same theory as Donald Trump: any publicity is good publicity—maybe even this post itself.

And he’s certainly not above picking the low-hanging fruit in his quest for ink if it will lead him to his ultimate goal: the fourth floor of the State Capitol.

Here is his latest press released ginned out by his dutiful public information office (PIO):

Attorney General Jeff Landry today announced the arrests of two women on Medicaid Fraud charges, whose alleged crimes costed (sic) the State over $10,000.

“My office will not rest in our pursuit of those who rob much needed services from our State’s most vulnerable,” said Attorney General Jeff Landry. “Our award winning fraud detection and prevention unit remains committed to uncovering, investigating, and arresting those who attempt to defraud the system.”

Amanda Hollins, 31 of Ruston, was arrested and booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on four counts of Medicaid Fraud for allegedly submitting timesheets and service logs for services not rendered. 

Erica French, 34 of New Orleans, was arrested and booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on three counts of Medicaid Fraud for allegedly falsifying official records which indicated she had seen a number of patients who she actually had not.

Medicaid fraud occurs when providers use the Medicaid program to obtain money to which they are not entitled.

His PIO personnel must be exhausted from following him around as he personally rounds up Louisiana’s miscreants and personally places them under arrest as and personally slaps on the cuffs (well, all his press releases do say that he made all those arrests). Move over, Wyatt Earp, Sgt. Joe Friday and Walker Texas Ranger: there’s a new sheriff/prosecutor in town.

In fact, the old Richard Boone TV western Have Gun, Will Travel has been supplanted by Landry’s 2.0 version, Have Writers, Will Pander.

One can almost imagine him standing at a busy intersection holding a sign that reads: “Will Grandstand for Votes.”

So where is the double standard?

For openers, he is such a vocal opponent of fraud that, in a classic Let’s Make a Deal (apologies to Monty Hall and Wayne Brady) bargain, he placed a woman who pleaded guilty in 1999 to three counts of credit card fraud in the attorney general office’s Fraud Division. She was hired solely for the purpose of securing the endorsement of her mother (the third-place finisher in the 2015 attorney general’s race) in Landry’s runoff election against incumbent Buddy Caldwell.

How’s that for irony?

And even though one reader suggested (perhaps correctly) that it was time to move on and quit beating up on former State Trooper Ronald Picou, it’s difficult not to wonder where our attorney general is on this case.

Or in the case of this report by the Legislative Auditor’s office which showed that Sandy Edmonds was not only illegally accruing annual, sick and compensatory leave as the part-time executive assistant for the Louisiana Auctioneers’ Licensing Board which “costed” the state more than $11,000 but, according to a second report by the Office of Inspector General, was found to be claiming to be at work at the same time she was vacationing in New York, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Jersey and Orange Beach.

Or this one.

Or this one:

Or even this obvious case of intimidation by an attorney in the case of Landry’s former client, Billy Broussard, who was cheated out of about a million bucks in a cleanup project in the aftermath of Hurricane Rita way back in 2005.

Yeah, we know all about the statute of limitations on the Sandy Edmonds and Billy Broussard cases. And we know the attorney general is constitutionally prohibited from infringing on the local district attorneys as concerns non-state employees, but we threw those in to illustrate a point:

The scales of justice don’t always tilt toward the just and Lady Justice may be blindfolded but that doesn’t mean she’s impartial.

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So sit back and resign yourself to two more years of daily news releases about Jeff Landry personally arresting slackers, losers, hustlers, and enemies of the people—on a very selective basis, all calculated to shore up his gubernatorial bid.

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Image result for cell phone text photos

One of our sources told us early on to make a public records request for all text messages to and from the four State Troopers who drove to that infamous social event in San Diego by way of Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon last October as well as like messages from former State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson.

“Get those texts and you will see that Mike Edmonson knew the whereabouts of those four the entire trip,” our source said. “They were texting each other every mile of that trip. The four in the vehicle even sent photos.”

So, it was no surprise when The Baton Rouge Advocate ran a page-one STORY in which we learned that Louisiana State Police (LSP) had no texts—sent or received—from Edmonson, his former Chief of Staff Charles Dupuy, or any of the four who drove.

It was an LSP Ford Expedition issued to Dupuy that the four drove to San Diego via Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

What are the odds that there would be no text messages or photos of the trip?

In this case, 100 percent.

And lest one take this too lightly, consider this: LSP was—and remains—under investigation for that trip, not only because of the vehicle being taken, but because Edmonson flew about a dozen others, including a part-time student worker, to San Diego at taxpayer expense just so they could witness him receiving a national award.

The FBI is known to be investigating the Louisiana State Troopers Association (LSTA) for political contributions funneled from the association through its executive director’s personal bank account. The scope of that investigation could extend to the San Diego trip, though that is not known for certain.

When you’re under investigation, it’s called evidence tampering to destroy electronic communications—if that’s what happened. And authorities normally frown upon the destruction of evidence. In fact, it’s a criminal offense.

Ironically, one of those making the drive to San Diego in that Expedition was Derrell Williams. At the time, he was head of LSP’s Internal Affairs which is charged with investigating reports of misconduct on the part of state troopers. He has since been relieved of those duties but he, of all people, should know the consequences of exorcising electronic communications that might have a bearing on an investigation.

As The Advocate pointed out, it’s improbable but possible that no text messages were sent by any of the six individuals. And, reporter Jim Mustian wrote, it’s even possible that messages, if any, were automatically deleted through some type of customized setting.

Of course the official word from LSP is that the agency has no formal retention policy regarding text messages.

So it would seem that all the bases are covered in the LSP Textgate mystery.

It’s like the lawyer who, upon being sued because his dog bit someone walking past his house responding by saying (1) “My dog doesn’t bite,” (2) “I keep my dog inside a fenced yard,” and (3) “I don’t own a dog.”

Now all other state agencies, thanks to LSP, can forgo instituting a retention policy or quietly go about abolishing any such policy they may already have just in case some other reporters come snooping around.

After all, if a no-policy is good enough for the state’s top law enforcement agency, why should other agencies be burdened by such an encumbrance?

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No sooner than we post our story about Public Service Commissioner MIKE FRANCIS lobbying for a return of the free lunch for PSC members than we get an anonymous tip about another of those furtive bills sneaked through on the final day of last year’s legislative session—a-la the infamous 2014 Edmonson Amendment—which apparently renders Francis’ effort moot.

Put another way, the most expensive free lunch in Louisiana history is now the order of the day.

An amendment tacked onto an otherwise innocuous bill goes much further than even Francis intended, however.

While the bill itself was not initially identified by our source, it was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate and signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards, we’re told. More specific information will be forthcoming as we learn more about the amendment.

Details are still sketchy at this point but all elected state officials, as well as appointed members of boards and commissions, will receive gourmet lunches catered by two of Baton Rouge’s most expensive restaurants whenever they convene in Baton Rouge. The menu will range from prime steaks to prime rib to lobster—and more, much more.

That includes not only the 144 members of the legislature for every day the legislature is in session and when members attend committee meetings throughout the year, but the LSU Board of Supervisors, the University of Louisiana System Board, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), the PSC, the Insurance Rating Commission, and hundreds of other boards and commissions as well.

The amendment also increased the cap on the amount that can be spent on meals by 70 percent, from $50 to $85. That does not include the cost of drinks, which also will be provided gratis for elected and appointed officials.

The new law, while exempting those officials from the $50 cap, leaves the limits in place for state employees.

The cost of this newest perk is expected to easily exceed $1 million per year just for legislators. The countless members of boards and commissions who meet throughout the year in Baton Rouge who also will be eligible for the new perk will increase that cost even more, though there is no way to calculate how much that will be.

But there apparently will be no cost to taxpayers since lobbyists will be responsible for payment of the cost of the meals and drinks. Various special interests will pick up the tabs on a rotating basis with Oil and Gas interests buying one day, banks the next, then private prisons, etc., for legislators.

For the individual boards and commissions, those interests with the most to gain from legislation will be participating. Utility, pipeline, cable TV and trucking companies, for example, will split the costs for PSC members with insurance companies sharing the cost for the Insurance Commissioner and the Insurance Rating Commission, private prisons will be treating members of the Pardon and Parole Board, and charter and voucher schools will strap on the feedbag with BESE members.

Opposition, albeit nearly a year too late, was nevertheless easy to find. Attorney General Jeff Landry blamed Gov. John Bel Edwards for letting the amendment slip through. “I am dedicated to protecting the interests of the voters on matters such as this and the governor obviously is not. That’s why when I’m elected governor, I will work diligently to repeal this amendment. I’m putting legislators on notice right now: if you sponge off lobbyists and take advantage of senior citizens, children, conservative, patriotic, anti-Islamic Republican voters, I’m coming after you.”

His words were echoed by U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, who said, “I supported Donald Trump from day one and you oughta carry a handgun. I have also always said we don’t have a revenue problem in Louisiana, we have a spending problem. This proves it. Legislators make between $32,000 and $66,000 a year, including their $159 per diem for each day they’re in Baton Rouge. When I’m governor, they’ll buy their own damn lunch. And they can drink weed killer.”

Legislators contacted by LouisianaVoice were surprisingly candid in their support of the amendment.

“Look, we have to eat, too,” said Rep. Carl Spackler of Shongaloo. “We come down here every year and in the past we’ve had to scramble to find lobbyists who will buy us dinner. Lunch is usually out of the question because we’re tied down at the Capitol during the day and we have to settle for the lousy food in the cafeteria. And a lot of evenings, it’s raining out and we get soaked running from our cars to the restaurant. And don’t even talk to me about the Baton Rouge traffic. It’s hardly worth the free steak and Merlot Cabernet Franc.”

Sen. William J. Le Petomane of Mamou agreed. “We come here and listen to all the whining from state agencies about budget cuts. I only get to see my girlfriend when I’m here in Baton Rouge and my constituents really cut into my time with her. I got her a job with the state but she’s pretty high-maintenance, so these meals will free up per diem money that I can spend on little gifts to keep her happy. In that regard, the amendment will be added incentive for us to do our jobs when we’re in town.”

Lobbyist Al Cverzik, who represents the Louisiana Nutria Preservation League, said the easing of restrictions on meals and drinks will give lobbyists greater access to legislators. “We have to compete with all these ordinary citizens to get our message across. Well, we have a right to be heard, too. Having a sit-down with them over a porterhouse steak and a glass or two of whatever will help us immensely.”

The bill goes into effect today—just in time for the upcoming legislative session which kicks off on April 10, a week from this Monday.

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Among all the things in state government we could (and do) point out and complain about, this might seem a bit trivial.

But why, at an institution of higher learning, would someone attach this license plate frame to his vehicle when he is the only occupant?

“Alumni” necessarily implies multiple occupants, all of whom are proud graduates. The proper term should be “alumnus,” which is the singular form.

And lest you think I’m picking on LSU, be assured that other schools are equally guilty. Louisiana Tech, ULL, ULM, Southern, Nicholls State, Grambling, McNeese, Southeastern….all of ’em sell these frames in their gift shops.

So do Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Auburn, Arkansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Georgia and most likely every other college and university in America—probably even the Ivy League schools.

Speaks wonders for higher education, does it not?

Oh well, just something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for quite a while.

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