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Were political considerations behind separate decisions by a state district judge to prohibit a contractor from seeking public records or a Second Circuit Court of Appeal judge to overturn a $20 million judgment against the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD)?

While definitive answers are difficult, there does seem to be sufficient reason to suspect that the lines between the judicial and administrative branches of government may have been blurred by the Second Circuit Chief Judge’s decision to negate the award to a contractor who a 12-person jury unanimously decided had been put out of business because he refused to acquiesce to attempts of bribery, extortion and conspiracy.

Judge Henry N. Brown, by assigning the case to himself and then writing the decision despite the fact his father had been a DOTD civil engineer for more than 40 years, may have placed federal funding for Louisiana highway projects in jeopardy.

And the RULING by 14th Judicial District Court Judge David A. Ritchie prohibiting Breaux Bridge contractor Billy Broussard from making legitimate public records requests of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury or of the Calcasieu Parish Gravity Drainage District 8 would appear to be patently unconstitutional based solely on the state statute that gives any citizen of Louisiana the unfettered right to make public records requests of any public agency.

In Broussard’s case, he was contracted by Gravity Drainage District 8 to clean debris from Indian Bayou following Hurricane Rita in 2005. Work done by his company was to be paid by FEMA. Gravity Drainage District 8 instructed Broussard to also remove pre-storm debris from the bottom of the bayou, telling him that FEMA would pay for all his work.

FEMA, however, refused to pay for the pre-storm cleanup and Gravity Drainage District 8 subsequently refused to pony up. Broussard, represented then by attorney Jeff Landry, since elected Attorney General, filed a lien against the drainage district.

When Broussard lost his case before Judge Ritchie, he continued to pursue his claim and submitted this PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST to the drainage district and to the police jury. Those efforts resulted in a heavy-handed LETTER from attorney Russell J. Stutes, Jr., which threatened Broussard with “jail time” if he persisted in his “harassment” of Calcasieu public officials.

And the injunction barring Broussard from future records requests, instead of being filed as a separate court document, was sought under the original lawsuit by Broussard, which presumably, if Stutes’s own letter is to be believed, was a final and thus, closed case. That tactic assured that Broussard would be brought before the original judge, i.e. Ritchie, who was already predisposed to rule against Broussard, no matter how valid a claim he had.

That was such a blatant maneuver that it left no lingering doubts that the cards were stacked against Broussard from the get-go. Everything was tied up in a neat little package, with a pretty bow attached. And Broussard was left holding a $2 million bag—and assessed court costs of $60,000 to boot.

In Jeff Mercer’s case, federal STATUTE U.S. Title 49 specifically prohibits discrimination against Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE). It further requires that all states receiving federal funding for transportation projects must have a DBE program.

Mercer, a Mangham contractor, sued DOTD after claiming that DOTD withheld more than $11 million owed him after he rebuffed shakedown efforts from a DOTD inspector who demanded that Mercer “put some green” in his hand and that he could “make things difficult” for him.

Mercer suffers from epilepsy, which qualified him for protection from discrimination under Title 49.

His attorney, David Doughty of Rayville, feels that Brown should never have assigned the case to himself, nor should he have been the one to write the opinion. Needless to say, Doughty does not agree with the decision. He has filed an APPLICATION FOR REHEARING in the hope of having Brown removed from the case.

LouisianaVoice conducted a search this LIST OF CASES REVERSED BY 2ND CIRCUIT and the Mercer case was the only one of 57 reversals decided by a jury.

So it all boils down to a simple equation: how much justice can you afford?

When an average citizen like Broussard or Mercer goes up against the system, things can be overwhelming and they can get that way in a hurry.

Because the government, be it DOTD, represented by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office, or a local gravity drainage district, represented by the district attorney, has a decided advantage in terms of manpower and financial resources, giving the individual little realistic chance of prevailing.

In Broussard’s case, he did not. Mercer, at least, won at the trial court level, but the process can wear anyone down and that’s just what the state relied upon when it appealed.

With virtually unlimited resources (I worked for the Office of Risk Management for 20 years and I saw how an original $10,000 defense contract can balloon to $100,000 or more with few questions asked), the government can simply hunker down for the long haul while starving out the plaintiff with delays, interrogatories, requests for production, expert costs, court reporter costs, filing fees and attorney fees. Keeping the meter running on costs is the most effective defense going.

The same applies, of course, to attempts to fight large corporations in court. Huge legal staffs with virtually unlimited budgets and campaign contributions to judges at the right levels all too often make the pursuit of justice a futile chase.

And when you move from the civil to the criminal courts where low income defendants are represented by underfunded indigent defender boards, the contrast is even more profound—and tragic, hence a big reason for Louisiana’s high incarceration rate.

The idea of equal treatment in the eyes of the law is a myth and for those seeking remedies to wrongdoing before an impartial court, it is often a cruel joke.

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Baton Rouge television station WBRZ had a NEWS STORY that caught my eye on Monday night, a story that shot my blood pressure up a good 30 points.

Residents of the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, and Ascension will have a small surcharge attached to their water bill this month. It’s being called an “August 2016 Flood Recovery Surcharge” and it’s only a few cents—six cents per 1,000 gallons of water. The average residential water customer uses about 6,000 gallons per month.

But that’s hardly the point.

The various water companies claim the surcharge is for them to recover money lost because of executive orders that prohibited disconnects and late fees of utilities following last August’s flood. They say the order last for eight months and during that time they lost revenue.

The Baton Rouge Water Company says its losses come to nearly $820,000 and the (East Baton Rouge) Parish Water Company has lost almost $230,000. Ascension Water Company is out about $174,000. All three, along with French Settlement Water Company and Louisiana Water Company were also approved by the Louisiana Public Service Commission in March—UNANIMOUSLY—to recoup lost money.

Excuse me while I shed a tear and blow my nose.

Many of the tens of thousands of homeowners who were displaced by the flood did not have flood insurance because their homes were not considered to be in a flood zone. But commercial entities like water companies might be expected to carry some sort of insurance as a vanguard against unforeseen losses like the flood. After all, thousands of their customers were in flood zones and they knew it. It’s called contingency planning.

So, while we homeowners are being scolded for not purchasing the expensive flood insurance (somewhere in the ballpark of $2,500 per year for most), where are the questions from the PSC regarding insurance coverage for loss of revenue to the water companies?

So Ascension Water Company is out $174,000? Well, guess what. I’m out $127,000. That’s how much I had to borrow to restore my home that was paid for in full prior to the flood. Some had to borrow more, some less. I’m 73, so I’ll be only 103 when I get that sucker paid off. And I’ve been displaced now for 10 months, not eight. Where’s my fund recovery?

The surcharge, WBRZ tells us, became effective this month and is expected to continue for about 18 months. But wait. That could be extended by the PSC.

Doesn’t that invoke a warm fuzzy feeling?

While FEMA took a hike after a flurry of look busy and helpful activity which resulted in exactly nothing for most folks impacted by the flood, it looks like the water companies will be getting theirs. While the Shelter at Home program produced basically shoddy repair work, the water companies are going to be made whole. And while millions of dollars were wasted—again—on those gawd-awful FEMA trailers, people went without needed permanent assistance. But not the water companies. While dishonest contractors were busy ripping homeowners off, the water companies are doing the same, but in a much subtler way.

And they’re doing with the aiding and abetting of the Louisiana Public Service Commission which was created to protect consumers from unnecessarily high utility rates (see cable TV rates while you’re at it) and price gouging.

Listed here are contributions from various water companies to PSC members since 2011.

  • SCOTT ANGELLE:                       $2500;
  • FOSTER CAMPBELL:                   $7500;
  • ERIC SKRMETTA:                     $31,500;
  • LAMBERT C. BOSSIERE, III:        $6000.

TOTAL                                          $47,500

Just $47,500? That’s more than a third (34.7 percent) of what my mortgage is now. And that’s just since 2011. I didn’t have the stomach to go further back but I’ll bet there’s more. It appears that only Damon Baldone and Mike Francis failed to collect any campaign checks from this particular special interest. I’m not sure who they made angry, but good on them.

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After long and careful research, I’ve come to the undeniable conclusion that Jeff Sadow and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy are one and the same.

One, Sadow, is an associate professor of political Science at LSU-Shreveport who writes a weekly column for the Baton Rouge Advocate while masquerading alternately as a psychologist, a theologian, or an economist.

To paraphrase Bon Jovi, he gives conservatism a bad name.

Kennedy, on the other hand, is a political opportunist who masquerades alternately as State Treasurer, U.S. Senator, and Governor and gives Trumpism a bad name.

Sadow, in his latest column on Sunday, implied that one of the advantages of capital punishment was that it served as an impetus for forgiveness and redemption for the condemned who, faced with imminent mortality, often repents and turns to Jesus in his final hours in order to punch his ticket to an eternity of strumming a harp while walking the streets paved of gold.

Sadow obviously didn’t take into account those poor people on death row who might be of the Jewish faith. Or even Islamic, Hindu or Buddhist.

But Sadow doesn’t hold franchise rights to banalities. Nor does he hold any exclusive rights to distorting facts.

Unless he is, in fact, John Neely Kennedy incognito.

Let’s roll back the calendar to 1999, the year then-State Secretary of Revenue John Kennedy was elected State Treasurer. During his campaign there was that infamous TV ad in which Kennedy boasted that during his stint as revenue secretary, “I decreased paper work for small businesses by 150 percent.”

That sounds pretty impressive until you put the pencil to it. You can increase costs by 150 percent; you can increase the crime rate by 150 percent, you can theoretically increase enrollment in a college or university by 150 percent, and if you go from 30 mph to 75 mph on the interstate, you have increased your speed 150 percent.

But you cannot, under any circumstances reduce anything, except the temperature, 150 percent (if, say, you go from 10 degrees above zero to five degrees below zero, that might be considered a 150 percent decrease). Otherwise, once you reduce anything, eggs, turnips, tires, by 100 percent, you’re at zero.

And remember: Kennedy was running for State Treasurer. He was asking us to entrust him with the state’s finances.

Oh, the irony.

Makes about as much sense as sending men to death row so they can more readily be converted to Christianity.

So he gets the treasurer’s job and manages to hold onto it for 17 years until he sets his sights on the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by David Vitter in 2016.

To win that seat, he falls back on two incredibly, yea, I say unto you, unbelievably, lame phrases in his TV ad blitz. The first was when he channeled Donald Trump when he said of his prospects of supporting Obamacare, “I’d rather drink weedkiller.”

The other was when he said, as the TV ad simultaneously displayed his wedding photo, “I believe that love is the answer, but you oughta carry a handgun just in case.”

What the hell does that even mean?

Believe it or not, that silly crap swept him into office where he promptly set his sights on the 2019 governor’s election.

Ordinarily, I’d say keep him in Washington, out of sight, out of mind.

Except he just won’t allow that to happen. He keeps reminding us that he’s hanging around, waiting and criticizing anything with John Bel Edwards’s fingerprints on it. Edwards could introduce a bill that would guarantee full employment and the best-educated children and the best-paid teachers in America and Kennedy would find fault with it.

On one recent occasion in that historic fraternity called the U.S. Senate, he reached back into his old treasurer chest and repeated that gawd-awful love and handgun quote in a committee hearing, prefacing his homespun philosophy by saying (incorrectly) that it was “an old saying we have back home.”

It is no such thing. I never heard that asinine expression until his Vitter-financed TV ads invaded my living room about this time last year.

Then, on Monday (May 8) he pulled a couple more embarrassingly stupid remarks out of the lower part of his anatomy. (It had to be that area doing the talking; surely his head knows better.)

Already having sold his heart and soul to Trump (“I was for Trump before he was nominated and I’m for him now” was another of his campaign proclamations), he made a complete fool of himself during Monday’s testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And the saddest part is he didn’t even know it, didn’t have a clue.

In an institution sometimes compared to clowns, he was Emmett Kelly, Red Skelton, Bozo, Krusty and Clarabell rolled into one. He (and Louisiana) would have been better off had he chosen Marcel Marceau to impersonate.

Yates, who was fired by Trump for refusing to enforce his first immigration order (which was quickly thrown out by the courts), was testifying about conversations between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. She said she feared the conversations (conversations about which Trump was told nearly three weeks before he was forced to fire Flynn—only after the Washington Post broke the story) compromised U.S. security.

The fact that he was about as uninformed about the issue as was Trump (until told by Steve Bannon, apparently) that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican or in his belief that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the Civil War, didn’t deter Kennedy from sounding like some country boy come to town for the very first time.

Author and editor Adam Weinstein felt compelled to tweet on Monday: “I didn’t know a single thing about Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) before this hearing, but thanks to this hearing I know he’s embarrassingly dumb.”

Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, tweeted this comment: “From Kennedy to Yates: ‘I mean this with all due respect Ms Yates but I’m going to say something really stupid now.'”

Uh, yeah…No doubt.

Finally, this tweet from John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC, of a Kennedy-Yates exchange during Monday’s committee hearing: “GOP Sen Kennedy upbraiding Yates on travel ban: ‘who appointed you to Supreme Court?’ Yates: ‘I took my responsibilities seriously as acting AG.'”

Seriously, John? That’s the best you’ve got? “Who appointed you to the Supreme Court?”

You’re not concerned about the substance of her testimony which revealed that national security could have been compromised by Flynn?

The fact that your boy Trump kept Flynn on for 18 days after learning he had lied about his conversation with the Russian didn’t raise a red flag for you?

You only wanted to know who appointed Yates to the Supreme Court?

Good God.

You’re fully qualified to be our next governor.

And the same people who lapped up your weedkiller and handgun lines will, in all probability, fall over themselves to vote for you.

 

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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.

Related image

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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