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Walt Handelsman, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning editorial cartoonist in the employ of the Baton Rouge/New Orleans/Acadiana Advocate, had a brilliant cartoon Tuesday entitled simply: Dream On…

It was a four-panel illustration with the first three showing an obviously elated husband explaining a sequence of events to his wife. In the first, with hands aloft in obvious glee, he says, “I met with our insurance company!”

In the second panel, he says, somewhat incredulously, “They were super-fast and responsive!”

Then, in the third panel, embracing his wife, he practically shouts, “They agreed to cover all or our damages and cut us a check on the spot!!!”

The fourth panel shows them lying in bed as he explains, “…Then I woke up.”

Unfortunately, that’s just about the gist of it.

The Advocate had an earlier (Nov. 6) story about “slow responses, repeated delays and blatantly low settlements” on the part of insurance companies in dealing with claims of homeowners in the Lake Charles-Sulphur area devastated by successive hurricanes more than a year ago.

LouisianaVoice told you about insurance companies’ reluctance to act in good faith years before Hurricane Laura slammed into Southwest Louisiana on Aug. 27.

LouisianaVoice told you all about the “Delay, Deny, Defend” STRATEGIES   of Allstate, State Farm in dealing with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita back on April 11, 2017, more than two years before Laura struck. Be sure to read the entire post, especially the part about how the insurance companies have two sets of prices for home repairs – depending on whether or not the damage is determined to be from wind or water.

It’s a tried-and-true tactic designed to wear down the resolve of the staunchest homeowner – simply because the Good Neighbor and the Good Hands People have the financial resources and the team of attorneys to first delay as long as possible before they deny the homeowner’s claim (or at best, offer an insultingly insufficient settlement) and then dig in the long haul as they defend should the homeowner be foolish enough to file suit.

Even in the rare cases when they’re taken to court and lose, it’s still a sound strategy, given the number of claimants who do not have the wherewithal to aggressively fight the big insurance companies. The vast number who capitulate and settle for pennies on the dollar make the courtroom losses insignificant that equate to pesky costs of doing business – much like companies that pollute to save the cost of compliance with EPA regulations or con men who rip off investors for tens of millions and receive only token fines.

McKinsey and Co., the only private sector employer Bobby Jindal ever had, introduced the Delay, Deny, Defend strategy to Allstate and State Farm just in time for Katrina. The results should have been a red flag for Gulf Coast residents long before the introduction of Laura. Author Jay Feinman wrote an entire BOOK  about the tactic and there are several other Internet POSTS  about what should, by all that is just, a criminal CONSPIRACY prosecutable under federal RICO statutes.

Those who take advantage of individuals at their most vulnerable times, when they are the weakest and subject to corporate treachery are the lowest of the low.

Rep. Tanner Magee, (R-Houma) pontificated like any good politician, regurgitating the rhetoric expected of him when he said, “If I was in the insurance industry, I would be concerned about what legislation looks like next year.”

Why? Why would the insurance industry be concerned as long as it continues to pour money into the campaign funds of the right legislators, namely members of the House and Senate committees on insurance?

The 16 members of the House Insurance Committee (including ex-officio member Tanner Magee) received $81,000 in contributions from insurance companies from Jan. 1, 2015. That does not include individual agents who may have contributed.

Senate Insurance Committee members received $45,000 from insurance companies over the same period – again, not including individual agents. Do the math and that a tad more than $5,000 per member in both chambers. Add Senate President Page Cortez’s $6,5750 in contributions from insurance companies, and you have a total of $132,845 for the entire committee memberships.

You’d be surprised what $5,000 can still buy.

Did I mention that several members of those two committees are employed by the insurance industry?

Rep. Magee, I hope you are correct in your prognostication but as a realist who has observed the ethics (or lack thereof) of legislators for too many years, I remain pessimistic that we will ever see any positive actions.

To support my less-than-optimistic outlook, I need only refer to the “reforms” implemented following Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

Homeowner deductibles, normally around the flat rate of $1,000, were adjusted to a percentage of the home appraisal, initially 2 percent, but adjusted upward in 2014 to an average of 5 percent.

That meant a STATE FARM  policyholder with a home appraised at $200,000 with a 5 percent deductible would be faced with a $10,000 deductible. In Orleans and Jefferson parishes, that rate is 9 percent. In East Baton Rouge Parish, it’s 7.5 percent and in Lafayette, the deductible is 9.4 percent. So much for Good Neighbor Jake.

I’m not sure Louisianans can afford any more help from the legislature.

What began as a federal investigation into a work-release program ended Monday with his conviction on all six counts of rape, incest and indecent behavior with a juvenile

 A St. Tammany Parish jury of six men and six women returned the verdict Monday following a nine-day trial at which Strain called no witnesses in his defense. Prosecutors, however, called more than two dozen witnesses, including five men who testified that they had been sexually abused by Strain, beginning – when they were about 10 years old and Strain was 16 – in the late 1970s and continuing for a quarter-century.

Four counts were for aggravated rape which carries a mandatory life sentence and two counts were for aggravated incest because the assaults involved two juveniles to who Strain was related.

Ironically, one of the victims, Skip Keen, would go on to become a captain in Strain’s sheriff’s department and would end up pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. Strain lost his reelection bid in 2015 and was arrested for the sexual offenses on June 11, 2019 after at least four persons came forward to claim they were molested by Strain, one of whom said he was raped as late as June 2004. Strain, 56, was first elected sheriff in 1995, serving until his defeat by current Sheriff Randy Smith.

The federal investigation that precipitated his arrest by state authorities stemmed from Strain’s privatization of the parish jail, which he turned over to two of his friends. Those two, Skip Keen and David Hanson, subsequently pleaded guilted in February 2019 to conspiracy to solicit bribes and to commit wire fraud.

Details of the jail privatization scheme as well as reports of Strain’s June 2019 indictment are included in my book, Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption, available by clicking on the Cavalier House Book Store icon to the right of this post.

There was a time when the New Orleans Police Department was considered one of the – if not the – most corrupt police departments in the nation. In fact, three individual New Orleans cops were ranked as the worst of the worst in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for their killing of 17-year-old James Brissette on the Danzinger bridge.

But over the past couple of years, that mantle seems to have been passed on to the Louisiana State Police (LSP), now with its third commander within a five-year span and with more internal problems than its leadership seems capable of handling.

Associated Press and one-time Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian summed the agency up in a SINGLE ARTICLE that, sadly, described a fraternity mentality of racism, abuse and nepotism.

And now, we have Jason Boyet, 42, of Ponchatoula, a former Trooper of the Year, of all things, being sentenced to 210 months (17 ½ years) in federal prison for the distribution of kiddie porn, specifically images of sexual exploitation (child rape) of children as young as 3.

Can it possibly get any worse than that?

We have troopers beating and killing black motorists, troopers having sex in their patrol cars, troopers working second jobs while supposedly on duty, troopers taking underage women into casino (and having to pay a fine for their trouble) and then getting promoted to troop commanders, troopers abusing drugs on duty, troopers doing just about whatever they damned well please – and getting away with it.

And now this.

These were just photos he downloaded from the Internet; they’re photos he took himself of a prepubescent girl with his iPhone between December 2019 and February 2020. And then he shared the photos in a chat room.

This story was so lurid that it was picked up by the NEW YORK POST. The official word of Boyet’s guilty plea was issued in a NEWS RELEASE by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans

Boyet was named Troop L’s Trooper of the Year in 2018.

Obviously, the entirety of LSP can’t be judged by this single act of depravity and LSP administrators can’t be held accountable for the deviant behavior of a single individual.

It would be understandable if this was an isolated incident. But it’s not. The stories that have come out of LSP over the past five seven years are disturbing and indicate an ugly trend toward a complete lack of accountability and responsibility. For that, LSP administration must take responsibility.

It’s time for someone in charge to initiate changes in the attitudes that have been allowed to permeate the agency. If they have to jerk a half-hitch in some upstart who thinks he’s invincible, so be it.

LSP has long set itself apart from the rest of Louisiana’s civil servants. It even has its own State Police Commission to serve as something of a civil service board especially for troopers. A good start would be to abolish the commission and bring state police into civil service like the rest of state employees. If state police ever deserved special treatment, that time has long passed and there is no logical reason to retain the commission.

The requirement that the State Police superintendent must come from within the ranks of Louisiana State Police is outdated and should be scrapped. The good old boy network needs shaking up by an outsider who will come in and revamp the nepotism and buddy system that has brought ruin on a one-time stellar agency.

And finally, the fealty to the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association must end. For too long, decisions ranging from appointments of LSP superintendents, promotions within LSP, and appointments to the LSP Academy itself have depended on the blessings of the sheriffs’ association. No one should have that much power.

That an impartial EXAMINATION OF THE AUTOPSY of Ronald Greene has rejected the Louisiana State Police (LSP) claim that Greene died from injuries suffered in a car crash should come as a surprise to absolutely no one who has followed this latest sorry chapter of the LSP story that has unfolded ever-so-slowly over the past seven years.

LouisianaVoice has chronicled the decadence of LSP since that infamous attempt at the close of the 2014 legislative session to sneak a huge – and illegal – increase in retirement benefits for then-LSP superintendent Mike Edmonson.

And while that effort was thwarted, sources within state police began providing tips that led to LouisianaVoice exclusive stories about:

  • Troopers having sex with informants in their patrol cars while on duty;
  • Troopers leaving their shifts several hours early to either take naps at home or to work in their personal business;
  • Troopers getting into altercations with private citizens;
  • Troopers issuing DWI citations to obviously sober drivers just so they could accrue days off;
  • The fake retirement of a supervisor at LSP who, when caught, was ordered to repay the state – but never did;
  • A Trooper getting a promotion after he was caught sneaking an underage woman who was not his wife into a Mississippi casino;
  • A trooper who openly used narcotics while on duty;
  • A trooper at the command level who regularly took his state vehicle to football games in Texas to see his brother-in-law play;
  • Troopers cheating on their time sheets for supposedly pulling duty in a program funded by local district attorneys;
  • A State Police Commission created to serve as a pseudo-civil service especially for State Police but which is riddled with politics and which featured a romantic tryst between members.

There were many more such stories, actually hundreds, so I won’t even attempt to list them all.

And while not an exclusive – The Advocate actually broke the story – there was our account of that infamous trip by car by several troopers to San Diego via Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam back in 2016 (and strangely enough, the troopers were held blameless by investigators who said they were told to take the vehicle and the one who told them to, Edmonson, was somehow also exonerated. Go figure.)

LouisianaVoice also was the first to delve into the Ronald Greene matter that LSP had successfully managed to COVER UP for 15 months and even then LSP had only disciplined one of the officers involved in what was actually the beating death of Greene – not an auto accident – and he was merely placed on leave at the time.

And yes, Greene did flee from police when they first attempted to pull him over and yes, the chase involved speeds in excess of 100 mph. But when he exited his vehicle apologizing for running, he was handcuffed. That should have been enough. When cuffed and not resisting, it would seem to the outside observer that beatings were unnecessary at that point.

The Greene beating wasn’t the only one for Troop F, headquartered in Monroe and responsible for patrol in several northeast Louisiana parishes. That same month, May 2019, Larry Bowman was struck in the head 18 times with a metal flashlight by state troopers even though he was not resisting officers.

The danger of driving while black in northeast Louisiana even got the attention of NPR.

And now, the FBI report says what we knew all along – Greene did not die from the car crash. He died at the hands of state police who then first tried to cover up the incident and then flat-out lied about it. Even the Union Parish coroner went along with the ruse, attributing Greene’s death to the vehicle accident.

And the district attorney for the 3rd Judicial District, which includes Lincoln and Union parishes, has been strangely quiet on the matter. John Belton is an announced candidate for Louisiana Attorney General and one might think he’d be leading the effort to bring the troopers to justice.

And, of course, LSP has not responded to the latest findings.

As one retired trooper told LouisianaVoice early on, they’ve circled the wagons.

When I woke up Friday morning, it was 2012 all over again.

The only things missing were Bobby Jindal his own self, along with cow chip-kicking political guru Timmy Teepell, and former Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols.

But there it was, in black and white in Friday’s Baton Rouge Advocate: the ghost of nightmares past in a pious pose, being prayed over by State Rep. Rick Edmonds (R-Baton Rouge), who also is an outreach pastor and vice president of Louisiana’s Family Forum, and Ben Clapper, executive director of Louisiana Right to Life.

The event was a statewide pro-life demonstration and Liz was there as the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office’s Solicitor General prior to her unsuccessful defense of the state’s anti-abortion law before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That rally was in January 2020 and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision came the following June but now Lizzie’s back in full campaign mode – that is, so long as her boss, AG Jeff Landry opts for promotion to the fourth-floor suite across the Capitol Lake in the 2023 gubernatorial election.

That was the gist of The Advocate’s story last Friday. If Landry runs for governor as expected, Murrill intends to run for her boss’s job as the top legal mind (and I use that term ever-so-loosely) in the state. Actually, I prefer the term I heard used by an old friend from my Ruston Daily Leader reporting days, former Ruston City Council attorney Hale Walker, who somewhat cynically referred to the attorney general as “just another lawyer.”

But Landry as governor? Liz Murrill as AG? Folks, we’re looking at Jindal 2.0. (Actually, with the political baggage that Landry is totin’ around, I don’t think there’s a chance in hell he can get elected governor or possibly even reelected AG.)

Be that as it may, Murrill definitely has her sights set on bigger and better things. And why not? Her career track record is reflective of one who is never satisfied with the status quo. And while there’s nothing wrong with that – who, after all, wouldn’t want their career to progress? – it’s interesting to see WHERE SHE’S BEEN to get an idea of where she would probably like to go, and to consider the possible obstacles in her path.

Let’s go back to Oct. 1, 2012. That’s the date that Jindal named Nichols as his Commissioner of Administration. Murrill, meanwhile, worked in the governor’s office from November 2008 and served for 2 ½ years as Jindal’s Deputy Executive Counsel before she was elevated to Executive Counsel, which is the chief legal advisor to the governor.

When Nichols was appointed Commissioner of Administration, she brought Murrill over a month later, in November 2012, as Executive Counsel to the Commissioner, where she remained for two years.

While working for Nichols, Murrill became embroiled in a difference of interpretation of regulations by then Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and then-State Rep. John Bel Edwards when the Jindal administration gutted the Office of Group Benefits’ reserve fund. Through all the testimony during legislative committee hearings, Murrill was caught on camera as she continually exchanged TEXT MESSAGES with someone, probably some staffer in the governor’s office.

She left the commissioner’s office soon after that hearing and bounced around several jobs before joining Landry’s office in January 2017.

Back in 2009, while employed in Jindal’s office, Murrill became involved in a DISPUTE with LouisianaVoice over the release of public records related to the LSU Board of Supervisors’ decision to cut health care spending and to privatize state hospitals. Shelby McKenzie, an attorney retained by LSU, said that Murrill had advised him that the board should invoke the so-called “deliberative process” in order to deny the release of the records.

The deliberative process gambit is a loose interpretation by which public officials, afraid of any light being shone on what they’re doing, may refuse to allow the public to see what they’re doing or to understand the motivations behind their actions.

But let’s re-examine the employment of Shelby McKenzie in this particular issue.

Shelby was an attorney with the Baton Rouge law firm Taylor Porter at the time he gave that advice to the LSU Board. He currently serves OF COUNSEL to the firm and is an adjunct professor of law at the LSU Law Center and has taught Insurance Law there since 1971.

Likewise, one JOHN P. MURRILL is currently a partner at Taylor Porter and serves on the firm’s Executive Committee. He is married to Liz Murrill.

Taylor Porter currently has at least a dozen contracts with the State of Louisiana totaling more than $3 million and until earlier this year, was the legal counsel for LSU. Such legal contracts with state agencies are generally issued by the Attorney General’s Office with the concurrence of the agency to be represented.

State law prohibits any person holding at least a 25 percent ownership in an entity from doing business with an agency that employs an immediate family member. It’s highly doubtful that John Murrill is a 25 percent stakeholder in a large firm such as Taylor Porter, which would allow the firm to legally contract with the state.

Still…

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