Jan. 15, 2016 11:42 AM

The Lafayette city marshal’s Feb. 29 contempt hearing — for failing to turn over court-ordered documents responsive to a public records request — could be just the beginning of his legal troubles.

Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, flanked by his deputies, held on Oct. 7 what may go down as the most peculiar press conference in the history of local law enforcement. From left are deputy marshals Joe Caillet, Phil Conrad (chief deputy), Pope, Rodney LeBlanc and Dean Morgan.
Photo by Robin May

At a hearing on Jan. 4, ABiz’s parent company, IND Media, was awarded attorney fees and court costs in its ongoing public records dispute with Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope. Ruling that Pope’s failure to produce email records requested by IND Media was both “arbitrary” and “unreasonable,” Judge Jules Edwards III, of the 15th Judicial District Court, also awarded maximum allowable penalties.

IND attorney Gary McGoffin has filed an affidavit with the court documenting $31,899 in fees and costs for which the marshal would be liable “in solido” with his office, pending judicial order. Pope will be personally responsible for penalties of $100 per day from the receipt dates of each of the requests, beginning with the original IND request dated Oct. 8 and including an additional $100 daily penalty for the media group’s second request Nov. 30. Penalties will accrue until Pope satisfies that request with an adequate production of documents.

At a Feb. 29 contempt of court hearing, Edwards will take up the matter of Pope’s public records, mandamus and injunction violations he incurred by withholding records in a Dec. 18 courtordered records production. The marshal could face further financial penalties — as well as jail time and/or community service — resulting from the contempt hearing and any future criminal prosecution stemming from the dispute.

Since October, IND Media has sought records of emails exchanged between Pope and the sheriff campaign of Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, that would indicate that the city marshal organized and staged an Oct. 7 press conference attacking Leger’s then-opponent, Mark Garber, who went on to win the election and will take office in July. Pope delivered the attack on Garber from a podium in his office carrying the marshal’s seal and flanked by four deputies. It is illegal for an elected official to use the authority of his office or his position to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office.

The press conference, which alerted media to a video showing Garber in Honduras allegedly promoting unlawful migration, was advertised with a media advisory distributed by a mailing list service called Campaigner. Leger’s campaign manager, Hilary “Joe” Castille has used Campaigner to send press releases for his clients, including Leger. IND Media has alleged — and a later records productions and Pope’s testimony in the Jan. 4 hearing appear to prove — that Castille wrote the press advisory and press statement associated with the conference.

IND Media’s Oct. 8 request asked for emails containing the key words Garber, Neustrom, Chad, Leger, immigration, Honduras, worker, compensation, illegal, alien, haven, Castille, Team Leger, personal injury, campaign, campaigner and mailing list — in the sender, recipient, cc, bcc, subject or content fields of any account Pope uses to conduct the business of city marshal.

Responding to that request, Pope first claimed an exemption from production on the grounds that the records sought were part of an investigation into immigration issues facing the city marshal’s office. That claim was never substantiated in court.

He next indicated that no records existed, and yet later that only some records existed in the form of email responses to his press advisory sent “via mass distribution via third party vendor across the country,” as Pope’s attorney wrote in an October response to the public records request.

Pope would later testify that he had no knowledge of any use of a third party vendor to distribute the press advisory or statement, that he had never heard of Campaigner, that any use of his email address by that service would therefore be unauthorized and that the marshal’s office notified media of upcoming press conferences only by telephone.

At a Dec. 14 hearing, Edwards ordered Pope to conduct a more thorough search of his email. Pursuant to the court’s order, Pope produced a stack of 588 pages of documents responsive to the original public records request. Among them were emails confirming that Pope communicated with media outlets about the conference via email, and that he was aware of a press release distributed in his name by Campaigner. That production also uncovered Pope’s use of marshal’s office employees and resources to draft fundraising letters for his own campaign.

By way of a parallel request on Lafayette Consolidated Government, the marshal’s email service provider, IND Media received documents withheld from Pope’s Dec. 18 production. Among them were email communications between Pope and Castille in the days leading up to the Oct. 7 press conference. On Oct. 5, Castille sent Pope a draft of the media advisory and the statement Pope read at the press conference before fielding questions from the media (our audio from the presser confirms he read the statement verbatim). Both were sent to Pope for his approval from joe@ chadleger.org to Pope’s official @lafayettela. gov email address.

The LCG production also uncovered an automatic confirmation reply Pope received from Campaigner on Oct. 6, directing him to follow a link to validate the use of his @lafayettela.gov address for a mailing campaign. Ten minutes after the confirmation email was sent from Campaigner to bpope@lafayettela.gov, the media advisory from Pope’s email arrived in inboxes across Lafayette — and likely beyond.

In a video deposition taken in advance of the Jan. 4 hearing, Pope held fast — under oath — to his claim that he had no knowledge of Campaigner and further insisted that he or someone in his office wrote the press advisory and statement. Once confronted with documents from the LCG production in the deposition, Pope walked back his claim, admitting that Joe Castille had written the press statement, but still suggested that the marshal’s office had written the media advisory, directly contradicting his testimony that he never emailed an advisory. Despite evidence of direct correspondence between Campaigner and Pope, the marshal has maintained his position that he has never used the service, speculating that his email account may have been “spoofed.”

Given the revelations in the deposition and hearing that Pope lied under oath about the authorship of his press conference materials and his use of Campaigner, and evidence that he used his office for the benefit of Leger’s campaign and his own fund raising, the city marshal could face criminal charges of abuse of office, malfeasance in office and perjury, according to Title 42 of the Louisiana Revised Statute, as well as an investigation from the Louisiana Board of Ethics.

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