Sept. 6, 2016 03:45 PM

Photo courtesy Lafayette Parish Correctional Center
In a ruling dizzy with ever-complicated findings of fact, a district court judge found that City Marshal Brian Pope used public funds to try to unseal the divorce records of Sheriff Mark Garber, attempting to bend last year’s election in favor of Garber’s opponent, Scott Chief of Police Chad Leger.

Citing a “preponderance of evidence,” Judge Jules Edwards of the 15th Judicial District said in the ruling issued Sept. 6 that this newspaper, as plaintiff in an ongoing public records dispute, proved that the marshal paid his then-attorney, Charles K. Middleton, to draft a motion to unseal Garber’s divorce records, which was filed into the proceedings by a man named Troyce Thorla. (Middleton has since withdrawn from his representation of Pope.)

A private citizen and reluctant operative, Thorla signed an affidavit asserting that Pope roped him into the botched political maneuver but later regretted his involvement. The affidavit was signed at Garber’s law office.

Pope's legal team has argued in court that evidence of pressure from Garber undermines the reliability of Thorla's account. Edwards has nevertheless admitted the affidavit as evidence into the public records case.

According to testimony recorded in the Garber divorce case, Thorla sought a video, rumored by Pope to be filed in the case, which documented Garber running naked in the street after being caught in bed with another woman by his wife. No such DVD or video was ever found.

Thorla claimed in the affidavit that he tried to back out of the plot, but Pope insisted he continue even after the election ended. He also stated that the marshal paid the court costs associated with filing the motion.

Edwards ordered Pope to turn over unredacted invoices requested by The Independent pertaining to the Thorla motion and plot, further complicating the marshal’s ongoing defense that his interference in the sheriff’s race was actually related to a marshal’s investigation into the immigration policy of outgoing Sheriff Mike Neustrom.

On a November invoice to the city marshal obtained by an IND public records request, Middleton bills the marshal for drafting a motion for a "Mr. Redmond," as referenced in several line items. Given no other court record of such a case or motion and the invoice’s matched cross-reference with affidavit testimony by Thorla, it appears that “Redmond" would be a code name for the Garber divorce plot. (But it may not be. There could be an actual Redmond involved here, but we'll have to get back to you on that.)

When asked about the matters above, the marshal invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

While not a criminal conviction, Edwards’ ruling jeopardizes the marshal’s legal defense against a recent felony indictment issued by a Lafayette grand jury in August.

Pope was charged with five felony counts stemming from a staged press conference orchestrated in concert with Leger’s campaign, in which the marshal attacked Garber for allegedly courting clients among undocumented migrants in a statement scripted by Leger’s campaign manager, Joe Castille.

By ordering Pope to turn over the Middleton motion that bill for the Thorla or "Mr. Redmond" motion, Edwards positions the marshal to tie off the noose of evidence that’s hung around him.

If he produces the invoices, the marshal essentially admits that he paid his attorney to disrupt the election by prying into a candidate’s personal life — a clear abuse of public money and authority.

If Pope declines to turn the documents over, Edwards could hand down yet another finding of criminal contempt, meaning the marshal could face perhaps more incarceration and penalties. Edwards held the marshal in contempt for defying a December ruling to turn over email records The IND requested last October. Pursuant to that contempt finding, the marshal was ordered to pay thousands in penalties still accruing by the day as of the publishing of this article and was sentenced to a mostly suspended stint under house arrest.

All told, the marshal’s dalliance in illegal electioneering has rung up a bill of roughly $280,000, including penalties, attorneys' fees and costs awarded to The IND by the court, along with Pope’s own legal bills. The marshal has paid his six-lawyer legal team more than $100,000 with checks written out of the marshal’s cost account, which is funded by fees collected from city court.

Among the indicted charges are three counts of abuse of public funds, one of which directly points to the Oct. 7 press conference, and two counts of perjury for lying under oath to cover up the illegal stunt. Further charges could be in the offing at the DA’s discretion.

Edwards’ ruling also increases the bond price Pope must pay while appealing the judgment to $184,710 and compels the production of an email list, provided to Pope by Castille to promote the offending press conference. Pope must deliver the “Redmond” motion within seven business days of the ruling or otherwise explain it. He has 14 days to produce the email list.

On Wednesday, The Third Circuit Court of Appeal will hear oral arguments on Pope’s appeal of the January judgment against him.

The IND will be reporting from Lake Charles on that matter.