Professional conduct complaint filed against LPSB's Babineaux

by Patrick Flanagan

School super Pat Cooper alleges Lafayette Parish School Board member Mark Allen Babineaux, an attorney, publicly disclosed the details of a closed-door executive session.

In a Nov. 22 complaint to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board, Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper alleges Lafayette Parish School Board member Mark Allen Babineaux, an attorney, publicly disclosed the details of a closed-door executive session.

Photo by Robin May

LPSB member Mark Allen Babineaux

During the board's Nov. 20 meeting, Babineaux - who plans to run for a district judgeship in 2014 - does appear to have divulged information from the closed-door session that wasn't meant for public ears.

Executive sessions are held privately to discuss a variety of issues, ranging from potential litigation to personnel matters.

Cooper alleges Babineaux's improper disclosure centered on an executive session called during the board's Oct. 16 meeting to discuss a legal bill from Cooper's attorney, Lane Roy. Roy was hired in response to the board's push for Cooper's reprimand and its attempt to hire an outside law firm to investigate Cooper for uncited reasons. That investigation was never approved by the state Attorney General's Office, as is required by law, in part because Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton, who represents the school system, wrote a letter to the AG indicating no investigation was warranted.

The Oct. 16 executive session, according to Cooper, covered more matters than what was originally intended, but Babineaux's public comments seem to be related to the discussion of attorney Roy's contract. Cooper says the "meeting" Babineaux references is the Oct. 16 executive session.

"The board is not the one ... that's threatened litigation. We just want an investigation," Babineaux said Nov. 20. "The actions of the attorney [ADA Roger Hamilton] in particular indicates a breach of confidence. When we went into that meeting, I ... specifically asked him if he was going to interpret the contract before us, he said, 'No.' When asked if the information we would give him as far as the investigation would go to the AG he said, No.' Then he sends an unsolicited opinion to the AG contrary to the interests of the board."

Cooper responded with a Nov. 22 complaint submitted to the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board - considered the judge and jury for Louisiana attorneys:

I am lodging a notarized formal complaint against Lafayette Parish School Board Member, Mark Babineaux, based on his breaching the confidentiality of an Executive Session held on Oct. 16 ... dealing with a personnel item regarding me, Pat Cooper. The breach took place at a public school board meeting ... in open session on [Nov. 20]. Mr. Babineaux, in open session and documented by TV cameras broadcasting to the community and surrounding area, divulged the activities and comments that were discussed in the Executive Session.

Babineaux was not available for comment at the time of this posting.

Chuck Plattsmier, chief disciplinary counsel for the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, spoke Wednesday with The IND, saying he couldn't comment directly or acknowledge whether a complaint against Babineaux had been filed.

"ODC can't discuss matters that are complaints, but if it goes to a formal charge, then it's public and we can discuss it at that point," says Plattsmier.

Speaking hypothetically, Plattsmier continues:

In general, a lawyer is a lawyer, and subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct at all times. So, a lawyer may engage in a certain conduct, and even if it has nothing to do with the practice of law, it could still violate the rules. For example, a lawyer is caught in the possession of illegal drugs, that would violate the rules, even though drugs have nothing to do with the practice of law, it's a criminal act.

So, whether it's a lawyer who is also a public official, or a lawyer working for a public body, whether that conduct could violate the rules will be fact specific, and I really can't comment one way or another on a lawyer doing something that could violate a law until a charge is filed.

Babineaux's Nov. 20 comments can be viewed here (fast-forward to the 3:05:00 mark).