It would be unfair to say our correspondence with City Marshal Brian Pope has devolved in any way, given that our rapport with him has not been exactly substantive from the get go. We don’t blame him. Even given the convenience of modern communication, the easiest defense from inquisition is to avoid the inquirer altogether. At this point, Pope has referred all requests and communiques to his lawyer, Charles K. Middleton, who has not returned our calls or emails.
Despite the crickets on the other end of the string-and-can, we’ve continued reminding Pope et al. of our records request and our expectation of satisfaction in accordance with the Louisiana Revised Statutes that provide for such requests. Pope indicated through a letter from his attorney dated Oct. 16 that he would deliver emails following the Monday he returned from his sanctuary in Cabo. To wit, from counselor Middleton:
"Mr. Pope is presently out of the country on a previously scheduled family trip and will be back a week from next Monday (i.e. on Oct. 26) and at that time he will search his computer for these press conference replies and if they are indeed responsive he will turn them over immediately."
Pope claims the only emails that match our request come from agencies or addresses replying to a press advisory, sent using the Campaigner mailing list platform often used in the conduct of political campaigns.
Today marks the third Monday. No emails. And no explanation as to why no emails. It’s his legal obligation as a custodian of public record to comply or indicate precisely why he can't.
If you’re not familiar with the situation, Pope held a press conference on Oct. 7 accusing sheriff candidate Mark Garber of trying to advertise his legal services to immigrants in Honduras, inviting them to come to America to file worker's compensation claims. As evidence, he supplied this video of a Honduran TV station's interview with Garber. Leger has also slapped Garber with the same accusation in his campaign literature. Garber expressly denies Pope and Leger's version of events.
We submitted a public records request for emails sent to and from Pope’s city marshal address that contained the following key words in the body, subject, cc, bcc, sender and/or recipient fields— Garber, Neustrom, Chad, Leger, immigration, Honduras, worker, compensation, illegal, alien, haven, Castille, Team Leger, personal injury, campaign, campaigner, mailing list. Our suspicion is that Pope’s distribution and public advisory of that video was at least in part coordinated with the campaign of Chad Leger, a personal friend and official endorsee of Pope’s.
Pope's press conference was held in his official capacity as city marshal. That means any email sent in the planning or organization of that event would be public record.
The presser in question, which we covered here, also contributed to the mess of misinformation concerning Lafayette’s designation as a ‘Sanctuary City’ by anti-immigration think-tank Center for Immigration Studies. Both Pope and Leger have taken to repeating via social media the poorly sourced-drivel concocted by that organization.
Using public resources to execute the political priorities of a candidate for office is a violation of his ethical duties as a public official. It would also implicate back-channel collusion on the part of Leger’s campaign, putting a different spin on Leger's campaign promise of 'unified law enforcement.' One person's unity is another's good ol' boy network.
To further wrinkle this never-ending story, Pope expressly denied having endorsed Leger ‘before, during or after’ the press conference that set this all off in an answer to an injunction filed against Pope and Leger on behalf of attorney C. Ray Murray, who shares offices with Garber. Pope and Leger agreed to the terms of the injunction which demanded they cease using Murray's name in public advisories concerning Garber.
We reached out to Pope to confirm whether or not he’s ‘officially’ endorsed Leger, but he referred us to his attorney with two exclamation points in tow. We’ve received no answer from his representation.
It’s to Pope’s benefit to continue avoiding an official response to these requests and inquiries. What he is probably not calculating in his retreat is that we intend to follow this issue beyond election day. It’s too much of a violation of public trust to ignore.