Suit filed in pursuit of Pope emails

by Christiaan Mader

Pope has evaded our public records request since mid-October, and we've given him plenty of opportunities to deliver.

Pope, left, and Leger
Chad Leger for Sheriff Facebook

The Independent has filed suit against City Marshal Brian Pope seeking a court order to compel him to turn over email records we requested in October. Pope has not cooperated with our public records request, initially claiming that the emails sought were exempt from public record in an email sent to The IND on Oct. 14.

Pope has since referred all correspondence to his attorney, Charles K. Middleton, who informed The IND on Oct. 16 that Pope was out of the country and would produce records responsive to our request following his return from a vacation in Mexico.

Since his reported return the Monday following the Oct. 24 primary, Pope’s camp has shut down. Neither Middleton nor Pope has officially responded to our request since Middleton’s Oct. 16 letter informing us of Pope’s departure for his vacation. We’ve left phone, email and in-person messages with Middleton’s office but have received no reply.

All this litigious quarreling stems from a press conference held at the city marshal’s office on Oct. 7 in which Pope advised the press that sheriff candidate Mark Garber, an attorney specializing in worker’s comp cases, had taken a trip to Honduras to court personal injury business from undocumented workers. The proof presented was this video of Garber speaking with a Honduran TV reporter. Pope further alleged in the presser that the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center refused to book undocumented migrants on misdemeanor offenses, an allegation that distorts LPSO’s policy of general leniency toward misdemeanor offenses and has since blossomed into the “sanctuary city” controversy promoted by Scott Police Chief Chad Leger’s campaign for sheriff.

The bizarre press conference — described here — was advertised through a "Campaigner" email blast, a service known to be used by Leger’s campaign manager Hilary “Joe” Castille. As it happens, The IND received a press advisory from Castille this week featuring Leger’s official statement regarding the possible arrival in Louisiana of Syrian refugees. The notice was delivered via Campaigner.

Our request sought emails containing the keywords Garber, Neustrom, Chad, Leger, immigration, Honduras, worker, compensation, illegal, alien, haven, Castille, Team Leger, personal injury, campaign, campaigner and mailing list. Pope, through his attorney’s Oct. 16 letter, indicated that emails responsive to those search terms existed but claimed they would reflect responses to his email blast. Despite admitting that such emails exist, he has still not complied with our request.

Pope's endorsement of Leger
Chad Leger for Sheriff Facebook

While at the time, Pope had not endorsed Leger, we immediately suspected collusion between the camps in the organization of the press conference. Leger and Pope are known to be friends; in fact, Leger has long boasted of his personal history with law enforcement leaders like Pope as an asset to his candidacy.

Both Pope and Leger have taken to social media to decry Lafayette Parish’s designation as a “sanctuary city” by anti-immigration think-tank Center for Immigration studies. The issue became a featured talking point for Leger in his mailers and appearances, with Leger promising to reverse the sheriff’s procedural refusal to detain inmates suspected of illegal entry past a court-ordered sentence at the request of federal immigration officials. Leger has since rolled back his hard-lined promise and indicated he would not detain suspected undocumented migrants, conceding that it could put the parish in legal jeopardy.

Curiously, responding to an injunction lawsuit filed against him and Leger, Pope later denied having endorsed Leger “before, during or after” the press conference in question. Pope has appeared in a campaign commercial endorsing Leger, and the Leger campaign circulated the mailer reproduced here featuring Pope’s official endorsement. We’ve asked Pope both directly and through his attorney about this contradiction and have received no response.

Judge Jules Edwards of the 15th Judicial District Court has been assigned the case. The earliest possible hearing date is Monday, Nov. 23.