City marshal’s contempt hearing postponed

by Christiaan Mader

A new date for the continued hearing will be set upon the presiding district judge's return from medical leave.

Photo by Robin May

A contempt hearing in The IND’s public records suit against Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope has been postponed due to medical leave taken by the presiding district court judge. Both parties have agreed to a motion for continuance on the Feb. 29 hearing in order to retain 15th JDC Judge Jules Edwards III, rather than arguing in front of a jurist appointed ad hoc. The continuance was granted.

In a motion filed last week, counsel for both The IND and Pope noted that the ongoing dispute had a complicated evidentiary history, of which Edwards was uniquely apprised. At this point, the case has seen two hearings that have produced a file containing more than 700 pages of documents, a lengthy video deposition of the marshal and testimony by former Lafayette Consolidated Government CAO Dee Stanley, LCG attorney Michael Hebert and one of Pope's IT consultants.

The motion also notes that newly added criminal defense attorney J. Kevin Stockstill, admitted to the case on Feb. 19, had intended to request a continuance to allow for more time to prepare for the contempt hearing.

Depending on the judge’s ruling, Pope could face civil or criminal contempt penalties.

Edwards ruled earlier this year that the marshal had failed to comply with public records requests submitted by The IND last year. He ordered Pope to pay the newspaper's attorney fees and costs as provided in the Louisiana Revised Statute and penalties currently accruing at $200 per day ($100 a day for each of the two unfulfilled public records requests).

The Feb. 29 hearing was set to determine if the marshal would be held in contempt for failing to adequately respond to The IND’s requests following a mandumus order and injunction ruled at a Dec. 18 hearing, and thus face additional punitive or coercive measures.

Pope has appealed any sanctions produced from the contempt hearing that pertain to The IND’s original request filed in October of 2015. The appeal bond in that motion has been set at more than $80,000.

Late last year, Pope produced several hundred pages of emails that met the parameters of The IND’s October request, after initially claiming an exemption and then later that no responsive records existed. At that time, the IND also filed a parallel request with LCG, the marshal’s email service provider, which produced 79 pages of documents not produced in Pope’s response, implying that Pope may have deleted those records.

An IT consultant employed by The IND has been granted access to the marshal’s and LCG’s servers to further investigate the matter.

The public records action stems from a bizarre press conference in which Pope used his office to attack then-candidate for sheriff Mark Garber. The IND suspected that Pope’s press conference was coordinated with the campaign of Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, whom Pope endorsed. Many of the documents in produced by LCG confirmed that suspicion.

Edwards will reschedule the contempt hearing upon his return from medical leave. As a public records case, the hearing will be scheduled with preference, meaning it will take priority on the judge’s docket.