UPDATE - The Court of Appeals has denied the marshal's request to stay tomorrow's hearing. The contempt hearing will proceed as originally scheduled on March 22 at 10 a.m. in Lafayette.
Yet again, City Marshal Brian Pope has attempted to stave off his day of reckoning in an ongoing public records dispute with The IND by filing today for an expedited request for emergency stay of proceedings with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal. If granted, the request would block the March 22 contempt hearing pending a decision from the appellate court. Pope could face civil or criminal contempt penalties depending on the district court’s ruling at that appearance.
The case centers on The IND’s attempts to obtain public records to prove its assertion that the marshal, elected to office in December 2014, abused his office for political purposes by holding an Oct. 7 press conference designed to boost his friend Chad Leger’s bid for sheriff by attacking Leger’s opponent, Mark Garber — which is a violation of state law.
Back in February, Pope’s attorneys filed an appeal of a January district court judgment that Pope’s responses to two public records requests were “woefully inadequate” and his failure to produce documents was both “arbitrary and unreasonable.”
In the request filed this morning, Pope’s attorneys argue that the January judgment is without merit, that a reversal of that judgment would render the contempt hearing moot and that the district court would be exercising improper jurisdiction with further proceeding. Pope further claimed that the contempt hearing would likely yield “further irrevocable harm” on him if allowed to go forward.
A security bond of $80,253.66 has been set for the suspensive appeal, insuring the assessed penalties, fees and costs awarded to The IND in the district court’s January ruling. The IND has claimed over $30,000 in court fees and costs. Penalties of $200 per day — $100 per day for each request — continue to accrue until Pope fulfills his duty to the two outstanding requests from last year.
During a March 17 teleconference, District Court Judge Jules Edwards denied a motion to stay proceedings that Pope’s attorneys filed within the 15th JDC and set the contempt hearing for March 22. At that point, counsel for the IND successfully argued that the contempt hearing and the January judgment covered separate, if related, issues. Namely, that the contempt hearing will determine the nature of Pope’s contempt and set the amount of penalties for violations of court orders issued in December of last year, while the January ruling established Pope’s deficiencies under Louisiana’s public records statute.
The March 22 hearing is itself a rescheduled date from an earlier-set court appearance of Feb. 29. Around that time, Judge Edwards took medical leave that conflicted with the February date. A joint motion for continuance was granted to retain Edwards as presiding judge in the case, given the unusually complicated case file.
A response to Pope’s stay request could come from the appeals court as late as the day of the contempt hearing. Counsel for The IND has filed a response to that request with the appeals court, moving that the request be denied.
For more info on the scheduling kerfuffle and the public records dispute in general check out this story from March 17.