The Independent

IT expert shows definitively Pope tried to cover his tracks

by Christiaan Mader

The court did not hand down a judgment in today's contempt hearing, but an expert witness showed once and for all that the city marshal played foul in response to The IND's public records requests.

Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope enters the Lafayette Parish Courthouse for day one of his contempt hearing.
Photo by Robin May

While the Lafayette city marshal was not yet judged at Tuesday's contempt hearing, those in 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards' courtroom were shown the anatomy of his predator — a Barracuda.

Specifically, in this case, the big fish is a Barracuda file server employed by Lafayette Consolidated Government to archive emails sent to and from the city’s network. This was perhaps not the most exciting day in court, but it was one that demonstrated the absurdity of Marshal Brian Pope’s “I got spoofed” defense.

We can now see quite clearly that Pope deleted emails that proved last year he used his office in collaboration with the campaign for sheriff of Chad Leger to attack Leger’s opponent, Mark Garber, and that he authorized the distribution of the attack via a third-party mailing list service called Campaigner.

Tuesday's proceedings showed that Pope allowed Leger's campaign to use his official email address to blast what amounts to Leger campaign press materials, turning over the lock and key to his authority and reputation to Leger’s campaign manager Hilary “Joe” Castille.

Photo by Robin May J. Kevin Stockstill

Even questioning by Pope’s own attorney indicated that Pope may try to distance himself from culpability by arguing that he only authorized the use of his email address and not the content delivered by it. If Castille is the puppeteer, then Pope is Pinocchio.

If you’ve been following this story, you’ve connected those dots all along. What’s significant here is that expert IT testimony showed exactly how Pope’s dissembling failed.

October 2015

Pope abuses his office to play politics on behalf of his friend, sheriff candidate Chad Leger

The IND seeks records in connection with that episode, which Pope refuses to turn over

November 2015

The IND files suit to obtain the withheld records.

December 2016

District Court Judge Jules Edwards orders Pope to turn over the requested records.

The marshal produces an incomplete response

He lies under oath about it.

January 2016

Judge Edwards rules Pope's responses “woefully inadequate” and a contempt hearing is scheduled.

March 2016

Testimony proves that Pope knowingly withheld records from The IND’s request and that he lied about the Leger campaign’s involvement.

Testimony by IND expert witness Doug Menefee, a former Schumacher Group chief information officer and recent collaborator with Amazon Web Services, showed that when Pope deleted a Campaigner authorization email and Castille-authored press materials they were removed only from an exchange server that interfaced with the marshal’s office’s work computers.

That system is primarily operated by City Court.

Menefee’s description of the marshal’s IT architecture showed definitively that Pope deleted 79 pages of documents that did not arrive in a court-ordered response last December to two outstanding public records requests filed by this newspaper.

To boot, Menefee’s testimony revealed that Pope would have circumvented LCG’s content filter by using his smart phone to authorize the use of Campaigner to distribute a press advisory and statement authored by Castille. Pope at one time testified that he was blocked from accessing Campaigner at his office workstation, and that he had never before heard of it much less used it to shotgun an attack on Garber via this bizarre press conference and press release.

While Pope perhaps thought the emails were gone for good when he emptied his Outlook trash bin, he did not count on those emails residing for posterity on LCG’s Barracuda archive.

At best, Pope’s defense, as revealed in his attorney J. Kevin Stockstill’s examinations of Menefee and Pope’s own IT expert Brian Hanks, became a series of murky evasions. The IND’s expert can’t prove at this point when those emails were deleted, as Stockstill pointed out. Furthermore, Stockstill indicated, you can’t really expect the marshal to know that the stuff he deletes still exists on a different server.

Because, in all likelihood, he's never been bitten by a Barracuda.

Stockstill’s reasoning ignores a key feature - desire. The marshal’s office does have an on-site IT help desk operated by LCG. Had Pope really wanted to fulfill The IND’s request with emails he knew existed, he could have taken it up with IT. Instead, he satisfied himself with what turns out to be legally unsatisfactory responses to The IND’s official requests.

You could speculate that Stockstill’s approach amounted to a preemptive softening of any potential criminal prosecution Pope may face. Stockstill circled closely around a defense from incapacity that may or may not ultimately land for presiding District Court Judge Jules Edwards, but leaves enough on the table for Pope to plea incompetence in the face of blinding technology.

Given the immense and complicated testimony produced by Menefee, Edwards elected to recess proceedings until March 24 at 3 p.m., at which time we expect to hear closing arguments and a ruling. Pope could face criminal or civil contempt charges in addition to attorney fees awarded to The IND in January and a ticking clock of penalties he faces for each day he fails to satisfy the outstanding requests.

On Tuesday, IND attorney Gary McGoffin told the court those legal fees and penalties now total about $90,000.

[Editor's Note: A line in this story that inaccurately reflected the sentiments of City Judge Doug Saloom has been removed. The IND regrets any confusion that may have resulted.]