The longer the Marshal Brian Pope public records battle goes on, the stranger it gets.
Thursday was no exception. The Independent’s scheduled video deposition of political consultant Hilary “Joe” Castille was refused by his attorney, Clayton Burgess, who plopped himself into the witness chair and insisted the camera roll while he spoke. His client, the reclusive sycophant who conspired with Pope late last year to plan and execute an elaborate political attack disguised as a press conference, was out of the frame the entire time, nodding his head affirmatively while his attorney did all of the talking.
On April 8, Castille was served with a subpoena ordering him to appear at IND attorney Gary McGoffin’s Oil Center office for the 2 p.m. deposition and produce records this newspaper is seeking as part of its ongoing public records battle with Marshal Pope. Public records already obtained by the newspaper confirm that Castille and Pope collaborated with Castille’s candidate for sheriff, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, to smear Leger’s opponent, Mark Garber, in the bizarre “press conference” at the city marshal’s office. Garber went on to win the election and will assume the top law enforcement post in July.
The deposition of Castille aims to settle some inconsistencies in Pope’s testimony and obtain records Pope has indicated in court testimony can only come from Castille himself. In defiance of a December court order, Pope refused to turn over emails pursuant to The IND’s public records requests. However, this news organization was able to establish that Leger, Castille and Pope worked together on the press conference through a parallel public records request to Lafayette Consolidated Government, which provides Pope’s office with email service. Email records provided by LCG clearly established that Pope had deleted from his computer (unaware that they were being archived on LCG’s server) some of the records the paper was seeking.
For failing to turn over records to The IND, 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards held Pope in criminal contempt of court in March, ordering him to serve 30 days in jail, with all but seven days suspended. Edwards, who admonished Pope for coming into court as a defendant dressed in his marshal uniform armed with his weapon, also awarded attorneys’ fees, court costs and penalties to The IND. Those costs exceed $100,000 — and are mounting.
Pope, who is now being investigated by District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office for possible criminal activity related to the press conference and records battle, has appealed the civil proceeding and is filing for a writ of review of the criminal contempt judgment. Pope was booked into the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center in early April, posted a $500 bond and was released.
Castille’s attorney was unsuccessful in his initial attempt to quash the deposition, and just when it looked like the deposition was a go, Burgess refused to allow Castille to be questioned until Edwards rules on his written objection to the subpoena for five categories of records (primarily those utilizing the Scott Police Department’s and Pope’s official email addresses for the Chad Leger campaign for sheriff).
Burgess argued ad nauseum that his client had not had ample time to prepare for the deposition, as he had only retained an attorney days earlier, and insisted McGoffin willfully ignored and “intentionally violated” the law by not giving his client 15 days’ notice so that he could file written objections. Burgess asked for more time to prepare.
McGoffin countered that the Code of Civil Procedure article 1354(B) applies only to records production and not to Castille’s deposition, saying the deposition should go on.
“While the written objection to the document production is allowed by the code, those written objections are not applicable to deposition testimony. In addition to the documents subpoenaed from Joe Castille, he was going to be questioned about 54 pages of documents already filed in the case,” McGoffin tells The IND. “The majority of those documents consisted of the press conference advisory, press release, press conference statement, KPEL talking points and Chad Leger endorsement, all of which were prepared by Joe Castille and all of which were produced from the LCG backup server after they were deleted from Marshal Pope’s desktop computer.”
McGoffin says the motion to quash filed by Castille and The IND’s motion to compel the Castille deposition and his production of the subpoenaed documents will likely by heard by Judge Edwards the week of May 2.
Attorney Burgess’ decision to warm his client’s seat and instruct the video recording to proceed is unheard of, according to local attorneys with decades of legal experience. “Judge Edwards won’t be happy,” says one criminal defense attorney who asked not to be identified.
But here’s where the day got even wackier. In his video-taped statements, Burgess said he had not had sufficient time to “find out what this suit’s about,” suggesting he had only been called into the case in the past few days, had just recently received the lawsuit from Chuck Middleton, Pope’s first attorney, and needed weeks to catch up on the legal proceedings. Criminal defense attorneys Kevin Stockstill, who attended the Thursday deposition, and Katherine Guilbeau Guillot, are also representing Pope.
And, as it turns out, so apparently is Clayton Burgess. Once Burgess had had his say, McGoffin pointed to a Feb. 23 letter from Pope attorney Middleton to Burgess that referenced the lawsuit (see below) and had been (inadvertently, it seems) filed into the public record as part of the written objections to the Castille deposition. “It’s time to launch the offensive,” writes Middleton to Burgess, who it seems has been assisting with strategy in the case since at least late February.
Burgess, it was clear from his reaction at the deposition, had no idea the letter had been filed into the public record in support of the pleading he himself had filed. (Notice Chuck Middleton’s reference to IND attorney Gary McGoffin as “McGoof” in — it bears repeating — a letter of private communication between legal counsel that was mistakenly put into the public record.)
So has Clayton Burgess, who is now Joe Castille’s attorney, been representing Pope’s interests, which would make him very familiar with the case? And even if both clients have signed off on the potential conflict, will that fly with Judge Edwards?
We’ll know in a couple of days how much this potential fourth attorney has cost Marshal Pope on top of the approximately $50,000 he’s already spent of taxpayer money on his three known attorneys.
Oh the power of public records.