[Editor's Note: This story has been updated to indicate that attorney Joy Rabalais represents Chad Leger individually, not in his capacity as chief of Scott.)
As The Independent’s pursuit of City Marshal Brian Pope’s public records widens into a criminal case, multiple attorneys were on hand at various times Monday in the courtroom of Judge Jules Edwards as Clayton Burgess, the attorney for political operative Joe Castille, argued that his client should not be deposed in the case because Castille is a private citizen, not a public figure. The case has broadened such that attorneys for not only Pope and Castille, principals in the scheme to cook up a fear of Hispanics leading into the October primary election for sheriff in Lafayette Parish, were present, but also attorneys representing Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, the city of Scott and Lafayette Consolidated Government.
In the courtroom during the hearing, in addition to Burgess, were Gary McGoffin for The Independent, Katherine Guilbeau Guillot, Kevin Stockstill and Charles Middleton for Pope, Joy Rabalais for Leger (she represents him individually, not in his capacity as chief), who might also be exposed to criminal charges for using his public office for political pursuits similar to Pope; Bill Babin for the city of Scott, which is the custodian of Leger’s office emails; and Steve Oats for LCG. There was even an assistant district attorney in courtroom. That’s nine total — a lot of skin in the proverbial game.
Before Judge Edwards Monday were related issues: did The IND’s subpoena to Castille for the April 15 deposition at McGoffin’s office give Castille enough time to prepare and is Castille is a public figure subject to deposition in the case? The latter, Burgess argues, raises the issue of whether emails between Pope and Castille obtained through The IND’s public records request in December to LCG should have redacted Castille’s name and email address. Burgess cited a Louisiana Supreme Court decision, Shane Versus Jefferson Parish, in which a Jefferson Parish businessman became embroiled in a public records dispute between The Times-Picayune and the Jefferson Parish Economic Development Commission. The Shane decision, which states that there must be a weighing of the public’s right to know with a private person’s right to privacy, specifically does not apply to elected officials, public employees and candidates for political office who have qualified.
Edwards granted Pope’s motion to quash the deposition subpoena and told the newspaper it would have to re-subpoena Castille and the records it is seeking from him. (Read more about that here).
Edwards didn’t rule on whether Castille is a public figure (or, more accurately for this case, a limited purpose public figure), instead setting a June 27 hearing for argument on the merits of Burgess’ claim. Pope’s legal team, in fighting the release of the email records between Pope and Castille sought by The IND, did not raise the issue of Castille being a private citizen until the newspaper sought to depose the political operative.
As The Independent investigates through public records requests and related court hearings over the last several months the degree to which Pope, in his public role as city marshal for the city of Lafayette, used his office’s resources to conspire with Castille, who was Leger’s campaign manager last year, to sew out of whole cloth a law enforcement crisis in the parish related to the parish’s enforcement of federal immigration laws, the case has become a potential criminal probe of Pope. Judge Edwards opined in his March 24 judgment finding Pope in contempt of court that Pope may have committed multiple felonies including malfeasance and perjury.
In April, District Attorney Keith Stutes acknowledged that prosecutors were investigating possible criminal charges against Pope; and if the hundreds of emails obtained through The IND’s public records requests to Pope, LCG, Leger and the city of Scott show that Leger was part of the scheme, he could ultimately face criminal charges as well.
This entire chain of events was launched Oct. 7 with a press conference by Pope, surrounded by a handful of his deputies (all on the clock and being paid) announcing what has since been determined to be a manufactured “investigation” into the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office’s “sanctuary” policies regarding compliance with federal immigration laws. Emails obtained through this newspaper’s public records requests to Pope and LCG have since shown beyond a doubt that there was no actual investigation and that the press conference was part of an elaborate ruse to scare voters away from then-candidate/now Sheriff-elect Mark Garber, who had been endorsed by incumbent Sheriff Mike Neustrom, and to the Leger campaign.