Public cost mounts in defense of city marshal’s abuse of office

by Christiaan Mader

Pope has billed the public $105,000 for his legal team and for a $168,000 suspensive appeal bond. And the cost keeps rising.

Pope, left, exits a hearing with attorney Kevin Stockstill, one of six attorneys he has contracted for his defense with public dollars.
Photo by Robin May

With several issues lingering, including an incomplete response to a public records request The Independent filed in November 2015, this news organization sought in court today to wrap up its ongoing public records dispute with Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope.

More than 10 months since we made our first request in connection with a politically motivated press conference held by the marshal, Pope and his attorneys have repeatedly delayed his comeuppance for abusing his office to promote the campaign for sheriff of Scott Police Chief Chad Leger. While the last remaining set of records we requested — an email list supplied to the marshal’s office by Leger’s campaign to organize a press conference attacking Leger’s then-opponent, Mark Garber — were delivered today pending potential redactions by the court, Pope’s defense team has continued to tack on further court proceedings at the public’s expense.

From a legal perspective, delay and disrupt is a sound civil defense the marshal has the right to employ, but in this case one afforded him only by way of public funds. Records indicate that the marshal has paid, to date, more than $105,000 to several different attorneys with checks from the marshal’s office cost account. However, his stipulated testimony filed in court today gives little reason to believe that he intends to stop writing public checks for his defense.

In lieu of taking the stand today, the marshal invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on 34 of 35 questions submitted by IND attorney Gary McGoffin into the court record. Our questions probed the marshal’s connection with a plot to unseal Garber’s divorce records, as well whether Pope intends to reimburse public funds he’s used to pay costs associated with his criminal and civil defense. For all but the question confirming his name, Pope pleaded the Fifth in deference to the criminal proceedings initiated by a five-count felony indictment, two for perjury and three for misuse of public funds, issued against him earlier this month by a Lafayette Parish grand jury.

Attorney Joy Rabalais, who signed on to Pope's defense team in the spring, argued that the marshal should not be held personally liable for attorneys fees and costs awarded to The IND in a ruling by 15th District Court Judge Jules Edwards, including those that accrue as the case continues. She cited a provision in Louisiana's public records law that exempts a delinquent custodian from such fees if the custodian operated on advice of counsel.

Pope — again through his office — purchased a $168,000 suspensive appeal bond to cover fees and costs Edwards awarded to The IND as a part of a January ruling which held that Pope's refusal to turn over requested records was "arbitrary and capricious" and defied court orders.

IND attorney McGoffin sought an update to the required bond to cover the intervening increase in costs, presently just under $200,000, while Pope potentially appeals his way to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Assuming that Edwards updates the required bond — Louisiana law requires that an appeal bond cover 150 percent of the awarded monies — it seems again likely that Pope will use public collateral.

All told, Pope has more than $300,000 and counting in play between the civil awards and his civil and criminal defense. Expect that cost to rise swiftly and drag on in similar fashion as his costly criminal defense displaces his civil problems.

Louisiana law allows him to be reimbursed for his criminal defense so long as he’s exonerated and the charges arise from the conduct of official business. So far, Pope has not spent any of his own money for his defense.

In-court arguments and a preponderance of records have dispelled time and again Pope's claim that the press conference at the heart of this public records dispute was related to his duties as city marshal.

Immediately following our initial requests for emails related to the October press conference, Pope claimed the emails sought were connected to an investigation into illegal immigration that was later discovered to be bogus. When that didn’t work, he said under oath that the records didn’t exist. That claim was proven false by a cache of emails, many of which Pope deleted, produced by Lafayette Consolidated Government, the marshal’s email service provider, and 588 pages of emails produced by Pope's own IT consultant following a court order.

The email records recovered from LCG proved that Leger’s campaign manager Joe Castille scripted Pope’s press conference, contrary to testimony Pope gave under oath in a video deposition late last year.

That puts the marshal in the curious position of suggesting that he perjured himself because his lawyer told him to, and thus his office — i.e. the public — should pay the cost of his dissembling and attempted destruction of records. Surely, that’s not how Louisiana’s public records law was designed to work.

With criminal proceedings related to Pope’s cover-up just getting started, it’s likely up to the district attorney to decide if Pope has fleeced the public to defend his abuse of its trust.

Edwards said today in court that he will hand down a ruling by Friday on updates to the cost of Pope's appeal bond and the outstanding records request.