With several issues lingering, including an incomplete response to a public records request The Independent filed in November 2015, this news organization sought to wrap up its ongoing public records dispute with Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope at a hearing held Aug. 29.
More than 10 months since we made our first request in connection with the marshal’s bungled foray into backchannel politicking, Pope and his attorneys have repeatedly delayed his comeuppance for abusing his office to promote Scott Police Chief Chad Leger’s 2015 campaign for sheriff. While the last remaining set of records we requested — an email list supplied to the marshal’s office by Leger’s campaign to organize an October press conference attacking Leger’s then-opponent, Mark Garber — were delivered Aug. 29 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 that 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 six different attorneys with checks from the marshal’s office cost account. And his stipulated testimony filed at the Aug. 29 hearing gives little reason to believe that he intends to stop writing public checks for his defense.
In lieu of taking the stand, the marshal invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on 34 of 35 questions submitted by IND attorney Gary McGoffin. The questions probed the marshal’s connection with a plot to unseal Garber’s divorce records and whether Pope intends to personally reimburse his office for the public funds he’s used to pay costs for his criminal and civil defense. For all but a question confirming his name, Pope pleaded the Fifth in deference to a five-count felony indictment issued against him earlier this month by a Lafayette Parish grand jury — two counts for perjury and three for abuse of public funds to influence an election.
Attorney Joy Rabalais, one of the latest additions to Pope’s legal team, argued that the marshal should not be held personally liable for attorneys’ fees and costs awarded to The IND as a consequence of a January 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 the January ruling that Pope’s refusal to turn over requested records was “arbitrary and capricious” and defied court orders. Edwards held Pope in criminal contempt for defying a court order to turn over the records.
IND attorney McGoffin sought an update to the bond amount required to cover the intervening increase in costs and penalties owed, presently just under $200,000, while Pope appeals. 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. Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal has already denied Pope’s writ appealing the criminal contempt finding and will hear oral arguments on his appeal of the “arbitrary and capricious” judgment in September.
All told, Pope has more than $300,000 and counting in play between the civil awards and his civil and criminal defense and, so far, Pope has not spent any of his own money for his defense. Expect that cost to rise swiftly and drag on in similar fashion as his criminal defense displaces his civil problems.
Louisiana law allows Pope to be reimbursed for his criminal defense so long as he’s exonerated and the charges arise from the conduct of official business. 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 The IND’s 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 on the stand and 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 criminally fleeced the public to defend his abuse of its trust.