Judge Edwards to Pope: ‘you decide’

by Leslie Turk

Edwards gave the marshal two options: Produce the "Mr. Redmond" motion now or wait for the criminal proceedings to conclude, which — Edwards appeared to indicate — means Pope will face $100-a-day penalties, swelling the tens of thousands in penalties he already owes to The IND.

Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope enters the parish courthouse earlier this year for a hearing before District Judge Jules Edwards, who admonished him for appearing in court armed and in uniform as a defendant in the public records case against him.
Photo by Robin May

On Monday, 15th Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards amended his Sept. 6 judgment by removing the seven-day time limit he gave Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope to produce the now-infamous “Mr. Redmond” motion.

After meeting in chambers with IND attorney Gary McGoffin and two members of Pope’s legal team, all of whom agreed that production of the motion at this point could jeopardize the criminal case against Pope, Edwards gave the marshal two options: Produce the motion now or wait for the criminal proceedings to conclude, which — Edwards appeared to indicate — means Pope will face $100-a-day penalties, swelling the tens of thousands of dollars in penalties he already owes to The IND.

The IND’s efforts to obtain the motion is the latest development in its year-long legal battle with the marshal over public records from his office. Earlier this year, Edwards found the marshal's responses to two of The IND's public records requests "woefully inadequate" and his failure to respond “arbitrary and capricious,” awarding the paper statutory penalties and attorneys fees that now amount to about $200,000. He later held Pope in criminal contempt of court for disobeying court orders meant to remedy that failure and for appearing armed and in uniform while in court.

Pope’s likely to opt for the delay because the “Mr. Redmond” motion is central to his criminal troubles. In August the city marshal was indicted by a Lafayette Parish grand jury on five felony charges, three counts of misuse of public funds for urging voters to elect Chad Leger for sheriff last year and two for perjury — all charges stemming from information that came to light during the public records lawsuit. The IND began making the records requests late last year while probing Pope's meddling in the sheriff’s campaign to promote the election of Leger, his longtime friend.

The grand jury investigation continues, having last month featured as one of its star witnesses Baton Rouge political consultant Jason Redmond, believed to be the “Mr. Redmond” referenced in legal invoices from Pope’s former attorney, Chuck Middleton, to the marshal’s office — invoices paid with public funds. Mounting evidence suggests the motion in question is the November legal document drawn up by Middleton and filed at the Lafayette Parish courthouse to unseal the divorce records of Mark Garber, who defeated Pope’s favored candidate for sheriff last year. The motion was filed into the proceedings by a man named Troyce Thorla, not Jason Redmond.

After his grand jury testimony last month, Redmond told The IND he played no role in the effort to unseal the divorce file.

Pope has already used the resources of his office to pay more than $120,000 in legal fees and costs, much of which may eventually come out of his own pocket.

On the criminal side, however, he's likely already on the hook personally.

"I can only confirm that it is my position that a public official who is formally charged in a criminal proceeding must pay his criminal defense lawyer with personal funds," Kevin Stockstill, Pope's criminal defense attorney, tells The IND in an emailed response. "If the public official is acquitted he may be able to seek reimbursement from the public office, but I have not been able to confirm this through legal research at this time."

In a Sept. 28 affirmation of Edwards’ decision that Pope had violated the state’s public records law, the Third Circuit found Pope to be liable in solido with the marshal’s office because Pope did not rely upon the advice of counsel in his responses to the paper’s public records requests.

That counsel was Middleton, who is no longer representing the marshal and may himself soon have legal problems of his own for his role in the “Mr. Redmond” motion. The grand jury investigation is ongoing.

At last count, Pope is now up to a dozen attorneys who have counseled him in the civil and criminal cases against him, a figure that includes five attorneys from the law firm of Borne, Wilkes & Rabalais.

The public records act provides that Brian Pope and the marshal’s office are both liable for the penalties, attorney fees and costs since Pope was arbitrary and capricious in failing to provide the public records. If his office pays the judgment, the office can seek to recoup all or part of the payments from Brian Pope individually. However, because the city marshal is the only person who can make the decision to pursue reimbursement from Pope personally, that decision may fall to his successor.

In other words, if the decision holding Pope liable in solido with his office survives further legal challenge, creditors like The IND and its legal counsel can choose to pursue either or both of them in collecting on their judgments.

The earliest Pope’s trial could be scheduled is early next year. That’s a lot of $100-a-day penalties for withholding the “Mr. Redmond” motion. But, as the judge said, it’s Pope’s call.