[CORRECTION: The grand jury did not meet Wednesday, Nov. 16, but is scheduled to reconvene this month to continue its investigation of Pope.]
Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope’s day of reckoning in a public records lawsuit with The Independent — at least on the civil side — commenced Wednesday.
At 3:43 a.m. today, Pope turned himself in to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office for processing so that he can begin serving the seven days of house arrest 15th Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards sentenced him to in March after holding him in criminal contempt of court.
Pope was released following the outfitting of an ankle monitor that will allow the sheriff’s office to ensure his compliance with Edwards’ court order, according to a press release from the sheriff’s office, a release that includes a mug shot of Pope stamped with a “Mark Garber” sheriff’s badge.
Today’s self-surrender follows the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Nov. 7 confirmation that it had denied Pope’s writ application, in essence ending his appeal of Edwards’ contempt ruling for failing to comply with two public records requests from The IND and then flaunting court orders meant to remedy that failure. The Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against Pope in June on his appeal of the criminal contempt finding, and again dealt a blow to his appeals efforts when it upheld Edwards’ initial January ruling that the records The IND was seeking were public documents he must produce. Pope is also appealing that 3rd Circuit decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Back in March, when Edwards found Pope in contempt of court in the civil case, the judge sentenced him to 30 days of jail time, with all but seven days suspended, ordered him to undergo more than 170 hours of training in Louisiana public records law and make public presentations on the law, and ruled that he must pony up more than $100,000 in attorneys fees, court costs and penalties in what has now become a year-long public records lawsuit filed against him by The Independent. Those costs have continued to mount.
Pope was given four years of unsupervised probation, and if he violates his probation will serve the remaining 23 days of suspended imprisonment. Ordering such punitive measures against an elected official over violations of public records law is — as far as we and other legal experts can tell — unprecedented.
In his ruling, Edwards painted a picture of a law enforcement official who believed himself above the law by willfully failing to comply with the public records requests. The IND began seeking the public records in October 2015 after Pope held a bizarre press conference at this office, flanked by on-duty deputies, to attack Garber, who was then a candidate for sheriff. The records proved what the IND suspected — that Pope had colluded with Joe Castille, the campaign manager for Chad Leger, Garber’s opponent, to smear Garber in hopes of advancing Leger’s election bid.
Pope’s criminal defense attorney, Kevin Stockstill, notified the court Thursday of his client's intention to surrender this week to avoid “any unnecessary arrest/fugitive warrants.”
Stockstill asked IND attorney Gary McGoffin if the paper would be opposed to Louisiana Home Detention, rather than the sheriff’s office, supervising electronic monitoring of Pope over the seven-day sentence. The paper opposed such a change, preferring that the sheriff supervise his detention, as suggested by Edwards in March: “This court has no objection to the 168 hours being served on home arrest with electronic monitoring supervised by the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office.”
It’s easy to see why it might be a bit unsettling for the marshal to be monitored by the sheriff’s office, as information obtained from the public records also led to an investigation by District Attorney Keith Stutes’ office and a grand jury indictment against Pope in August. Pope now faces prosecution on at least five felony charges — three counts of misuse of public funds for urging voters to elect Leger and two for perjury. That same grand jury is set to reconvene this month, widening its probe into Pope’s alleged misdeeds.