On Dec. 16, the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear Marshal Brian Pope’s latest appeal, affirming that The Independent had the right to file a public records lawsuit against him. The civil case revolves around the paper’s efforts to prove Pope abused his office to help Chad Leger’s candidacy for Lafayette Parish sheriff last year.
The latest setback for the embattled marshal is the second time SCOLA has denied to hear his appeals in the now year-long civil case.
In his latest appeal, Pope unsuccessfully argued that the paper itself should not have been able to file the suit. His appeal centered on a section of the state’s public records law requiring that a “person,” in this case the two individuals filing the public records requests on behalf of the newspaper, Staff Writer Christiaan Mader and IND attorney Gary McGoffin, be plaintiffs in the legal action against him. In September, the Third Circuit disagreed with Pope, finding that The Independent is a “person” with an enforceable right to obtain public records. “[A] corporation can only inspect a document through its representatives,” the court wrote in its decision.
Last month, SCOLA ended Pope’s appeal of the district court decision holding him in criminal contempt of court for failing to comply with two public records requests from The IND after the court ordered him to turn them over. About a week after that SCOLA decision, Pope turned himself in to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center to begin serving seven days of house arrest in connection with the criminal contempt of court finding that had been handed down in March by 15th Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards. In a move unprecedented in a public records case, the judge ordered him to serve 30 days of jail time, with all but seven days suspended, and to pay upwards of $100,000 in attorneys fees, court costs and penalties — figures that continue to climb to this day.
Since the civil case began in November 2015, Pope, 51, has twice been indicted by a Lafayette Parish grand jury and now faces a total of five counts of malfeasance in office and two counts of perjury, all related to the public records being sought by The IND. The attorney who first represented him in the public records case, 54-year-old Charles Middleton, was also indicted for perjury last month.
A pre-trial hearing for Pope is set for Jan. 19.
The December SCLOA decision means The IND will now ask the court to adjust the amounts of penalties, attorney fees and costs it assessed back in March and will seek to immediately collect them.