For Marshal Pope, the odyssey continues

by Walter Pierce and Leslie Turk

Pope, left, exits the Lafayette Parish Courthouse Thursday with attorneys John McLindon and Brett Grayson.
Photos by Wynce Nolley

As one chapter ends for Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, a new, more perilous one begins. On the heels of the embattled lawman’s civil saga with The Independent concluding, the criminal case against Pope gets under way.

Pope, 51, was in Judge David Smith’s 15th Judicial District courtroom in Lafayette Thursday morning with a pair of attorneys for a pre-trial hearing. Pope faces seven felony counts stemming from the public records battle with this newspaper. He was indicted by a Lafayette Parish grand jury on two counts of perjury and three counts of misuse of public funds in August of last year. A superseding indictment issued in late November tacked on two additional counts of malfeasance in office, and the earlier misuse of public funds charges became malfeasance charges.

The new malfeasance charges are related to Pope's decision to use public funds from his office to pay some of the legal fees associated with his criminal case.

As is common with pre-trial hearings, Thursday’s hearing was continued to March 9 after Pope’s legal team — John McLindon of Baton Rouge, who successfully defended Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal in November, and Brett Grayson, a controversial former assistant U.S. attorney — indicated it planned to introduce several more pre-trial motions. A trial date was set for May 8.

For each perjury count, Pope faces a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment at hard labor for up to five years, or both. He faces up to five years at hard labor and a $5,000 fine, or both, on the malfeasance charges.

Pope’s legal troubles have also not been without their entanglements. In December, Charles Middleton, the first attorney Pope hired to defend him in his civil case against The Independent, was indicted on a single perjury charge. Moreover, District Attorney Keith Stutes has said the grand jury looking into the case remains open and could be convened to look at additional charges against anyone connected to the original and failed effort to help get Scott Police Chief Chad Leger elected sheriff in the fall 2015 election.

In other Pope-related news, earlier this week The IND received a check for $184,170 from SureTec Insurance Co. out of Houston, the surety bond company the marshal turned to after District Judge Jules Edwards ruled against him in January 2016, saying Pope’s response to the paper’s public records requests were “woefully inadequate,” that his decision to withhold documents was “arbitrary” and his failure to respond “unreasonable.”

The IND filed suit against the city marshal in November 2015, seeking to prove that he and his office colluded with the Leger campaign to discredit the candidacy of attorney Mark Garber, who ultimately won the sheriff election in a runoff against Leger.

At that January hearing, Edwards awarded The IND its attorney fees and court costs, and the full penalties afforded under Louisiana’s public records statute — $100 per day for each day that Pope failed to respond to the public records requests.

As the case quickly moved into criminal contempt of court proceedings and drug on further, the court increased those fines but deferred ruling on the additional attorneys fees that had accrued and also awarded costs of an IT expert retained by the paper. As The IND's costs rose, so did Pope's own legal fees in the civil case, and he has used his office to pay more than $150,000 to his team of attorneys.

The Louisiana Supreme Court’s December decision to deny Pope a hearing on his appeal of the paper’s right to bring the civil action against him paved the way for The IND and its attorney to begin the collection process, and last week Pope and the paper came to an agreement on a settlement amount of $205,467. Pope also signed a personal promissory note for $21,297, pledging to pay the balance due from personal funds within a 90-day period that commenced Jan. 17.

Records show that the marshal’s office last year deposited $168,000 into an account to secure the first two denominations of the appeal bond, but The IND has been unable to determine whether additional public funds were used to secure the balance or if those deposits were reimbursed by Marshal Pope from his personal funds.

We’ll update this story as soon as we are able to answer those questions.

Mortgage records for Brian Pope in Lafayette Parish reveal a concerted effort to cancel prior liens and mortgages, all apparently done in preparation for what will likely be a hefty retainer for his two new criminal defense attorneys, who made their debut at today’s pre-trial hearing.