Judge outlines requirements for Pope’s 173 hours of community service

by Leslie Turk

For a while there, it looked like the marshal might be headed to jail.

Marshal Brian Pope
Photo by Robin May

If you’re a defendant facing potential contempt of court in 15th Judicial District Court Judge Jules Edwards' courtroom, a flushed feeling might start to overwhelm you about the time the judge glances upward for a few seconds and then lowers his head to rest on his fist. That approximately 45-second pause — today it felt much longer — is his contemplation of either a second chance or, in the case of Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, a 23-day jail sentence.

Pope was back before Edwards today to explain why he’d not taken any steps to satisfy the community service requirements of Edwards' contempt of court finding. In March 2016 Edwards ruled that Pope had willfully violated his court order to turn over public records documents to The IND — records the paper was seeking in connection with Pope’s abuse of his office to boost Chad Leger’s failed campaign for sheriff in 2015 — and handed down unprecedented penalties for criminal contempt of court in a public records lawsuit.

Pope was sentenced to 30 days of jail time with all but seven days suspended, a sentence he has since served under house arrest, and ordered to pay The IND’s attorneys' fees, court costs and penalties.

In January he and the paper settled those costs for $205,467 — $184,170 of which was paid by check from his insurance company. Pope signed a personal promissory note for the $21,297 balance, pledging to pay it from personal funds within a 90-day period that commenced Jan. 17.

While that civil matter between Pope and the paper will be resolved when (if) Pope pays the balance, the marshal still faces seven felony counts of perjury and malfeasance that grew out of the public records battle following his indictment by a Lafayette Parish grand jury last August.

And, as Monday proved, Pope still hasn’t settled up with Judge Edwards.

Besides the jail time and fees, the court ordered him to serve 173 hours of community service by giving public presentations on the state’s public records law. That’s 173 hours for 173 days of non-compliance with The IND’s two public records requests.

Edwards also imposed two years of unsupervised probation, making it clear that if Pope violated his probation, he would serve the remaining 23 days of suspended imprisonment.

And the judge appeared to be thinking long and hard about potential repercussions today, not happy that he had been forced to order Pope back to his courtroom to explain why he hadn't lifted a finger to comply with the court-ordered community service or face sanctions.

“I’m struggling with how to respond to this,” Edwards said, before suggesting it might be beneficial for Pope to come back to court when the judge hears probation violations so he can see the “lame excuses” the judge hears from defendants who drag their feet under the false assumption he won’t send them to jail. Edwards said he was troubled by Pope’s justification, which he hears all the time from criminal defendants: “If I had known you wanted me to do it this way.”

“I expected more from the marshal,” Edwards said.

In the end, however, Edwards gave Pope a break. “I’m not going to find the marshal guilty of contempt today,” he said.

The judge shot down the sample plan Pope and his attorney had presented to the court (a program submitted after Edwards had scheduled this hearing), though the judge called it a “decent start.” The clock started on Pope’s two years of probation in November, after he lost his appeal of Edwards’ contempt ruling, and Edwards is giving him until November 2018 to complete the community service requirements.

That won’t be easy, Pope’s attorney Joy Rabalais acknowledged. Many of the groups Pope would likely present to — associations for sheriffs, city marshals or school boards were among those discussed — have probably already scheduled their annual meetings this year, she said.

Pope has 14 days to come up with his program of instruction, target audiences, a plan for how he will present it — he’ll get credit for his preparation time (but not if Rabalais does it for him, the judge stressed) — and schedule for where and when he will deliver the program. Pope won’t get any credit for travel time (which he asked for) and must either make the presentations in person or via video conferencing (the judge denied his request to make some presentations over the phone).

The judge suggested Pope set as a goal getting the presentations completed and all necessary validations from the recipient groups back to the court 60 days before his probation ends to avoid any problems. “I need you to know I have revoked people on the last day of probation,” Edwards said.

Marshal Pope’s ability to get meet these requirements is sure to be hampered by his ongoing criminal case.

On March 9 his pretrial hearing was continued to July 27 after his legal team explained to District Judge David Smith that they had only received discovery items that morning. The district attorney’s office also told the judge that it was awaiting approval from him to hand over select grand jury testimony to Pope’s defense.

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. His trial is scheduled for Sept. 25.