News Briefs

Rideau freed from court costs, groups support LUS and more


Wilbert Rideau has been freed from court costs assessed against him last year. Calling the assessment "grossly disproportionate to any court costs ever imposed on any criminal defendant in Louisiana, indigent or non-indigent, who served the maximum sentence allowed by law," Third Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Sylvia Cooks wrote the opinion that Rideau does not have to pay $128,000 in court costs.

After serving more than 40 years behind bars at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, where he became the award-winning editor of the prison's newsmagazine The Angolite, Rideau was retried for murder in 2005 for a fourth time after his 1970 trial was ruled unconstitutional. Presided over by Judge David Ritchie of the 14th Judicial District, Rideau was convicted of manslaughter, given a 21-year sentence, and immediately released. Ritchie also ordered Rideau to pay all court costs, which Rideau appealed.

In the Third Circuit ruling, Cooks wrote that Ritchie acted beyond his authority in assessing some of the court costs, according to an Associated Press story. She stated Rideau could have been ordered to pay some reasonable costs. ' Mary Tutwiler


Two advocacy groups lined up behind Lafayette Utilities System this week in its landmark case before the state Supreme Court. The Louisiana Municipal Association and the Fiber-to-the-Home Council, a nonprofit group that promotes greater fiber optics deployment nationwide, both filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of LUS and the city of Lafayette.

Lafayette is seeking to issue $125 million in bonds for LUS to build a state of the art fiber network to offer phone, cable and high-speed Internet service. The city was sued by Lafayette resident Elizabeth Naquin, who argues that the state Fair Competition Act prohibits LUS from levying its utility resources in securing the bonds. LUS counters that the Fair Competition Act was set up as a means of governing its venture into the telecommunications business, not preventing it, and notes that the act specifically allows it to make loans from its utility business, as long as they are at a fair market rate. In August, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Naquin. Lafayette is now appealing that decision.

The LMA has supported LUS on the basis that the Third Circuit's ruling weakens municipalities' right to issue bonds and could set a precedent that would result in costly delays and challenges to infrastructure projects across the state. In its brief, the FTTH Council, whose membership includes several technology service companies, writes: "If not reversed, the Third Circuit's decision will detrimentally impact the United States' global competitive position for FTTH development. More specifically, it will deprive many of the FTTH Council's members of an opportunity of partnering with Lafayette in constructing and operating its FTTH System or to take advantage of the system's vast resources to offer advanced products and services to customers around the world."

The Louisiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear formal arguments in the case Nov. 28. ' Nathan Stubbs


After several requests from union officials, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu wrote a letter this week urging Petroleum Helicopters Inc. CEO Al Gonsoulin to go back into negotiations with PHI's pilot union in order to settle a strike that is now entering its sixth week. PHI is one of the country's largest helicopter service companies, providing air transport to a variety of customers in the oil and gas industry, air medical industry and maintenance companies. Pilots began the strike following more than two years of unsuccessful contract negotiations with the company, which is headquartered in Lafayette.

PHI executives recently declined an invitation from the National Mediation Board to re-enter negotiations with pilots and have persistently indicated that, contrary to pilot union claims, the company's business operations have not been significantly compromised by the strike. The union estimates about 40 percent of PHI's 600 helicopter pilots are participating in the strike. PHI has since been offering lucrative bonuses to new pilots to fill the void.

In her letter, Landrieu echoes the union's claim of safety concerns resulting from PHI continuing to push services at a time when many of its most experienced pilots are on strike. Landrieu cites a recent crash of a PHI S-76 helicopter in the Gulf and writes, "As you know only too well, the Gulf is a hazardous operating environment. It seems particularly dangerous to have to rely on less experienced replacement pilots under these circumstances. The best interests of our State are served by a speedy return to work by our skilled, Gulf Coast pilots. However, that is not possible without an on-going bargaining process. I urge you to do your utmost to reach a compromise and bring this unfortunate impasse to an end."

PHI has been mum on details of the S-76 crash and has declined to speak to the media regarding the pilot strike. ' NS


On Louisiana's agenda, all eyes and ears will likely be on the outcome of the legislation that dedicates more offshore oil and gas royalties to the state. Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Kenner Republican, says a select committee is trying to hammer out a compromise between his version and the less generous alternative by Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat. But in the end, depending on the mood of the new Congress, both bills could die on the vine, he adds. If that happens, and it's likely, Jindal says the state's delegation will look to other measures on the move. "When we get back, there will be 11 different appropriation bills being considered, and a number of other bills that require action," Jindal says. "And that's a good thing, because that gives us more legislative vehicles."

Aside from the royalties bill, Jindal says enough importance isn't being put on the Water Resources Development Act, which could be another "huge opportunity." While it could be another vehicle for royalties, it also holds authorizations for several flood protection projects, including Morganza-to-the-Gulf, an aggressive project spanning the bayou parish region with 72 miles of levees, 12 floodgates, 12 water control structures and a lock on the Houma Navigation Canal. Of course, WRDA doesn't have the best track record, and even Jindal remains a skeptic. "That bill hasn't passed the Senate in six years," he says. ' Jeremy Alford


When Republican Jerry Jones dredged up the voting record of state Rep. Cedric Glover, a Democrat, last week in their battle for the mayor of Shreveport, the chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party fired back and brought up what has become a controversial topic among some lawmakers in recent years. Jones had referred to a voting record compiled by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, one of the most powerful lobbies in the state.

After each session, LABI releases its voting record scorecards for every member of the Legislature, grading them based on their support of business and industry. But some lawmakers have complained that LABI doesn't use every single business vote that comes up, just those that reflect positively on its membership.

Democratic Party Chairman Chris Whittington picked up on this perceived discrepancy. "His 'facts' are based on a scoring scale by LABI, which is slanted at best," he says. Brigitte T. Nieland, LABI's vice-president of communications, was contacted for comment, but she didn't take the bait. "We are not going to comment on the statement," she says. ' JA


Now that the negative political ads are dissipating ' until the gubernatorial election gears up, that is ' here's a tip for future viewing of negative political ads. Congressional candidates are now required to personally approve their ads on air.

But what might not be known is how and when that line is delivered has become an exact science. For instance, some pols have been changing the words around to make it sound more natural, or to fit their message. Take Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd's most recent ad: "I approved this ad because the people of West Virginia deserve the truth." Or Jindal, with his wife watching in the background: "I better approve this ad."

Where the statement takes place, however, may be the most important decision, according to Dr. Kirby Goidel, director of the Public Policy Research Lab at LSU. "If it's a positive ad, you do it at the end so they remember you and your face," he says. "But if it's an attack ad and you're going after your opponent, you want it in the beginning so the attack lingers and the viewer possibly forgets who put forth the spot before it ends." ' JA