Coverup Continues @ Ouachita Court; Judge Says “Faith in Judiciary” Important

09/04/2015

Ad Hoc Judge Jerome Barbera ruled this morning that discovery should be stayed (stopped) until underlying admissibility issues are ruled upon.

Discovery is a procedural device employed by a party to a civil or criminal action, prior to trial, to require the adverse party to disclose information that is essential for the preparation of the requesting party’s case.

The hearing was held in Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) District Court in Monroe in the case Palowski v Campbell, et al. In the suit, Palowsky alleges that Court Clerk Allyson Campbell destroyed court documents in another civil case Palowsky is involved in, and that several judges in the district covered up the wrongdoing.

Barbera was appointed by Louisiana State Supreme Court Justice Marcus Clark to hear the case. Prior to his election to the state’s highest court, Clark was a judge in the 4th JD.

In 2004, Clark was disciplined by the Supreme Court for not deciding his cases in a timely manner.

How Barbera would rule today was apparent early into the hearing.

While attorney for defendant Campbell Brian Crawford was allowed to make his case uninterrupted, plaintiff attorney Joe Ward was interrupted by the judge several times to tell him what he could and could not say.

Crawford railed about how the proceedings had become a “civil public witch hunt” against his client and that it was an “embarrassment to our legal and judicial community.”

Crawford even took out after The Ouachita Citizen’s coverage of the case, saying that when the weekly’s reporting came out his client’s name was “splattered all over the front page of a local newspaper.”

Ward countered that his client had a right to interview, under oath, witnesses and to call them to the stand. He reiterated that one of the judges in the district, Sharon Marchman, was willing to waive immunity and testify if called.

Ward also noted that the judges had sued the Citizen when it tried to uncover documents relevant to the issue.

After an hour’s argument, the attorneys and judge retired to chambers for a conference behind closed doors.

Former Pearl River Town Clerk Pleads Guilty to Felony Theft and Promises Restitution after Investigative Audit

09/03/2015

LLA Press Release – 9/3/15

Former Pearl River Town Clerk Dianne Bennett Hollie pled guilty Thursday to one count of felony theft and three other criminal counts, after a 2014 Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s investigative audit uncovered evidence prompting a St. Tammany Parish grand jury to indict both Hollie and the former mayor of Pearl River, James Lavigne, this past October. Hollie’s plea and her promise to pay restitution totaling more than $8,200 means she will avoid serving up to 15 years in jail. The former Pearl River mayor is expected to appear in court later this month.

Allegations from the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany to the Legislative Auditor prompted a May 2014 investigative audit which revealed Hollie had used $5,215 in Town of Pearl River funds from March 2012 through July 2013 to buy building supplies and pool equipment for her personal residence. The audit stated that Hollie had ordered town employees to pick up the supplies and deliver them to her residence during their work hours. In the audit report, both Hollie and Pearl River Mayor James Lavigne said they used those Town funds for those personal purchases in order to avoid paying sales taxes. The audit further found that Hollie had received eight extra payroll checks totaling $7,896 between March 2012 and August 2013. In October 2014, a St. Tammany Parish grand jury indicted Hollie and Lavigne on theft and malfeasance charges.

Investigative auditors from the Legislative Auditor’s office were in the 22nd Judicial District courtroom Thursday morning when Hollie pled guilty to one count each of: felony theft; felony unauthorized use of a moveable; misdemeanor theft; and misdemeanor unauthorized use of a moveable. Hollie, who has no prior record, had already reimbursed the Town $3,834. The former Town Clerk will pay a total of $7,896 in restitution for felony theft, related to the extra payroll checks, and $346 for the taxes not paid on personal purchases using Town funds.

Lavigne, the former Pearl River mayor, is expected to return to court September 28, 2015 to face criminal charges, including unauthorized use of a movable, malfeasance, and theft over $500. Both Hollie and Lavigne currently face state ethics charges lodged against them in July.

School Board Adopts 2015-2016 Budget

09/03/2015

Tuesday’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish School Board (LPSB) saw approval of a $77 million budget for fiscal year 2015-2016, but there was good news and bad news in the discussion.

The good news, said Business Manager George Murphy, is that sales tax collections for August were greater than what he had originally budgeted, and that should that trend continue, he would recommend that a “15th check” again be paid at the end of the school year to employees.

Formerly, two bonus checks have been paid for the past several years. A third bonus check was paid at the end of last school year.

Said Murphy, “We’ve got it budgeted to have a 15th check. But it’s all based on whether the money comes in.”

The bad news is that the medical benefits budget is still in the red. Year to date, the fund has a $1.1 million deficit, and that may require a premium increase, Murphy said.

“So far, we haven’t had to change the premiums, but that may be on the table next,” said Murphy.

Accountability/Testing/School Improvement Coordinator Donna Doss reported on district graduation rates, and said that Ruston High School had a rate of 87%; Simsboro, 95%; Choudrant High, 100%.

Assistant Superintendent Mary Null reported that the district has over 6,400 students enrolled as of August 31.

Ouachita Judges Claim They’re Above the Law, Want Witnesses Muzzled

09/02/2015

A passel of motions, memos, affidavits, and exceptions have been filed by the defendants and the plaintiff prior to Friday’s hearing in the case Palowsky v Campbell, et al.

Among the claims of Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) District Judges Sharp, Amman, Jones, Rambo and Winters – who are defendants along with Court Clerk Allyson Campbell – is that of “judicial immunity,”.

That legal doctrine is contemplated to protect judges from liability for monetary damages in civil court, for acts they perform pursuant to their judicial function.

See here the documents:

Defendant Judges Exceptions
Defendant Judges Memorandum in Support of Exceptions

The plaintiff rebuts that the acts alleged to have been committed by the judges – a coverup of possible court document destruction – was administrative in nature, not judicial, and therefore not subject to immunity.

See here the document:

Plaintiffs Combined Memo in Opposition to Defendants Motion to Stay Discovery

The defendants have also filed a motion that asserts no testimony should be allowed until other issues are decided.

See here the document:

Defendant Judges Motion to Stay Discovery

The effect would be to muzzle the testimony of another 4th JD Judge, Sharon Marchman, who the plaintiffs claim:

…will be able to testify regarding the investigation, or lack thereof, of Campbell’s destruction, concealment, and/or mishandling of court documents, work habits, and payroll fraud. She will also be able to testify as to what lengths Defendant Judges went to conceal Campbell’s felonious acts.

Finally, the judges want the plaintiff Stanley Palowsky III and his attorneys – Joe Ward of Covington and Sedric Banks of Monroe – to be cited for contempt:

for filing pleadings which contain “highly defamatory and insulting” charges against a judge that “bring the administration of the law into disrespect or disregard and impair the dignity of the court and respect for its authority.”

See here the document:

Defendant Judges Motion to Strike, Motion for Contempt, and Request for Sanctions

See here all the other documents:

Campbell Dilatory Exception of Vagueness
Campbell Memo in Support of Dilatory Exception of Vagueness
Campbell Motion to Stay Discovery
Campbell Motion to Strike, Motion for Contempt, and Request for Sanctions
Campbell Peremptory Exception to No Right of Action
Campbell Peremptory Exception of Prescription
Campbell Affidavit

Monroe Attorney Brian Crawford represents Campbell.

Also see today’s Johnny Gunter news story in The Ouachita Citizen (subscription required).

Clerk’s ‘personal relationships’ with judges questioned

Lawsuit Against Daily Iberian Dropped

09/01/2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 10:41 am
BY JEFF ZERINGUE – THE DAILY IBERIAN

New Iberia lawyer David Groner on Monday dropped his lawsuit against The Daily Iberian.

An opinion posting that was removed by The Daily Iberian in the face of the threat of contempt was returned to the newspaper’s website Monday afternoon.

Groner filed a lawsuit Aug. 25 requesting a temporary restraining order against The Daily Iberian forcing the newspaper to remove the opinion posting in the Forum section of its website. The opinion comment from an anonymous poster referenced an investigation of the Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel from 2008 in which Groner was accused of engaging in a conflict of interest. It also included a link to a document on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website detailing the consent disciplinary action given to Groner, which he agreed to in order to halt the investigation, and included certain phrases from that document.

State District Judge Curtis Sigur signed the restraining order the same day Groner filed his lawsuit. The Daily Iberian was not notified and no hearing was called prior to issuing the temporary restraining order.

Grambling Alumni Association’s 2013 Audit Includes Findings for Missing Funds

09/01/2015

LLA Press Release – 8/31/15

Lack of proper accounting for funds from the Lifetime Membership Account and a donation that was never deposited were among the four findings reported for the Grambling University National Alumni Association’s 2013 fiscal year audit, made public Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

CPA Rosie D. Harper’s report also said the association had no documentation to classify deposits totaling $21,586. Association management agreed with the auditor’s recommendation to create procedures to correct this condition.

Dues paid into the Lifetime Membership Account are permanently restricted, according to the report released by the state auditor. “However, the interest earned on the Lifetime Membership account is unrestricted and can be transferred to the General Fund,” the audit said. “During 2013, $7,459 of permanently-restricted funds, respectively, were either expended or not deposited to the Lifetime Membership Account.”

Management said in response to the finding that, moving forward, the office staff person will complete and provide timely bank reconciliations for all of the association’s accounts. Additionally, the designated financial officer(s) will review and sign off on the reconciliations in a timely manner.

In the other finding that mentions missing funds, a $5,400 donation was made to the association but never deposited into the bank. The auditor recommended that the association improve its internal control policies and procedures to ensure that all funds received are deposited in a timely manner. The association agreed with the recommendation.

See here the complete report.

Popehat Covering Iberia Newspaper Censorship Case

08/31/2015

A popular libertarian-leaning website that posts about free speech, liberty, criminal justice, the legal system, and related issues – Popehat – has picked up the cause of the Daily Iberian and a judge’s ruling that directed the newspaper to delete a reader comment.

Last week, Popehat’s Ken White addressed the original story – Louisiana Judge Issues Ludicrously Lawless Takedown Order To Newspaper.

This week, White wrote this: Prior Restraint of Daily Iberian More Outrageous Than We Feared.

Wrote White, “Both the procedure and substance of this order were rotten to the core. The order is shockingly unlawful. It warrants an inquiry by Louisiana’s judiciary commission. The Daily Iberian should continue its efforts to overturn the order, and both David Groner and Judge Curtis Sigur should suffer the public consequences of their conduct.”

Also, links to the court documents were furnished on the Popehat website. See here:

Temporary Restraining Order

Motion to Dissolve Temporary Restraining Order

Hearing Friday in Ouachita Court Coverup Case

08/31/2015

A hearing is set for Friday, September 4, 9:30 AM, Ouachita Parish Courthouse, Courtroom Eight (fourth floor), in the lawsuit Palowski v Campbell.

This is the suit filed in late July that was amended to include several judges of the Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) District Court.

The plaintiffs in the suite have alleged that the judges engaged in a coverup of wrongdoing by court clerk Allyson Campbell.

Ad hoc Judge Jerome J. Barbera III, a retired judge from the 17th Judicial (Lafourche Parish) District will preside.

Lincoln Parish News Online will cover the hearing.

Lincoln Parish School Board Tuesday

08/31/2015

The Lincoln Parish School Board (LPSB) will meet Tuesday, September 1, Central Office, 410 South Farmerville Street.

At 5:30 PM, the Building and Grounds Committee will meet, and at 5:45 PM, the Finance Committee.

See here the agenda.

Next year’s proposed budget will be considered in the finance committee.

See here the memo.

At 6:00 PM, the full board will meet.

Here is the agenda.

Among the reports to be heard is the personnel actions for the month.

See here the report.

Caddo Fire District 5 Owes Some Taxpayers Real Money

08/30/2015

August 30, 2015

It is certainly not news that Shreveporters pay by far the highest property taxes in Louisiana. It is news, though, that in 2008 some paid property taxes they did not owe.

Caddo Parish Fire District 5 – or, “CFD5” – did the taxing, creating for itself a $250,000 windfall.

Then, the District chose to keep the money.

After reviewing hundreds of public documents, and interviewing willing public officials, there is no evidence of an effort to identify and return the tax money to those who overpaid.

District officials were notably defensive about the matter. The Board blocked my attempt to first meet with the District chief, and obtaining related public documents was punted to its attorney.

That attorney’s first letter (SEE here) sets out the Board’s position: it could never figure out a way to return the money.

Facts of the Matter

“Fire protection districts” like CFD5 provide their services to those who live outside the limits of municipalities that provide the same services. CFD5, as shown on its website, serves Dixie Garden, plus most of far Southeast Shreveport and Caddo.

By state law and Caddo Parish ordinance, these districts are legally established within parish governing bodies, meaning our Caddo Parish Commission. It appoints the volunteer members of each district’s board, which then does the taxing and spending.

As shown in its most recent Annual Report to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, CFD5 is in good financial shape with a $4,973,425 “net position.”

The District estimates its take from the 2008 over-taxation was $249,002, though no independent source made such a calculation. When the interest rate the District otherwise employs – 2.15% – is added for years 2009 through 2015, the total due to these taxpayers is $288,972.

How It Happened

The District erred in a key document it submitted for the Caddo Parish Tax Assessor in September 2008. This routine, annual Resolution by the Board directs the assessor to levy certain, variable property tax millages on those in its District.

Owing to (a) the District’s successful $2,500,000 bond election earlier in 2008, and (b) annexations of some of its service areas by the City of Shreveport going back to 2000, CFD5 had three Debt Service property tax millages:

… 5.65-mills for unannexed property,

… 1.00-mill for former CFD5 property annexed by Shreveport before 2008, and

… 4.65-mills for former CFD5 property annexed by Shreveport in or after 2008.

The Board’s error was directing the assessor to tax all properties the full 5.65-mills for Debt Service.

Then What?

The District quickly knew its mistake. Its CPA, Agee & Agee, wrote in a February 16, 2009, memo to the then-Board Chairman:

“We believe that when the tax assessor’s office calculated 2008 taxes to be assessed on property annexed into Shreveport for CPFD #5 that the total millage for both bonds of 5.65 was used in the calculation. … We believe based on that information, CPFD #5 could receive an estimated $249,001.73 in tax revenue that is not the district’s this year.” (Emphasis mine.)

Then, in the Board’s March 12, 2009, meeting, accountant Agee “… explained the over-collection of millage … (which) has been put in a separate account.” Attorney Jerry Jones “… recommended to the Board to work with the tax commission to pay the money back to the tax payers.” That never happened.

Learning how and why repayment did not occur is made much more difficult by a scarcity of related public documents. Attorney Anna O’Neal notes, “… apart from the documents enclosed herewith as exhibits, the District’s communications regarding (these issues) have been verbal.” So much for transparency.

CFD5 Magically Turns Debt to Taxpayers Into Revenue for Itself

Page 24 in the above-linked Annual Report includes this item: “13. In 2009, the District collected excess property tax revenue of $249,002. The statutory deadline for refund of these taxes expired in 2013.”

Then, on June 4, 2014, CFD5 auditor Marsha O. Millican, wrote to attorney Jones: “I noticed (CFD5 has) a liability on their books for 2009 tax money that was overcollected. … normally the excess tax collected is shown as a contribution from the taxpayers in the year it is overcollected.”

Jones responds in hours, “As for the fire district, I agree with your approach. In Louisiana there is a 3 year prescriptive period to recover overpaid taxes.”

Thus, a debt owed to specific, wronged taxpayers, deliberately held a certain number of years, magically became “a contribution to CFD5 from taxpayers.” ‘Positively incredible!

What Help for Serially Abused Property Tax Payers?

In June 2011, a meeting on the matter was held with Caddo Commissioner Mike Thibodeaux. Although his commission district is ground zero in all of this, he is said to have offered no real help. When I emailed him to confirm, he wrote, “I do not recall that meeting. I can neither confirm nor deny. 2011 was a long time ago.”

On the other side, just last month – July 23, 2015 to be exact – Caddo Parish Sheriff (and Ex-Officio Tax Collector) Steve Prator wrote a personal letter to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor for assistance. As Prator noted, “… if too much is collected by government then it should be returned.”

Often mentioned in these documents is Caddo Parish Tax Assessor Charles Henington. When I spoke to him about repaying those over-taxed, Henington offered that “somebody like an abstractor” would need to do a record-by-record search among those in subject (annexation) areas of CFD5.

So, riddle me this …

An experienced hand in such matters reached a simple – dare I say logical – conclusion. In 2009, the year following the taxing wreck, CFD5’s handling of all of this went off perfectly. Property owners were taxed properly, meaning precisely as they should have been in 2008 …

… why weren’t the 2009 taxpayer identifications and tax categorizations then used to identify and pay back, or credit, the tax over-payers of 2008?

Elliott Stonecipher

(Elliott Stonecipher is in no way affiliated with any political party, and has long been a registered “Other,” or Independent. He has no client or other relationships which in any way influence his selections of subjects or the content of any article. His work is strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is appreciated.)


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