Archive for May, 2011
After two days – April 28 and May 27 – of testimony and evidence in the case of Essmeir v Jonesboro we think we can fairly say that there is another very significant factor in play other than that most commonly thought – the Town of Jonesboro’s controversial mayor Leslie Thompson’s double pay raise.
At question are two ordinances – #700, concerning the budget; and #701, the actual pay raise – enacted at the 3/8/11 meeting of the town’s board of aldermen that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit want voided.
During last Friday’s trial, presiding Second Judicial District (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson parishes) Division B Judge Jimmy Teat mentioned this particular section of the Local Government Budget Act (LGBA):
A. Political subdivisions with total proposed expenditures of five hundred thousand dollars or more from the general fund and any special revenue funds in a fiscal year or other similar budgetary period shall afford the public an opportunity to participate in the budgetary process prior to adoption of the budget.
B. Upon completion of the proposed budget and, if applicable, its submission to the governing authority, the political subdivision shall cause to be published a notice stating that the proposed budget is available for public inspection. The notice shall also state that a public hearing on the proposed budget shall be held with the date, time, and place of the hearing specified in the notice. The notice shall be published at least ten days prior to the date of the first public hearing. Where applicable, publication shall be in the official journal of the political subdivision. Where there is no requirement that the political subdivision have an official journal, publication shall be in the official journal of the governing authority of the parish in which the political subdivision is located. In cases where the political subdivision is located within the boundaries of more than one parish, publication shall be in the official journal of the governing authority of each parish.
C. No proposed budget shall be considered for adoption or otherwise finalized until at least one public hearing has been conducted on the proposal. Nothing herein shall prohibit one or more political subdivisions from conducting joint public hearings.
Teat seemed to indicate that particular section of the LGBA was a major issue – along with the question of whether ordinance #700 was an amendment or another budget, and whether the surprise amendment to #700 was properly vetted. Whether the law was followed on 3/8/11 – the night the two ordinances were adopted – could bring in the issue of malfeasance in office.
E. The total of proposed expenditures shall not exceed the total of estimated funds available for the ensuing fiscal year.
A. Except as provided in R.S. 39:1314, any public official or officer that violates, either knowingly or intentionally, the provisions of R.S. 39:1305(E), either through the adoption of an original budget or through amendment to a legally adopted budget, shall be a violation of R.S. 14:134 and shall be subject to the penalties contained therein.
And here’s the penalty for that.
A. Malfeasance in office is committed when any public officer or public employee shall:
(1) Intentionally refuse or fail to perform any duty lawfully required of him, as such officer or employee; or
(2) Intentionally perform any such duty in an unlawful manner; or
(3) Knowingly permit any other public officer or public employee, under his authority, to intentionally refuse or fail to perform any duty lawfully required of him, or to perform any such duty in an unlawful manner.
C.(1) Whoever commits the crime of malfeasance in office shall be imprisoned for not more than five years with or without hard labor or shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars, or both.
(2) In addition to the penalty provided for in Paragraph (1) of this Subsection, a person convicted of the provisions of this Section may be ordered to pay restitution to the state if the state suffered a loss as a result of the offense. Restitution shall include the payment of legal interest at the rate provided in R.S. 13:4202.
Brenda Bickford, former executive secretary for the 21st Judicial District Attorney’s office and recording secretary for the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission, pleaded not guilty Thursday to allegedly embezzling over $1 million from the commission from 2007 to 2011.
Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell said after the arraignment that he has not heard whether the 21st Judicial District judges plan to recuse themselves from hearing the case. Caldwell said he would not be surprised if that matter did not eventually come up, but he has as yet not had a discussion with them on the matter.
Should all district judges recuse themselves, an ad hoc judge would be appointed to hear the case, he said.
Asked if there may be accomplices in connection with the alleged embezzlement, Caldwell said the investigation is ongoing. The attorney general’s office wants to determine how much money was taken, where it went and if any can be recovered.
Bickford, 60, of 42107 Perkins Nickens Road, Hammond, was arrested March 21 and bonded out of parish jail the same day on $70,000 bond.
The affidavit issued by the attorney general after her arrest states that Bickford served as recording secretary of the Florida Parishes Juvenile Justice Commission for 16 years. The checks she allegedly forged against the commission account were deposited to her bank account.
The alleged scheme was uncovered when, at the Jan. 2 quarterly meeting of the commission’s board of directors, board attorney John Feduccia of Hammond noticed that the item “legal fees” on the annual audit by the accounting firm of Hannis T. Bourgeois appeared to be unusually large. The audit was for the period of July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010.
From the Monroe Free Press
From The (Monroe) News-Star
Judge Teat now sworn in as a witness. Attorney for defendants, Louis Scott now asking questions about following mayor. Teat says he did not, nor ever “have” the mayor followed.
Teat says someone told him he had seen mayor in Texas, but he did not see him. Asked if he gave instructions to that person, Teat said he did not.
Scott now asking Teat about his wife being officer of Jackson Parish Bank. Teat says he does not inquire as to town’s banking business.
Culpepper now asking Teat is he a party to the suit – Teat says no.
Sam Lamkin now taking the stand.
Lamkin noting the correct spelling of his name. Scott questioning Lamkin about his remarks at council about mayor being seen in Texas. Lamkin won’t say who told him. Judge directs Lamkin to answer – says it was Jimmy Teat.
Culpepper asking Lamkin what mayor’s answer was – he said it was to get hotel for town. Culpepper asks Lamkin if the mayor had reported to the council about hotel. Lamkin says no.
Culpepper now closing – says no memorandum had been filed and motion should be denied.
Memorandum received this morning and allowed in court.
Scott now closing – says the evidence shows “some degree of prejudice” by Teat and should be recused.
Culpepper rebuttal – reciting law as to reasons for recusal – says law is specific – citing cases. Says judge is not prejudiced.
Judge now speaking – Glenn Fallin. Judge says no reason for recusal because of wife working at bank. Now talking about the mayor in Texas. Says not grounds for recusal. No evidence of “surveillance.”
Judge citing case law on recusal. Says must have evidence.
Judge rules that Teat shall NOT be recused.
Court now in recess.
Court back in session for Essmeir v Jonesboro, Teat presiding. Doug Stokes called as witness by Culpepper.
Asking about ordinance #700, was it valid. Now asking about amendment to 700 and was it advertised. Says he didn’t know it was to be amended. Powell-Lexing objects, says documents must be cited. Sustained.
Culpepper now showing documents for amended budget – Stokes says he did not help prepare it.
Culpepper asking did Stokes say to mayor it was ok for anyone to make purchases as long as it was budgeted. Stokes claiming atty/client privilege. Stokes says he doesn’t recall say that it was ok for “anyone” to make purchase, but that was ok for the purchase to be made.
Stokes talking about proposed settlement on first suit. Scott asking whether settlement was seen by mayor. Now asking whether budget was published and made available for public review.
Scott asking about 3/8 meeting and public comment session. Stokes says he wasn’t at public hearing.
Scott asking about “budget hearing.” Stokes telling that it is a “public comment” period. Scott saying that law allows for change at comment period. Stokes says that is not “customary.”
Scott now asking Stokes about qualifications – says he’s an “expert” in municipal law. Culpepper questioning relevance. Judge agrees – “let’s move on.”
Culpepper asks did he prepare #700 and #701. Says did not draw up #700, but did draw up #701.
Culpepper asks what is “ordainted” and Powell-Lexing objects. Judge sustains.
Renee Stringer now being sworn.
Culpepper asking about recording of meeting – Stringer says she furnished said recording to him. Now talking about budget amendment motion made by Cottonham. Stringer says she didn’t know about amendment.
Now talking about when she receives documents from town clerk.
Asking about “misc. reimbursements” of $176K. Stringer says she doesn’t know about that.
Cross by Scott. Asking about budget passed in Sept 2010. Asking was it late. Stringer says yes, didn’t get information timely. Scott asking about mayor pay raise at 3/8 meeting and had it been brought up before. Stringer says she voted against because “we didn’t know how much money the town had.” Says she wouldn’t vote for it “in this economy.”
Asking about public hearing and were people allowed to speak. Said yes. Said about thirty minutes of discussion. Scott asking who prepared budget, says mayor. Scott asking have you seen an ordinance amended prior to adoption. Says she doesn’t recall.
Scott asks was she aware of first lawsuit. Now talking about exec. session where discussed. Asking about city atty and whether he was at meetings. Scott asks do council vote different from each other. Yes.
Scott now asking about amendment to #700 and what happened and how much discussion. Stringer asked for clarification on what was being voted on.
Stringer asked if budget passed and was she aware. Yes. Asked about hand written document (amendment). Teat says question has been asked and answered.
Now asked if she voted against both ordinances. She said yes to best of her recollection.
court in recess.
Court back in session. Stringer back on stand, Scott questioning. Asked was she intimidated by lawsuit – says she voted no because of economic conditions. Stringer finished w/testimony for now.
Judge now saying that LA RS 39:1307 controls regarding budget. Discussions w/defense atty as to more witnesses on that point.
Powell-Lexing saying that they want to ask plaintiffs about the rest of the suit. Says plaintiffs should be accountable regarding accusations.
Judge says all future testimony should apply only to 39:1307. Judge threatening Powell-Lexing w/contempt. Says she can object, but that’s it.
Judge says testimony will be limited to actions on 3/8 regarding actions on budget. Court needs to rule on that initially, he says.
Judge: “Time is running out on this budget year.”
Judge: “I’m the only one accused of doing something wrong, which was unfounded.”
10 minute recess.
Back in session. Defense calls plaintiff Dalton Cruise. Scott asks has he been on city council. Asks about initial lawsuit in February.
Scott asking why he sued only council members who took office in January. Says they’re the ones who raised mayor’s salary.
Asking about public discussion at 3/8 meeting and #700 and #701.
Now discussing legal ad for budget as published in Jackson Independent. Asking why he disagreed with 700, says he disagreed w/700, doubling salary.
Asking Cruise did he attend many meetings, he says he attended when Zuber was mayor. Asks Cruise about public hearing prior to council meeting. Cruise says he was at public hearing.
Cruise agrees that council are the ones who vote on the issue. Asked why he objected, says the mayor didn’t deserve doubling salary.
Now asking about harm to Cruise. Culpepper objection upheld. Scott asking why object to budget. Says it allowed raise. Asked if he had talked to Lege auditor. No.
Culpepper now asking if he taxpayer, resident, etc. Yes.
James Schmidt now up. Asking if he attended meetings regularly. Yes. Asking why didn’t sue council members prior to this year. Schmidt says concerned about 700, as town can’t tell how much money it has.
Scott asking about February lawsuit. Schmidt says similar, but not same.
Scott talking about public hearing. Asking did he give suggests as to budget or salary and why not. Says he did not have up to date information. Scott asks if he agrees council has authority to vote on budget. Yes.
Don Essmeir called. Asked if he has been attending meetings for past few months. Yes. Aware of ordinances for 3/8 mtg. Asking about February suit and conditions for settlement. Scott asking about amendment process.
Scott asking about public participation in public hearings for 700. Asking Essmeir challenge to 700 was to eliminate 701. No.
Asks why object to mayor salary. Says hard to justify with bad audits.
Judge noting that 700 does not have word “amendment” in budget. Discussion of two budgets in one year.
Now talking about amendment to 700 at 3/8 meeting. Asking if lawsuit an attempt to weaken Thompson for Essmeier to run against Thompson. Objection sustained.
Culpepper asking if taxpayer, resident, etc. Yes to all.
Culpepper asking about publication, prior notice of amendment to 700. Culpepper mentions federal grants for airport. Asking if he was aware of the many amendment changes. Answer no.
Scott on re-direct. Asking if there was discussion among council on amendment. He couldn’t tell. Asking if mayor has right to modify budgets. Asking if income can change. Says doesn’t know where income came from.
Recesss until June 21, 9:30 AM.
Town of Jonesboro legal council and Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson parishes) Assistant District Attorney Douglas Stokes and Jonesboro District B Alderman Renee Stringer have been subpoenaed to testify on behalf of the plaintiffs in the matter of Essmeier v Jonesboro this morning.
See the documents here:
Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) will be covering today’s hearing live.
Last week’s secret community meeting organized by Monroe City Council Chair Jay Marx (who also appointed the seven members) was held at Monroe City Hall, sources today told Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO).
Also, at least one Monroe area media representative who learned of the meeting was told he could not attend, the sources said.
As reported earlier, at least two city employees briefed the committee on the legal and procedural rules of the selection process.
Despite the involvement of taxpayer-paid employees and the use of taxpayer facilities, the Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita parishes) District Attorney’s office said the Louisiana Open Meetings law did not apply.
A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow morning (May 27) at 9:30 AM in Second Judicial District Court at the Jackson Parish courthouse in Jonesboro to determine whether Division B Judge Jimmy Teat will continue as presiding judge in Essmeier v Jonesboro, or be recused.
The motion claims that Teat should be removed from the case because he took part in “facilitating the following and/or surveillance of Mayor Leslie Thompson”, and because his wife is an officer of the bank where the town keeps its money and that “may represent a conflict of interest.”
Depending on the outcome of the recusal hearing, the trial on the merits of the original suit that had begun on April 28 may resume.
The hearing will be conducted by Division C Judge Glenn Fallin.