Archive for August, 2015

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.)

New Iberia Newspaper Caves to Illegal Order from Judge

08/28/2015

The Daily Iberian earlier this week deleted an anonymous comment after 16th Judicial (Franklin, New Iberia, St. Martinville Parishes) District Division G Judge Curtis Segur signed a temporary restraining order that directed the newspaper to censor it.

The action came as a result of a lawsuit filed by New Iberia attorney David Groner against the Iberian, complaining that the comment damaged his reputation.

The comment concerned Groner’s 2008 suspension by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which was deferred until completion of a probationary period. See here the document:

IN RE: DAVID W. GRONER – ATTORNEY DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS

Likely Groner’s efforts to silence the newspaper have backfired, as the story has been carried in other newspapers and on TV.

KATC-TV3 – Lafayette
The (Baton Rouge) Advocate
Popehat.com

It is settled law that courts cannot prohibit publication of comments or news, except in cases of national security. Judges can sometimes issue “gag orders” to protect a defendants right to a fair trial.

The legal precedent against “prior restraint” of speech was established in 1931 by the U. S. Supreme Court in Near v Minnesota, where a Minnesota mayor and police chief didn’t like what a local newspaper wrote about them.

Most famously, this prohibition against censorship was upheld in New York Times v United States – The Pentagon Papers case – where the Nixon administration tried to prevent publication of the documents.

The newspaper’s publisher said that they would appeal the judge’s decision. Representing the Iberian is Baton Rouge attorney Scott Sternberg. LPNO readers will recognize that name from the case where Ouachita judges sued The Ouachita Citizen.

More on Last Week’s Monroe Court Coverup Hearing

08/26/2015

Here is The Ouachita Citizen’s Zach Parker news story on last week’s hearing in Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) District Court in Monroe.

Judge dodges recusal, quashes subpoenas in Palowsky case (subscription required)

Bus Issues Discussed @ Monroe City Council

08/26/2015

Last night’s meeting of the Monroe City Council began and ended with talk of problems with the buses of the Monroe Transit system.

District One’s Ray Armstrong began by referring to a Monroe Free Press article that featured a bus that had caught fire.

Said Armstrong, “Apparently this bus was in operation, there were passengers on board that had to be evacuated.” He added there were allegations in the news article about “half the buses not operational,” and inadequate maintenance.

Armstrong asked that the Mayor look into the situation.

At the end of the meeting, citizen Jeannie Hanna said she was a regular user of the bus system, and had been keeping notes of what problems she had encountered.

Among the issues was inoperative wheelchair lift equipment, wiper blades, and “filthy buses,” she said. “I wish Ken Booth was still around,” she added.

She invited the council members to ride on the buses to see for themselves.

In regular business, the council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing additional design work for a pump station in the Winnsboro Road area.

District Four’s Kenny Wilson said that since the floods on the Southside in 2011, these projects were very welcome.

Monroe City Council Tuesday

08/23/2015

The Monroe City Council will meet Tuesday, August 25, 6:00 PM, Monroe City Hall, 400 Lea Joyner Expressway.

Here is the agenda.

Judge Sharp Says Judge Marchman “Misremembered”

08/20/2015

Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) Division G Judge Carl Sharp said that fellow 4th JD Judge Sharon Marchman (Divsion B) “misremembered” when she said he had told her that an order to quash her subpoena to appear in court didn’t apply to her.

The controversy erupted late this morning in the Monroe courtroom at the end of an hour-long hearing that was scheduled to determine whether Sharp should be recused in the case Palowsky v Cork, over which he is presiding.

In 2003, Sharp was suspended for sixty days by the Louisiana Supreme Court for failing to decide cases in a timely manner.

The plaintiff attorneys, Joseph Ward of Covington, and Sedrick Banks of Monroe had subpoenaed several judges from the court, along with two area lawyers, intending to put them on the stand under oath. The intent was to elicit testimony as to what court clerk Allyson Campbell did or didn’t do, what the witnesses knew, and when they knew it.

Marchman said that she was “discharging her duty” to appear per the subpoena, and stood ready to testify, if she were called. She added that she and Sharp had a conversation yesterday where Sharp said she wasn’t covered by the order.

Sharp replied, “Read the order.”

Earlier in the hearing, Ward and Judge Sharp argued whether or not he (Sharp) should step down from the case, which was the reason for today’s hearing.

Ward said that since Sharp was intimately involved in the investigation and alleged coverup of wrongdoing by Campbell, he should be nowhere near any of the related cases.

Sharp, who did most of the talking, tried to intimidate Ward, and threatened him with sanctions or a contempt citation for having the impertinence to subpoena a judge as a witness.

Said Sharp, “You’re ginning up you’re own recusal evidence.”

Ward didn’t back down and said that if Sharp wanted to find him in contempt, that he would just have to serve the seven days in jail.

Sharp ruled that he was holding any decision on his recusal in abeyance, until another related lawsuit, Palowsky v Campbell was decided.

Ward said that he would immediately be appealing Sharp’s order to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Notable in the court today were several local attorneys, a Louisiana State Police investigator, and an investigator with the Louisiana Inspector General’s Office.

Witnesses Subpoenaed for Tomorrow’s Hearing @ Ouachita Court

08/19/2015

Several witnesses have been subpoenaed to appear for a hearing scheduled in Fourth Judicial (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) District Court in Monroe tomorrow morning.

According to a Johnny Gunter news story in the Ouachita Citizen, several judges and two local attorneys have been subpoenaed.

The hearing is on the underlying case in the controversy, Palowski v Cork.

Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO) will cover tomorrow’s hearing, set for 9:30 AM at the Ouachita Parish Court House.