Archive for March, 2017

Some Ruston Misdemeanors Will no Longer Require Bail

03/31/2017

Some violators of City of Ruston misdemeanor ordinances will no longer be required to post a bond, and will instead be released on recognizance (ROR), which only requires a signature by the accused offender as a promise to appear at a court date. Among the offenses that may still require a cash bond are: assault, battery, DWI, resisting arrest, and flight from an officer.

The new policy was spelled out in an order by Ruston City Court Judge Danny Tatum.

Previously, there was a preset bond schedule for offenses.

See here the order.

Third Judicial District Court judges are said to be contemplating a similar order for that jurisdiction.

The action came as a result of a federal lawsuit in Bossier Parish that challenged the practice of preset bonds for minor crimes. The plaintiffs alleged that indigents charged with crimes often served jail time awaiting trial because they couldn’t afford bail, nor could they afford the $40 fee for an indigent attorney.

The new policy could result in a reduction of inmate population at the Lincoln Parish Detention Center, and negate the need to expand the jail’s capacity.

Lincoln Parish Sheriff Mike Stone is currently lobbying the Lincoln Parish Police Jury to “co-sign” for a $2.5 million construction project to add nearly 100 new cells at the jail.

Stone’s plan is also threatened by reductions in state funding for housing state prisoners, a major source of revenue for the local jail.

According to a 3/10/17 New Orleans Times Picayune news story, the daily rate which the state reimburses may be cut from $24.39 to $10.25.

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Lake Charles Federal Judge Mentally Unfit?

03/30/2017

Court date set: Press seeks unsealing of Minaldi record

By Marilyn Monroe / American Press / Lake Charles, LA

A motion was filed Wednesday by the American Press to unseal the judicial record of a case seeking the interdiction of U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Minaldi.

The suit, which would deem Minaldi mentally incapacitated and restrain her from managing her own estate or financial affairs without the consent of a curator, was filed in state district court March 16. The proceedings were then ordered sealed.

Kathleen Kay, who works under Minaldi as U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Louisiana, is named as a plaintiff, according to Calcasieu Clerk of Court records. Local attorney Glen Vamvoras is listed as temporary curator.

The suit comes just over two months after Tony Moore, Western District of Louisiana Clerk of Court, told the American Press that Minaldi was on a “medical leave of absence” and would be absent from the bench for the foreseeable future.

Minaldi had previously removed herself — with no reasons given — from more than two dozen cases since a trial she presided over in December ended abruptly.

In Wednesday’s filing, attorney Rick Norman, on behalf of the American Press, asked the court to unseal the entire court record or redact it “to the minimum extent necessary” to balance “the rights of the public and those of Judge Minaldi.”

Judge Ron Ware has scheduled a hearing on the motion for 10 a.m. April 18.

Here are some earlier news stories on Minaldi:

Louisiana judge who mysteriously surrendered string of cases takes medical leave – 1/26/17

Mystery deepens after federal judge removes herself from more cases in Louisiana – 1/29/17

Secrecy clouds Minaldi removal – 10/16/16

Federal judge pleads guilty to first-offense DWI – 2/28/14

Edmonson’s Golden Parachute

03/28/2017

Edmonson files for over $128K in retirement benefits

Written by: Tom Wright, Investigative Producer
Contributor: Lee Zurik, Chief Investigative Reporter

New Orleans (WVUE) The former head of Louisiana State Police will draw more than $128,000 a year in retirement benefits, according to a statement from the State Police Retirement System.

LSP Col. Mike Edmonson filed paperwork to begin receiving that income, following his retirement announcement on March 15. That retirement followed a Lee Zurik investigation into revelations about travel expenses incurred when Edmonson invited several other LSP employees to a police conference and award ceremony in San Diego late last year. The total cost came to about $70,000.

The expenses came under both news media and state scrutiny; Edmonson himself pledged an internal probe, Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered an audit by the Division of Administration, and U.S. Senator John Kennedy called for Edmonson’s resignation and a legislative audit.

Jonesboro Bookkeeping Amiss, Once Again

03/27/2017

A just-released audit of the Town of Jonesboro’s finances reveal that sloppy bookkeeping has once again become a problem. Several years ago, the condition became so severe that auditors were unable to give an opinion on the town’s finances.

Among the issues cited:

Improper Treatment of Town Vehicles

This finding was first reported in 2012. While efforts were made to improve procedures, activity logs were not maintained for all Town vehicles as required by the Town’s Ordinance.

Police Tickets Not Adequately Tracked

This finding was first reported in 2015. In 2015, we reported that records for police tickets did not provide a sufficient audit trail to ensure that all ticket numbers are accounted for and receipts for fines are deposited and properly posted.

Cash Receipt Books Not Properly Maintained

This finding was first reported in 2015. In 2015, pre-numbered cash receipts were not used in order. During the year ended June 30, 2016, new ticket books were purchased and clerks were instructed to use them in order. We were better able to perform a test to account for receipt numbers. However, we noted eight receipt numbers that we could not account for. We selected twenty-five receipt numbers and attempted to trace them to deposits. We were only able to trace nine out of twenty-five receipts to deposits posted in the accounting system. We were unable to complete the test because the deposit summary does not list individual receipts. The deposit summary lists totals for each type of collection such as fines.

Noncompliance with Public Bid Law

This finding was first reported in 2015. During our fiscal year 2015 test of disbursements, we noted one disbursement out of twenty-five disbursements that appeared to have required compliance with the Public Bid Law. The disbursement was for fuel. We noted no bids obtained. The Town spent over $50,000 for fuel during the fiscal year. No bid was obtained for fiscal year 2016 purchases either.

During 2016, the Town purchased a pickup truck for $38,858 for the fire department. The board minutes of August 11, 2015 indicated approval to cash a certificate of deposit to purchase a vehicle to pull fire equipment. The bid specification included “Ford F-250 Super Duty, 2015 SRW 4×4 crew cab XL 156″ WB style side, 6.7L Power Stroke V8 Diesel 6-speed Auto Trans., Exterior shall be Silver Metallic, Interior shall be Cloth” and other detailed specifications. It did not include a statement such as “specifications are used only to denote the quality standard of product desired and that they do not restrict bidders to the specific brand, make, manufacturer, or specification named.” Also, there was no entry in the minutes that indicated that there was only one bid received, the details of the bid, or that the bid was accepted.

The payment of overtime appears to be excessive.

During fiscal year 2016, the Town paid employees for overtime hours a total of $151,838 versus $109,059 in fiscal year 2015. The following is a summary by department of those costs:

Due to the significant amount of overtime pay, we analyzed the cost by employee. Some employees received nearly as much in overtime pay as they did in regular pay. For example, one water department employee received $27,715 in regular pay, including paid time off, and $25,805 in overtime pay. One administrative employee received $39,236 in regular pay, including paid time off, and $13,263 in overtime pay. One street department employee received $30,191 in regular pay, including paid time off, and $10,942 in overtime pay.

Failure to Publish Minutes

The Town did not publish board minutes in the official journal for a period of several months. The June 2015 minutes were published July 23, 2015. We noted no other minutes published from July 23, 2015 through June 30, 2016.

See here the complete report for fiscal year 7/1/15-6/30/16.

School Money Missing in Ouachita

03/20/2017

From the Louisiana Legislative Auditor

Nearly $22,000 Missing from a Ouachita Parish Middle School’s Bank Account

An examination of West Ridge Middle School’s (WRMS) records showed that nearly $22,000 that should have been deposited into the school’s student activity bank account could not be accounted for, the Legislative Auditor said in a report released today.

The examination was conducted in response to a request from the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Auditors found that, between October 2013 and October 2014, $11,600 collected from eighth-grade honor students for a trip to Walt Disney World was not deposited into the school’s student activity bank account. WRMS teacher and trip sponsor Jodie Dean was responsible for collecting the money.

In addition, auditors found that student activity payments totaling $10,301 were received but not deposited into the student activity fund bank account between May 2014 and May 2015. Stacey Rogers, the WRMS bookkeeper at the time, was responsible for receiving, recording, processing, and/or depositing all of the missing funds. In some cases, records show the bookkeeper gave a receipt to a faculty sponsor for a greater amount than the receipt in the school’s records.

Both women have denied taking any of the missing money.

See here the complete report.

Sheriff Continues Push for Jail Addition

03/19/2017
New Additions to Lincoln Parish Detention Center

New Additions to Lincoln Parish Detention Center

Last Thursday’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission saw a continued push by Sheriff Mike Stone for additional beds at the parish jail, albeit scaled back from the original want list.

Warden Jim Tuten said they had re-evaluated and are asking for the trustee dorm only. That would cost about $2.5 million, furnishings and all, he said.

Said Tuten, “We won’t have the final numbers until the bids come in.”

Tuten said if bids were let this fall, then occupancy could begin next summer. The new dorm would be able to house 96 trustee/work release prisoners.

Stone said that the jail pays $1/2 million a year to Ouachita Parish for overflow prisoners, and that money could go toward paying for the new construction.

In other business, the commission re-elected Police Juror Joe Henderson as President.

Detention Center Commission Meets Today

03/16/2017

The Lincoln Parish Detention Center Commission will meet today, (Thurs, March 16), 10:00 AM, Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

Here is the agenda.

LPPJ Votes to Allow Lincoln Hall to go Wet

03/15/2017

On a three to one vote, the Public Works Committee of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) directed staff to proceed with drafting and introducing an ordinance that would permit patrons bring in and consume beverage alcohol at Lincoln Hall events. The operator of the facility wouldn’t be involved in the sale or serving alcohol.

Lincoln Hall is a parish-owned banquet facility adjacent to the North Louisiana Exhibition Center off Farmerville Road, and is operated by Carl Burton.

The committee also approved Burton’s request to sub-lease operation of the facility to Jimmy Shuff, who has operated a catering and “deejay” business.

Voting for the motion were Theresa Wyatt (District One), David Hammonds (District Five), and Skip Russell (District Eight). Voting no was Bobby Bennett (District Three).

When the full jury voted to accept the committee report, District Twelve’s Annette Straughter voted no. At last month’s meeting, she had objected strongly to allowing alcohol at the hall.

The vote came despite warnings by jury attorney and Assistant District Attorney Jeff Robinson who said that as owner of the building, the jury would likely be named in any lawsuit filed should an accident result from over-served patrons.

Said Robinson, “A plaintiff or a plaintiff’s lawyer, when they sue, the first thing they’re going to look at is where’s the deep pockets.” He added, “I do this for a living. I know how attorneys approach these things.”

The jury staff and attorney will draft an ordinance to be introduced and presented at a public hearing prior to a vote to adopt or reject.

Three years ago, Burton offered to sell his lease to the jury for $250 thousand, but no action was ever taken on his proposal.

In other business, the jury’s Long Range Planning Committee discussed several items that are to be more fully examined for possible future action, including additional beds at the Lincoln Parish Detention Center; improvements at the exhibition center; an animal control facility; repairs and remodeling the Lincoln Parish Court House; and a succession plan for jury staff.

WAFB-TV Baton Rouge: Edmonson Quits

03/15/2017

La. State Police superintendent steps down
By Robb Hays, News Director

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) –

One of Louisiana’s most powerful men is stepping down from his post.

Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of Louisiana State Police – his agency embroiled in a luxury travel and overtime scandal – will announce his retirement Wednesday, sources say.

Legislative Auditor Requested for LSP Travel Budgets

03/13/2017