Archive for September, 2017

Former Arcadia Town Clerk Convicted


Arcadia town clerk suspended from office following theft conviction

Vickie Welborn – KTBS TV3

An Arcadia councilwoman may no longer participate in Town Council matters following her conviction last week for stealing money when she was the water clerk.

A Bienville Parish jury late Thursday night convicted Patricia Hampton of felony theft following a four-day trial. The six-person jury was unanimous in its decision.

Hampton was arrested in February 2011 after state Inspector General Stephen Street concluded she diverted more than $37,000 in water payments over a three-year period, starting in July 2007 and ending June 2010. An investigation started after auditors found discrepancies in the water department records.

Hampton’s job was to take payments, file reports on the collections and deposit the money. Reports were altered to hide the thefts, Street said in an investigative report.

District Attorney Danny Newell inherited the case when he took office in 2015.

“Assistant District Attorney Russell Davis has worked very hard on this case and did an excellent job of presenting the case to the jury,” Newell said in a news release. “Hampton is the last of two former employees of Arcadia to have either been found guilty or pled guilty to felony theft. The town will begin recovering these stolen funds through restitution payments from both defendants.”

That other former employee, Theresa Burris, testified in Hampton’s trial. She’s the former town clerk whose theft through altered checks took place during the same time frame as Hampton’s thievery. In addition to having to repay the town, Burris spent a year in prison.

Newell expressed appreciation to Street and his investigator Tom Boulton for their assistance in investigating the Hampton case.

Despite her pending criminal prosecution, Hampton was elected to the Town Council in the fall 2014 election. She took office Jan. 1, 2015, with her term set to expire Dec. 31, 2018.

However, Louisiana law dictates that Hampton, now a convicted felon, is automatically suspended from public office, and she will no longer receive the monthly Town Council compensation pending an appellate review. She’ll have to resign if the conviction is upheld.

Hampton will be sentenced Nov. 8.

On a related note, early in Hampton’s trial, Billie Smith, wife of Arcadia Mayor Eugene Smith, was banned from the courtroom. She reportedly was sharing testimony from the stand with her husband, who as a witness was not supposed to be privy to what others were saying nor talk about it with anyone outside of the courtroom.


No “Moving Ruston Forward” Status Reports Since April


There have been no updates of the “Moving Ruston Forward” project status reports since April 13 of this year.

The reports were “a web-based portal which Ruston citizens can access for information relating to MRF projects,” according to a resolution adopted at the June 16, 2016 meeting of the Ruston City Council.

The 4/13/17 report showed the total budget to be $92.7 million, and the sports complex to cost $30 million.

Those numbers are different from what the voters were told prior to an April, 2016 tax election that raised sales taxes within the city limits of Ruston by 3/4 cents. The sales tax is supposed to pay off bond debt the city will incur to fund the projects.

Originally, the total price was $80 million, and the sports complex was budgeted at $15 million.

See here the original budget.

At the 9/11/17 meeting of Ruston’s Board of Aldermen, a $35.2 million contract to construct the sports complex was approved. That price does not include the cost of several parcels of land that has been purchased off South Farmerville Street on which the complex will be built.

A 12/9/16 status report had the overall project cost at $87.7 million, with the sports complex budgeted at $18 million.

See here the report.

Ruston Sports Complex Sees Massive Cost Increase Over Estimate


The just-contracted Ruston Sports Complex that is to be built over the next two years off South Farmerville Street will cost more than double the original estimate that was sold to the voters.

Earlier this month, a $35.2 million contract was approved by the city’s Board of Aldermen to construct the facility.

When the “Moving Ruston Forward” plan was approved by the council in February, 2016, the estimated cost of the facility was said to be $15 million. The plan, along with a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to pay for it, was approved by Ruston voters in an April, 2016 election.

See here the “Moving Ruston Forward” presentation, page 25.

The construction contract does not include the cost of acquiring property for the facility. It is unclear where the money will come from for the additional cost, or what other infrastructure improvements might be left undone.

Sumlin Attorney a No-Show in Court


Claiming a “medical procedure,” Monroe attorney LaValle Salomon yesterday afternoon was a no-show at Third Judicial (Lincoln, Union Parishes) District Court in Ruston. The result was several of his clients were left without representation, and had to have their court dates rescheduled, including former Louisiana State Representative William Sumlin.

Chief Felony Prosecutor Lewis Jones made the disclosure when he called up the cases from the court docket. Public defender Dwayne Burrell stood in (he sat, actually) for Salomon.

Sumlin was in court for a hearing on a motion to strike evidence related to his arrest two years ago on indecent behavior with a juvenile.

Sumlin’s hearing was reset for Tuesday, October 17, 1:30 PM. His trial is scheduled for Monday, October 30.

This is the second time Salomon has claimed health issues for a delay.

In February of this year, he said his wife was scheduled for surgery and couldn’t meet a March trial date. Sumlin’s trial has been set and delayed at least four times.

Salomon was a significant contributor to Jones’ campaign for district judge in 2014. See here the documents:

Candidate’s report 10/6/14 – pg 6

Candidate’s report 1/15/15 – pg 5

Presiding yesterday was Tommy Rogers.

Newell to Review Case Before Deciding on Thompson Retrial


Second Judicial (Bienville, Claiborne, Jackson Parishes) District Attorney Danny Newell will have to “review the case files before making a decision” on whether to retry former Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson on malfeasance.

The Louisiana Supreme Court today vacated Thompson’s three convictions, one for malfeasance, and two counts of misappropriation. The court remanded the case to the district court for a new trial on the malfeasance charge.

Newell noted that the trial was held four years ago, during the term of his predecessor Jonathan Stewart.

Newell made his comments late this afternoon to Lincoln Parish News Online (LPNO).

An interesting concurring opinion by Chief Justice Bernette Johnson was part of today’s ruling.

She claimed that Thompson was first elected mayor in 2000. In fact, Thompson was first elected in 2006, took office on 1/1/07, then re-elected in 2010.

The late Ira Reeves was mayor in 2000.

See here the documents from the Louisiana Secretary of State.

Another specious claim from Johnson was that: “The evidence demonstrates that defendant did not create the town’s accounting issues, but rather inherited longstanding recordkeeping problems and a poorly-managed accounting structure.”

It was well-documented during our extensive coverage of the town’s finances that prior to Thompson’s term, the town for many years had no significant issues raised during the annual financial audit.

Former Jonesboro Mayor Thompson’s Convictions Overturned by LA Supreme Court


Former Town of Jonesboro Mayor Leslie Thompson’s malfeasance convictions have been overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Writing for the majority was Justice John Weimer:

We granted certiorari in this case primarily to consider defendant’s contentions that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions on three counts of malfeasance in office, (2) the district court erred by permitting the state to introduce unduly prejudicial “other bad acts” evidence under La. C.E. art. 404(B) and the court of appeal compounded that error by applying a faulty “harmless error” analysis in assessing the effect of the erroneous admissions, and (3) the district court erred in denying his motion for a mandatory mistrial under La. C.Cr.P. art. 770 due to the prosecutor’s references to race.

After reviewing the evidence in this case from the perspective of a rational trier of fact who interprets that evidence as favorably to the prosecution as any rational trier of fact could, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to find defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt as to Count I of the malfeasance in office charge; however, as to Counts II and III, we find that no rational trier of fact could have found defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Pretermitting all other assignments of error, we additionally find that the district court erred in denying defendant’s motion for a mandatory mistrial after the prosecutor directly referenced race in a comment before the jury that was neither material nor relevant and that could create prejudice against defendant in the minds of the jury members. Accordingly, we vacate defendant’s convictions and sentences, and remand this case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

See here the complete ruling.

Thompson was convicted by a Jackson Parish jury in September, 2013.

Budget Review @ LPPJ


Tuesday night’s meeting of the Lincoln Parish Police Jury’s (LPPJ) Finance Committee featured the annual exercise of reviewing budget requests from several area agencies. The requests are funded from the jury’s general fund, or those funds that are not dedicated to a specific purpose, like roads or solid waste.

See here the requests.

Among those requesting significant increases was the Third Judicial District Court. On hand to “make their case” were Judge Tommy Rogers and Judge Cynthia Woodard.

See here their request.

Said Woodard, “I appreciate what your office does for our office, and I want you to know that we’ve tried to be good stewards of the public’s funds.” She noted that statutorily, the jury is obliged to fund court reporter’s salaries.

Woodard also said that the court reporting equipment was obsolete and needs to be replaced, and that security needed to be set up for the court house.

Another agency requesting additional funding was the Registrar of Voters. Among the items listed were training seminars, annual conference, office supplies, and personnel costs.

See here the request.

All the requests would be reviewed and finalized prior to the adoption of next year’s budget, Committee Chair Skip Russell said.

As we had reported earlier this week, the jury voted to increase the road tax and cut the library’s funding.

The vote was unanimous.

$35 Million Contract for Ruston Sports Complex Approved


Womack & Sons, a Harrisonburg, LA construction company, was awarded a $35.2 million contract for the construction of the new sports complex on South Farmerville Street.

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen approved the action at last night’s regular monthly meeting.

Public Works Director Darrell Caraway told the board that five bids were received, and that the project was expected to take 425 working days.

Yeager, Watson & Associates is the project architect.

The council also approved an ordinance creating the Cooktown Road Economic Development District, a 15 1/2 acre area that is to be commercially developed. It is located at the northwest corner of Cooktown Road and the I-20 North Service Road (Woodward Avenue).

Asked during the public hearing what kind of public infrastructure improvements are planned, Mayor Ronny Walker said that street and sewage improvements are contemplated. The existing sewage lift station will be upgraded to handle the commercial development, Walker noted.

Finally, several sewer improvement projects were approved, which will allow the streets to be repaved afterward. Listed were: University, Western, Georgia, Maryland, Monroe, Lee, Arlington, and Second.

3rd JD Judge Cynthia Woodard Announces Retirement


Cynthia “Cindy” Woodard, Third Judicial District (Lincoln, Union Parishes) Division A Judge is retiring early next year, she announced yesterday in an email to her colleagues of the Lincoln Parish Bar.

Members of the Bar,

I feel privileged and honored to have had the opportunity of being one of your district court judges. Aside from my role as a wife and mother, it has truly been the most rewarding and fulfilling undertaking in my life. While at times it has been challenging and in certain instances even troubling and disconcerting, I am very appreciative that the people of Union and Lincoln Parish allowed me to hold this position for 21 years.

I also appreciate the many courtesies virtually all of you have extended to me over these years. There is no doubt that I have been fortunate to have worked with such conscientious members of the bar in Union and Lincoln Parish. You have represented your clients in an exemplary manner, and have been a credit to our community and the legal profession.

I am also fortunate to have worked with such quality colleagues – Judge Smith, Judge McCallum, Judge Rogers and Judge Boddie. Their sense of duty and consistent desire to serve has made me proud to be a member of the bench of the Third Judicial District Court. I am especially proud that we have worked together harmoniously as your judges in an effort to better serve the legal profession and the members of the public.

I have decided to formally retire early in 2018. When that time comes, I will miss working with all of you, but I have every confidence that the Judicial District will continue to prosper.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, my colleagues, and all of those with whom I have worked on a daily basis. In speaking of my heart, I hope that upon my retirement, you would feel that any mistakes that I have made along the way have been of the head and not of the heart, as my sincere wish has always been to perform my duties in a manner that promoted justice and fairness. I especially want to thank my husband and children for their support and encouragement. To the extent that I have had any success in this position and in life, I owe it to them.

Cindy Woodard

Woodard, first elected in 1996, was in 2014 elected unopposed for a six year term. As the term runs until 2020, a special election must be held to fill the remainder.

Woodard’s action comes on the heels of other rumored changes in the district.

With the impending retirement next year of 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harmon Drew, court house rumors have 3rd JD’s Chief Judge Jay McCallum vying for that spot.

Drew reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 last year, but is allowed to finish his term which expires 12/31/18.

Should McCallum win that slot, his position at the district level will become vacant. Third JD Assistant District Attorney Bruce Hampton is rumored to be eyeing that position.

Lincoln Parish Police Jury to Hike Road Tax, Cut Library Tax


The Lincoln Parish Police Jury (LPPJ) will meet on Tuesday, September 12, where jurors will vote to set the millage rates for 2017 on two property taxes collected from parish property owners.

Two road taxes that now collect 4.08 mils each (8.16 total) are proposed to be rolled up to the legal maximum of 4.41 mils each (8.82 total), for a total tax hike to the property owner of of 0.66 mils.

The library’s millage is proposed to be cut from 4.30 mils to 3.95 mils, or a reduction of 0.35 mils.

If adopted, the net effect to the Lincoln Parish Taxpayer will be a tax hike of 0.31 mils. The owner of a $200 thousand house would pay just under $4 more in property taxes.

The meetings will be at the Lincoln Parish Court House, third floor.

Public Works Committee – 5:30 PM

Finance Committee – 6:00 PM

Police Jury – 7:00 PM