Archive for the ‘State Supreme Court’ Category

Judge’s Pay Nipped by Economic Lockdown

05/21/2020

Gov Bel Edwards economic lockdown of Louisiana has resulted in a pay cut, if ever so slight, for Louisiana’s judges.

The Ouachita Citizen’s Zach Parker wrote yesterday that a month ago judges were sent a letter from Supreme Court Justice James Genovese saying that their $900 monthly supplemental pay would be cut to $400/month.

That supplemental pay is funded through filing fees collected by clerks of court.

The base pay of judges is about $152 thousand/year, so the $500/month cut is only about 4%.

Last month we reported on the state’s indigent defenders having to furlough attorneys because of funding shortfalls.

See here Parker’s news story (subscription required).

Louisiana Judge’s Finances Disclosed

05/18/2020

Last week the Louisiana Supreme Court made public for the first time the financial disclosure documents of all of Louisiana’s judges. The reports are for the 2018 calendar year.

Here are the judges that Lincoln Parish voters have had a say in electing.

2nd Circuit Court of Appeal – Jay B. McCallum
2nd Circuit Court of Appeal – Jeffrey S. Cox

Third Judicial District Court – Bruce E. Hampton
Third Judicial District Court – Jeffrey L. Robinson
Third Judicial District Court – Thomas W. Rogers

Ruston City Court – Danny W. Tatum

See here the complete list of all Louisiana judges.

More Judicial Layoffs

04/21/2020

New Orleans public defenders announce furloughs as officials project $800,000 shortfall

By Matt Sledge – NOLA.com

The Orleans Public Defenders on Monday said they will furlough staffers because the coronavirus shutdowns have drained their revenues, an early sign of how the pandemic could disrupt Louisiana’s criminal justice budgets.

The public defense agency, which relies heavily on revenue sources like traffic camera tickets and costs that defendants pay upon conviction, projects an $800,000 shortfall in the coming months.

In response, the agency plans hour and pay cuts that range from 10 to 30%, with more senior, higher-paid employees taking a bigger hit. Entry-level employees will be furloughed one out of 10 working days.

Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton said the furloughs could last until at least the end of the fiscal year on June 30, when the Louisiana Legislature is set to unveil a new state budget. The agency will re-evaluate after it has a clearer sense of next year’s state funding.

When do the Politicians Take a Pay Cut?

04/15/2020

Over the last six weeks, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and hundreds of thousands of those have been our fellow Louisiana citizens.

As we had predicted, local governments have begun to trim their payrolls, because their tax revenues have been vaporized by shutdowns. School districts, police juries, and cities have furloughed employees.

Have any local politicians volunteered to cut his/her pay? Very few, if any.

In any of the last month’s public meetings we’ve been to, or watched online, never has that subject come up.

City councils? Police jurors? School board members? Judges? District attorneys? Senators? Representatives? Sheriffs?

So when will our “public servants” show they are really willing to share the pain that the people who pay their salaries are now enduring?

Ouachita Public Defender Office Makes Cuts

04/09/2020

Nine of the 27 contract public defender attorneys in the Ouachita Parish Public Defender office have been laid off, according to a Zac Parker story in The Ouachita Citizen.

Also, some of the office staff has been let go.

See here the complete story (subscription required).

Court Machinery Seizes Up – Money Flow Stops

04/06/2020

Three weeks ago we predicted that local government layoffs would result from Gov. Bel Edwards order to shut down the state to all but “essential” activities, and the resultant collapse in sales tax revenues.

It happened more quickly than even we had expected.

Last week, The City of Ruston’s entire 300 person workforce was affected, with layoffs, furloughs, and pay and overtime cuts.

See here Nancy Bergeron’s “City Enacts Layoffs, Cutbacks in Face of Virus” in the 4/5/20 Ruston Daily Leader.

Now another segment of government has seen much of its revenue vanish overnight – the state’s court system.

We saw an online posting this morning that suggested that all Louisiana’s indigent defenders were being laid off and they had been directed to apply for unemployment benefits.

That report is NOT accurate.

We checked with sources that have knowledge of the matter, and were told that indeed SOME of the state’s Indigent Defender Board (IDB) districts were in trouble and might have to furlough some employees.

Recall that three weeks ago, courts across the state shuttered for all but “essential” business.

The problem is when there’s no court, there are no fines, court costs, and fees coming in.

The local Third Judicial District Indigent Defender Board audit shows they have a fund balance that should last them to the end of the fiscal year (6/30/20), but since almost all their revenue (about $900 thousand/year) comes from fines and court costs, that is a temporary situation.

We checked on how much this revenue source funded other courthouse crowd entities, and here’s what we found.

The Third Judicial District Attorney audit shows that between 1/4 and 1/3 of that agency’s revenues comes from fees (about $900 thousand). That office appears to have a healthy fund balance in reserve.

The Third Judicial District Court Fund audit shows that entity gets about 1/4 of its revenue from fees (about $240 thousand). This agency also has a positive fund balance.

I was once told in jest by a politician that “tax money don’t never run out.” Well, yes it can. And it’s one of the laws of nature that if the host gets sick or dies, the parasite has nothing to feed upon.

Looks like Bel Edwards better figure out how to get things up and running PDQ, or he won’t have any government employees to give orders to.

Local Government Layoffs Soon?

03/17/2020

Unlike the Federal Government, The State of Louisiana and local governments cannot print money. They must rely on current revenues to meet expenses.

Lincoln Parish local budgets, with which we are intimately familiar, rely on sales taxes for a large percentage of revenue. The City of Ruston, in particular, funds all of the new 1.5% tax on restaurants and hotels.

With Gov. John Bel Edwards order shuttering restaurants all across the Bayou State, he has vaporized a huge revenue stream for local and state governments. Tourism will go away in the blink of an eye.

The largest expense component for government is payroll, in some cases making up 85% of expenses.

Many teachers probably thought closing the schools would amount to a month-long paid vacation. They perhaps should spend their time updating their resumes.

Used to be, having a government job was seen as having a lifetime guarantee of employment. You had to really mess up to get fired. Great retirement and medical benefits, too.

That hayride is about to end.

Local District Courts Partially Close

03/17/2020

Late yesterday, an order was issued closing some of the Third Judicial District Court’s operations, effective immediately, until April 10.

All criminal and civil jury trials are continued. Criminal initial and bond appearances will be held, but will use video conferencing whenever possible.

Civil hearings and appearances are continued, with some exceptions (interdictions, emergency child custody, protective orders).

The courthouse will remain open, subject to some restrictions. That include anyone who has traveled to several foreign countries within the past 14 days, anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, under quarantine, or exhibiting symptoms of the illness.

See here the complete document.

Monroe Judge Holds Hearing on 2nd Circuit Controversy

02/28/2020

Fourth Judicial District Court (Morehouse, Ouachita Parishes) Division C Judge Wilson Rambo yesterday stayed discovery by the plaintiff Jeff Mercer in his lawsuit seeking to overturn a Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned an earlier jury verdict

The original 2015 jury trial awarded Mercer damages of $20 million after the jury found that Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development employees harassed and intimidated Mercer after he rebuffed a shakedown scheme from those employees. Mercer’s company at that time had several ongoing projects with the DOTD.

The 2nd Circuit ruling completely voided the jury verdict, because they claimed the jury was improperly instructed.

A year after that verdict, the 2nd Circuit’s Chief Judge Henry Brown abruptly retired after he was caught trying to influence the decision of fellow court members in a case involving a “close female friend” of Brown’s.

Mercer in his lawsuit alleges that Brown improperly influenced his adverse ruling, and has subpoenaed court records and documents that he says would prove his assertion.

In yesterday’s action, Rambo, clearly uncomfortable at having to hear a case that involves a court that supervises him, stayed any discovery from Mecer, and also denied the defendant’s motion to quash Mercer’s subpoenas. He later amended that denial to say that it would be held in abeyance until other matters could be ruled upon.

Rambo also did most of the talking during the 2 1/2 hour long hearing, and said that the other matter involved ruling on a motion from the defense claiming that the plaintiff had no cause of action to sue. Rambo said he would issue that ruling soon.

Jay O’Brien, one of the DOTD attorneys, argued that his clients did nothing wrong regarding the 2nd Circuit’s ruling.

Said O’Brian, “Where’s the ill practice?” on his clients part.

Mercer’s attorney, David Doty, said that what the 2nd Circuit did deprived his client to his right of a fair hearing, and that the documents sought were necessary to show what happened.

The 2nd Circuit’s attorney, Bernard Johnson, said that production of documents would jeopardize the court’s ability to deliberate freely without fear of their work papers being made public.

Johnson, on behalf of the 2nd Circuit, had filed a motion to seal all the court’s papers.

Doty replied that there was an overwhelming public interest in finding out whether or not the court acted properly, and that the people had a right to know.

Second Circuit Court Controversy/Coverup Spreads

12/15/2019

The sudden retirement last year of Louisiana’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Henry Brown is still making waves, and is likely to become an issue in upcoming judge’s races.

Brown retired after it was alleged that he leaned on fellow circuit court judges in an effort to sway their opinions on a case that involved a “close personal friend” of his. A three-judge panel was hearing the appeal, but he wasn’t a member of that panel. Typically, three judges chosen at random from the nine-judge court hear appeals of cases from district courts.

The panel upheld a 2016 First Judicial District Court jury decision that Hahn Williams breached her fiduciary duty as trustee of the Fred L. Houston Inter Vivos Trust. The jury charged Ms. Williams with $1.1 million in damages for breach of duty to the Trust and determined she was liable to the Estate for $460,605.

See here the 2nd Circuit Court decision.

Earlier this year, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied Williams’ appeal, upholding the circuit court’s ruling.

The trust involved the estate of one Fred Langford Houston, a DeSoto Parish widower who amassed a small fortune before his death in 2008. Williams was Houston’s financial advisor and executor of his will. Williams and Judge Brown had a close personal relationship, according to news reports. Brown bought a house from Williams in 2016, in which Williams continued to live for a time, those same reports allege.

Also in the mix is Trina Chu, Williams’ longtime friend and a law clerk for Brown. Chu was a 1982 refugee from Vietnam, and was herself a candidate for a 2nd Circuit judgeship in 2016.

According to Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Investigators, Brown’s law clerk (Chu) had downloaded documents to her own flash drives and e-mailed legal advice to Williams, and then forwarded some of that communication to Judge Brown via his Second Circuit court e-mail address.

Word of events surrounding the Williams appeal got to the Louisiana Supreme Court and on Sept. 27, 2018, the court’s chief justice banned Brown from the appeals court house. Brown submitted notice of his retirement the next day.

Williams is still fighting the judgement, reportedly with Henry Brown as her attorney.

Mercer v LA DOTD

A lawsuit filed last September seeking to annul another 2nd Circuit ruling that overturned a $20 million jury award also alleges “ill practices” similar to what is purported in the Houston succession case.

See here the document.

Mangham contractor Jeff Mercer won a $20 million award in 2015 over claims that the Louisiana Department of Transportation retaliated against him when he reported to higher-ups an attempted bribe by state inspectors.

A 2nd Circuit panel that included Henry Brown overturned that verdict in 2017. Brown wrote the opinion.

Mercer’s suit seeks a do-over, since documents concerning his case were allegedly found on Chu’s flash drive, along with the Houston case documents.

Mercer also alleges the other panel members never reviewed the case documents, and just rubber-stamped Brown’s opinion.

The latest development is an effort by the 2nd Circuit to cover up the issue by asking a district court in Monroe to seal all the case documents.

See here the document

A hearing on that motion was held in Monroe on November 21, but no ruling has been handed down.

With the recent retirement announcement of State Supreme Court Justice Marcus Clark of Monroe, expect several area judges to run for that job.

2nd Circuit Judge Jay McCallum has expressed interest, as have a couple of Monroe judges.

Here is some other reporting on the case:

Louisiana Record

12/29/2015 – $20 million bribery ruling against DOTD a sign that the state is tired of corruption – by Anna Aguillard
11/8/2019 – Hearing scheduled in case alleging corruption in Louisiana DOTD, state appeals court – by Anna Aguillard
11/13/2019 – We will expose all of this corruption,’ plaintiff in Louisiana DODT, Second Circuit case says – by Karen Kidd
11/16/2019 – Appeals court moves to seal docs in corruption case; ‘If the judge seals it, they’ll bury this,’ plaintiff says – by Karen Kidd

KTBS – TV3 Shreveport

6/8/2017 – Court: Highway inspectors were doing jobs, not harassing businessman – by Gary Hines
10/1/2018 – Judge retires after complaint about behavior toward colleagues – by Gary Hines
12/12/2019 – KTBS investigation reveals questions about judge and clerk’s conduct – by Jamie Ostroff & Gary Hines

Louisiana Voice

4/9/2014 – Contractor claims in lawsuit that DOTD official attempted ‘shake down’ for cash and equipment during Monroe work – by Tom Aswell
12/5/2015 – Story of attempted contractor shakedown broken 2 years ago by LouisianaVoice results in $20 million verdict against state – by Tom Aswell
6/17/2017 – How to overturn $20M verdict against DOTD: get appeals judge whose daddy worked for DOTD to write the decision – by Tom Aswell
9/28/2019 – The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal didn’t expect transparency to shine a light on widespread chicanery in Jeff Mercer case – by Tom Aswell
11/18/2019 – What price justice? Case of Mangham contractor taking on ugly face of a judicial conspiracy against individual rights – by Tom Aswell

Ouachita Citizen

6/14/2017 – Judge Rambo’s errors undo $20-million suit against DOTD – by Zach Parker
6/20/2017 – Judge’s recusal, new hearing sought in DOTD case – by Zach Parker
10/2/2019 – Contractor’s appeal sheds light on Second Circuit chief judge’s exit – by Zach Parker
12/4/2019 – Appeal court judge’s retirement figures in contractor’s suit – by Zach Parker