Content tagged “Crime, law and justice”

A legals war

In a legislative session dominated by debates over the hot-button issue of Common Core, a series of bills that would change state law to allow The New Orleans Advocate to compete for government classified ads in Orleans and Jefferson parishes hasn't made big news. But then, newspapers often shy away from calling attention to themselves.

Local group files amended suit against Commonwealth Advisors

A group of local retirees who lost millions of dollars in life savings they had invested with Commonwealth Advisors has filed an amended lawsuit against the firm and its owner, Walter Morales, raising new allegations in the case, which dates back more than four years. In the amended complaint, filed April 1 in U.S. Middle District Court, plaintiff Joseph Broyles and other individual investors claim a San Francisco investment firm, Stone and Youngberg, was complicit with Morales and Commonwealth in committing fraud and breach of fiduciary duty by investing their funds—without their knowledge—in risky mortgage-backed securities, then conspiring to hide the resulting losses. "Stone and Youngberg systematically traded Commonwealth's clients' investments in and out of Commonwealth...

Bill would allow concealed guns in La. restaurants

A bill allowing concealed handgun permit holders and off-duty police officers to come armed to restaurants serving alcohol has the backing of the House Criminal Justice Committee. The Associated Press reports the committee voted 9-3 to advance the bill today. Metairie Rep. Joe Lopinto says he sponsored the measure to clear up confusion about who can carry a gun into a restaurant serving alcohol. The law regulating gun possession in places serving alcohol exempts the establishment's owner and employees and on-duty police officers. However, a separate law regulating concealed handgun permits says permit holders can’t carry in restaurants serving alcohol. Lopinto's proposal seeks to extend the exemption to include off-duty officers and concealed handgun permit holders. New Iberia Rep. Terry Landry, a former police officer, opposed the bill, saying guns and alcohol don't mix.

Taking on tort

At least 40 chambers of commerce and business organizations in Louisiana—including the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association and the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association—are working to change Louisiana's tort system this legislative session. Efforts are aimed at limiting the number of frivolous lawsuits, increasing transparency within the sytem, and curtailing contingency-fee contracts by public entities, among other changes. The organization insists excessive litigation costs the average Louisiana family nearly $10,000 annually.

Capitol Views: Holden fights against red-light camera bills that nonetheless eke out of committee

Two bills about red-light cameras barely got out of a divided legislative committee today—one to limit the speed range for violations and another to add one second to the minimum time for yellow caution lights. Both bills by Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, would only affect cameras operating at intersections of state highways. With strong opposition from Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, tie votes on both bills were broken by House Transportation Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, sending the measures to the House floor. HB 801 would prohibit red-light camera tickets from being issued for speeds less than 10 miles per hour over the posted limit on state highways. The limitation would not affect cameras on city streets or federal highways. Arnold, who battles with local officials over his anti-camera legislation each year, said, "Traffic cameras are not about policing. They are about fleecing." In opposition, Holden asked the committee, "Why don't we let local governments...

La. lawmakers to take up 'Advocate' and 'Times-Pic' battle over legal notices

The newspaper war between The Advocate and The Times-Picayune has spilled over into the Legislature, where several bills have been filed that would allow The New Orleans Advocate to bid on publishing lucrative legal ads in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Currently, state law allows only newspapers that have been publishing in a parish for at least five years to bid on carrying legal notices, which include classified-style ads about government bids, property auctions and meeting notices, among other things. The proposed laws would do away with that requirement, allowing The New Orleans Advocate—which has been publishing in the Crescent City for just 18 months—to compete for the contracts, which are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. "All this is doing is responding to changes in the market," says Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, who filed one of the three House bills that would change the law on publishing legal notices. "The...

'Business Report': Texts, emails becoming key pieces of evidence in courtrooms

When Texas drilling engineer Kurt Mix deleted strings of text messages and voicemails from his employer-supplied iPhone one day in April 2010, it's possible he was merely doing what most people who use smartphones do routinely: freeing up data storage space. But several months ago, a federal jury in New Orleans decided otherwise. The jury determined that Mix—formerly a high-level engineer employed by BP—deliberately destroyed the messages because he knew they would prove his employer lied about the amount of oil that spilled from its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The jury in December convicted Mix on one count of obstructing justice in connection with the BP oil spill. He faces a potential prison term of up to 20 years and a maximum fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced in a few months. Not long ago, the idea that an individual could be held criminally liable for such a seemingly ordinary act as deleting phone messages may have seemed far-fetched. But Baton Rouge...

La. ramps up synthetic marijuana ban as a result of increased hospitalizations

Local and state officials issued a stern warning today to any businesses that may be selling synthetic marijuana, which was initially banned in 2011. "You are providing a chemical substance that is endangering your customer's health for which you will be held accountable," reads a joint press release issued by the EBR Coroner's Office, EBR Sheriff's Office and Baton Rouge Police Department, as well as the Louisiana State Police. "You will not be able to claim that you were unaware of the dangers of your product. If you are selling any synthetic marijuana product you are subjecting yourself to criminal consequences as well as civil consequences." Officials from the various agencies joined together today in Baton Rouge to say they're stepping up efforts to stamp out the illegal sale of synthetic marijuana due to a rising number of hospitalizations due to the drug. Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert says she plans to sign an emergency rule—which is backed...

Judge upholds La. police pension bid to access Hershey records regarding African child laborers

Hershey Co., the largest chocolate maker in the U.S., was ordered Tuesday to face a lawsuit by a Louisiana police pension fund that's seeking to force it to turn over records about cocoa from African farms that may use illegal child labor. Bloomberg reports that Delaware Chancery Court Judge Travis Laster ruled the Louisiana Municipal Police Employees' Retirement System raised legitimate questions about Hershey executives' knowledge of how much of the company's cocoa, grown in West Africa, may have been produced by child slaves. Laster on Tuesday overruled a recommendation that the shareholders' request to see cocoa supply chain records be denied. The Louisiana police pension fund, which holds Hershey shares, sued last year seeking access to the company's records about cocoa purchases from West African suppliers who don't comply with international child-labor restrictions. The fund contends Hershey officials put the candy company's reputation at risk by relying on supplies produced...

Do not delete

When Texas drilling engineer Kurt Mix deleted strings of text messages and voicemails from his employer-supplied iPhone one day in April 2010, it's possible he was merely doing what most people who use smartphones do routinely: freeing up data storage space.

Legislature won't appeal 'fund sweep' ruling

The Louisiana Legislature will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget. As The Associated Press reports, a Baton Rouge judge ruled in November that the maneuver by lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal was unconstitutional. At the time of the ruling, the Jindal administration said the state would appeal and expected the decision to be overturned. But legislative leaders chose not to take the issue to the Louisiana Supreme Court. "I talked to several of my legislative leaders, and we just came to the conclusion that the judge had ruled and we didn't want to waste any more taxpayer dollars on an appeal," says House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols' office issued a statement saying the Jindal administration is abiding by the decision of lawmakers. To cope with repeated budget shortfalls in recent years, Jindal and lawmakers have...

In Conversation: Harold Kim

With Louisiana's civil justice system expected to be a focus of the 2014 legislative session, it's fitting that Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, stopped in Baton Rouge last month to visit with the Baton Rouge Lawyers Chapter of the conservative Federalist Society.

Supreme Court OKs class-action suits for Stanford victims

The Supreme Court says class-action lawsuits from investors who lost billions in former Texas tycoon R. Allen Stanford's massive Ponzi scheme can go forward. The justices this morning issued a ruling against individuals, law firms and investment companies that allegedly aided Stanford's fraud. They had sought to have the lawsuits thrown out. Federal law says class-action suits related to securities fraud cannot be filed under state law, as these suits were. But a federal appeals court said these could move forward because the main part of the fraud involved certificates of deposit, not stocks and other securities. The high court agreed in a 7-2 decision. Baton Rouge attorney Phil Preis, who represents a group of Louisiana victims, says the distinction between federal and state law is important because state law allows victims to pursue a negligence claim against the entities that they say aided the fraud, rather than having to prove those entities actually knew what was going on.

'Business Report': How to protect your company from fraud

Bookkeeper Susan Fonte was responsible for maintaining the financial records, paying the bills and opening the mail for a Mandeville real estate development firm for about five years. As Business Report contributing writer Alison Lee Satake details in a feature from the current issue, Fonte stole more than $192,000 from the company between 2008 and 2010 by forging her boss's signature on checks and depositing the funds into her own personal checking account, according to federal court documents. She also illegally obtained a debit card linked to her boss's personal checking account and withdrew more than $95,000 through several ATM transactions. In June 2012 she was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay full restitution to her former employer. "Although fraud happens to all types of companies, small businesses are particularly vulnerable," Satake writes. "Many do not invest in the tools or maintain the level of oversight needed to prevent fraud." The cost is...

Briggs to be in court today, one day after bench warrant issued for not appearing

Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs confirmed Monday night that he planned on appearing in a Baton Rouge court this morning, The Advertiser reports. On Monday, District Judge Janice Clarks issued a bench warrant ordering Briggs to either attend court or face jail for contempt. The order was issued after Briggs reportedly failed to appear at a court hearing regarding a LOGA lawsuit that seeks to rescind Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's approval of a lawsuit by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies. In a press release issued by LOGA late Monday, the association says Briggs was advised not to show up to court by his physician due to health concerns and a pre-existing heart condition that was aggravated last week after Briggs was required to give a...

'Parish Heat' looking for greater online presence as print publication ceases

After circulating just six issues, Parish Heat—a biweekly newspaper highlighting local arrest records and mugshots—ceased print publication in December but continues to post news on arrests in East Baton Rouge Parish via its Facebook page, says publisher Tony Modica. The newspaper published its first edition in early September, but Modica says he quickly found that managing distribution of the print publication was not feasible. "We honestly thought that 20,000 copies would be enough to blanket Baton Rouge," Modica says, "but the interest was a whole lot more than we thought. We got so many phone calls asking, 'how come I didn't get one over here?' [Distribution] was almost a harder job than getting the stuff together." While Parish Heat's Facebook page has gained some traction—5,000 followers without active promotion—Modica says the...

La. juvenile justice leader defends Jetson closure

The head of Louisiana's Office of Juvenile Justice apologized today for upsetting people by abruptly closing the youth prison near Baton Rouge and moving its inmates in the middle of the night. But The Associated Press reports that Mary Livers, deputy secretary of OJJ, also told an oversight commission that she stands by the decision to shutter the Jetson Center for Youth in Baker and the manner in which she did it—without advance notice for offenders, their parents or employees. She said the youth prisons in the Monroe and New Orleans areas were better suited for rehabilitative care and treatment, and the secretive procedure for reassigning the 76 inmates to those facilities was designed for safety. "We understood that this would be shocking and this would be upsetting, but we made that decision because we felt like it was the right decision to meet our mission," Livers said. "And so, for all those who are hurt by it, I apologize. For all those whose lives have been turned...

Getting tough on water

In the 1970s, a concept known as the "broken window" theory popped up on the East Coast. To oversimplify, the notion was that if there is an abandoned building and you see a few broken panes of glass, the smart thing from a public safety and welfare standpoint is to fix those windows as soon as possible.

Cooking the books

Bookkeeper Susan Fonte was responsible for maintaining the financial records, paying the bills and opening the mail for a Mandeville real estate development firm for about five years.

Five years since swindle, some Stanford victims now threatened with lawsuit

This month marks five years since investors with the now-defunct Stanford Group—which had a large presence in Baton Rouge—first learned they were victims of a $7 billion Ponzi scheme. And, though R. Allen Stanford has since been convicted and sent to prison for the massive fraud, most of the 28,000 investors who thought they were buying certificates of deposit from Stanford International Bank in Antigua have yet to recoup more than 1% of their lost savings. Now, adding insult to injury, some local victims are getting emails from a receiver in the case threatening to sue them in connection with claims they filed to recover their funds. "We're being terrorized again after five years," says Blaine Smith, a local Stanford victim, who lost more than $1 million through Stanford and is among those who have received the emails. "It's really kind of sick." Smith says the emails are coming from Grant Thornton, an Antiguan-based receiver that is supposed to be helping victims recoup...

Unconstitutional provisions in La. law prove difficult to repeal

State lawmakers are being asked in the session that begins March 10 to repeal portions of an anti-sodomy law that were declared unconstitutional in 2003, but The Shreveport Times reports that's not the only law still on the books after being declared unenforceable. A search of state laws by the newspaper has found some other high-profile unconstitutional measures that were left on the books and some that drew little notice when signed into law. LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center Professor Raymond Lamonica says "there's a lot of stuff in the so-called 'Green Books' that shouldn't be there." Someone should compile a list of unconstitutional and defunct laws and clear them out, he says, "but there's no incentive to remove it. There's no institutional mechanism to do it." Neither the attorney general's office, nor the Legislature's legal divisions, nor the LSU law school, nor the Law Institute, nor the state Law Library know how many unconstitutional laws are still on the books. None...

Gay rights group challenging La. same-sex marriage law

A gay rights group has filed a legal challenge to the Louisiana Constitution's prohibition against recognizing same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. The Forum for Equality Louisiana and four gay married couples have called news conference later today to discuss details of the suit. A draft of the group's planned lawsuit, obtained by The Associated Press, attacks the marriage recognition ban on several fronts. For instance, it says state revenue department policy, based on the ban, essentially requires married same-sex couples who file joint federal tax returns to falsely claim they are single on state returns, which the Forum says is a violation of free speech. The lawsuit challenges the state's refusal to recognize both members of a same-sex union as parents of a child born to them or adopted. The New Orleans-based Forum and the four couples plan to challenge the recognition ban, citing equal protection and free speech rights in the U.S. Constitution. A 2004...

Prominent Livingston Parish businessman arrested on drug charges

A prominent Livingston Parish businessman, tourism official and political contributor to several high-ranking government officials is facing drug charges after allegedly buying the opiate oxycodone in an undercover Livingston Parish Sheriff's Office sting operation. Narcotics detectives arrested Shannon Mack, 44, the owner of oilfield contracting firm SamMackCo. and a member of the Livingston Parish Convention and Visitors Board, according to an arrest report obtained by Daily Report. Sheriff's office spokeswoman Lori Steele says a little more than a week ago, Mack allegedly ordered oxycodone through a confidential source. He was arrested and has since been released on $25,000 bond. According to campaign finance records on file with the Louisiana Board of Ethics, Mack has contributed thousands of dollars to top public officials in Livingston Parish—including Parish President Layton Ricks, to whom he, his company and his family have given more than $10,000. Mack is also a...

Editor: BRPD's disconnect a cause for concern

The latest crime story lighting up local neighborhood group websites, Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel notes in her latest column, is an attempted carjacking that occurred in the middle of University Acres, one block off Highland Road. The Jan. 25 incident occurred around 9:30 on a Saturday night. A couple driving down Sunset Boulevard reportedly came upon a stopped car at the intersection of Menlo Drive. When two men allegedly got out of the parked car and began running toward the couple's car—one pointing a gun—the couple floored it in reverse and was able to escape. The suspects remain at large. "Within a couple of hours, the story was being posted on neighborhood group websites. By Sunday morning, it had gone viral and was being shared online throughout south Baton Rouge," Riegel writes. "That was the quickest response of a neighborhood to get the word out I've ever seen," says District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who thought the incident serious enough...

U.S. Chamber official urges changes to La. legal system

The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranks Louisiana's tort liability system 49th in the country. "I love Louisiana," Harold Kim, the institute's executive vice president, said during a visit to Baton Rouge today. "I would not want to be on the receiving end of a complaint in this state." While the institute's rankings, based on a survey of corporate attorneys and senior business executives, are subjective, Kim says those perceptions matter because they influence where companies choose to locate and do business. So how can Louisiana move up in the rankings? Lowering or eliminating Louisiana's highest-in-the-nation $50,000 threshold for a jury trial could help, Kim says. He also says the Legislature could take another look at the practice of "lawsuit lending," in which plaintiffs take out high-interest loans to fund their lawsuits. Kim says the practice leads to unnecessary, prolonged litigation. The state Senate passed a bill last year to regulate rates, but the measure died...

BRPD's disconnect

The latest crime story making the rounds on neighborhood group websites is of an attempted carjacking that occurred at 9:30 on a recent Saturday night in the middle of University Acres, one block off Highland Road.

La. prisoner release law saving $5 million less than expected

Louisiana's corrections department isn't saving nearly as much money as expected from a new law that allows nonviolent drug offenders to leave prison early and others to avoid jail if they complete a drug treatment program. A report from legislative budget analysts released this week says this year's budget assumes $6 million in savings from the law. But instead, The Associated Press reports, the Legislative Fiscal Office says the expectations have dropped by more than $5 million, to $815,000 in savings projected for the 2013-14 budget year that ends June 30. The shift to rehabilitation and substance abuse treatment for low-risk offenders was backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal as a way to save money and reduce repeat offenses. But the fiscal office says the Department of Corrections has had difficulty finding qualified offenders to participate. It was unclear today how the department will fill the budget gap. A spokeswoman for the agency didn't immediately respond to a question about the...

LSU: Researchers have contributed to lower B.R. murder rate

Baton Rouge murder rates declined by more than 20% last year, and LSU says its researchers have been "intimately involved in contributing to this reduction," citing its partnership in the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Program. "LSU researchers provide law enforcement officers and other officials with research that directly aids the … BRAVE program's effectiveness," says LSU in a release issued today. "Since BRAVE's implementation in June 2012, the city's most troubled areas—the 70805 and 70802 zip codes—have seen a 20% overall decrease in murder rates." Specifically, LSU says its researchers have been helping authorities involved with BRAVE by identifying primary offenders and their affiliation with specific groups and gangs; analyzing geographic patterns of violent crime committed by offenders through GIS mapping; tracking offenders over time and space to allow law enforcement to engage in smart policing; and evaluating the outcomes of individual offender...

February deadline looming for report on La. judges

More than two years ago, lawmakers asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to determine if the state has too many district and city court judges. It's unclear if the Supreme Court will meet the February deadline that was set with detailed suggestions on where to cut—or will instead ask for further study. Judge Robert Morrison, the district judge who is the Supreme Court's chief adviser on such issues, says that the state doesn't have enough data to make sound recommendations. Morrison's comments were made today to a committee overseeing the judgeship study, The Associated Press reports. The Bureau of Governmental Research, a government watchdog organization, says if the court recommends further study, it will delay the elimination of unneeded judgeships for years. The state can't cut a judge's term short, and the next judicial election is in November.

A new HQ

The Baton Rouge Police Department has begun the months-long process of relocating its headquarters to the former Woman's Hospital campus on Airline Highway at Goodwood Boulevard.

Jury selection to begin in long-running suit between Little Village, former landlord

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday in a long-running lawsuit between restaurateur Wayne Stabiler and the owners of the downtown building that previously housed his popular Italian restaurant. CDR Properties sued The Little Village in late 2010, shortly after the restaurant moved out of the building at 453 Lafayette St. and relocated to the nearby Kress Building. According to court documents, Little Village caused "extreme damage … to the premises, including removing items which had been installed and were the property of CDR." Court records allege the extreme damage included “numerous gouges, scrapes and digs in the floors; removal of flooring … gouges, scrapes and holes all the way through the dry wall; removal of ceiling tiles throughout, removal of a walk-in refrigeration unit and removal of a service bar … without permission." The suit does not specify a motive, but Rob Miller, who owns the property, says it appears the alleged actions were "all...

Barry: Levee board suit against oil and gas companies may never go to court

Well-known author and former Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East board member John Barry predicted today that the lawsuit the flood protection board filed last year against more than 90 oil and gas companies in Louisiana may never see a day in court. In an address to the Baton Rouge Rotary Club, Barry said the lawsuit is pretty straightforward because there is irrefutable evidence that damage was done to Louisiana wetlands and that the remedies are plain in law and regulation. "This lawsuit hits at the heart of our most basic, conservative, American values, what parents are supposed to teach their kids: Keep your word, obey the law and take responsibility for your actions," Barry said. "Industry hasn't lived up to any of those." Insisting that he has nothing personal against the oil and gas industry and acknowledging its importance to Louisiana's economy and its people, Barry maintained the industry shouldn't get a pass on cleaning up what it acknowledges it...

BRPD settling into new headquarters on Airline Highway

The Baton Rouge Police Department has begun the months-long process of relocating its headquarters to the former Woman's Hospital campus on Airline Highway at Goodwood Boulevard. The BRPD began moving during the holidays, and so far has more than 50 employees from the chief's office, media relations, legal division and computer operations settled into the new digs. "We still have a long way to go in getting everyone moved in," says BRPD Chief Carl Dabadie. "But we are making progress every day." The relocation will take place in stages as the campus is gradually renovated to accommodate not only the BRPD but, eventually, other law enforcement agencies as well. The city-parish acquired the 24-acre campus from Woman's last year for $10 million. Plans call for demolishing the former hospital building to make way for a new facility, and continuing to renovate the old physician's tower, which is where the BRPD offices have relocated. —Stephanie Riegel

New BRPD crime stats website running behind schedule

Three months after the Baton Rouge Police Department said it was making plans to improve the way it reports crime statistics on its website, nothing much has changed. BRPD spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola says plans to upgrade the system are still in the works but that the department's chief statistician has been out with an injury, which has delayed the implementation. Last fall, in response to complaints from the community, the media and Metro Councilman John Delgado about the current system—which posts only selective crime incident reports online—BRPD said it will implement a new system that will enable users to see all incident reports filed by responding officers in all crime categories across the city. The data will be provided in a text format organized by category and date, much like the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office reporting system, as well as graphically. At the time,

Louisiana AG offers defense of role in Big Oil lawsuit

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is seeking dismissal of a lawsuit that says he illegally approved a New Orleans-area flood protection board's contract with lawyers who filed the suit against the oil and gas industry over coastal wetlands loss. The Associated Press reports Caldwell's office on Thursday released a copy of his state court response to the lawsuit filed last month by the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. The filing says Caldwell never approved the contract between the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East and private lawyers led by Gladstone Jones of New Orleans. It says Caldwell did review the board's resolution to hire the lawyers, making sure it met legal requirements—a task he says he is required by law to do. The flood board's lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies was filed last summer. It says the companies' coastal drilling activities contributed to the erosion of wetlands, diminishing a natural hurricane protection buffer for New...

JPMorgan settles Madoff fraud claims for $1.7 billion

JPMorgan Chase & Co., already beset by other costly legal woes, has agreed to pay $1.7 billion to settle criminal charges accusing the bank of ignoring obvious warning signs of Bernard Madoff's massive Ponzi scheme, federal authorities announced this morning. The government says the $1.7 billion payment represents the largest ever bank forfeiture and the largest Department of Justice penalty for a Bank Secrecy Act violation. The Associated Press reports the settlement includes a so-called deferred prosecution agreement that requires the bank to acknowledge failures in its protections against money laundering but also allows it to avoid criminal charges. No individual executives were accused of wrongdoing. The deal was announced by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who scheduled an afternoon news conference to detail the agreement to resolve criminal charges: two felony violations of the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with the bank's relationship with Bernard L. Madoff...

'225': Local organization fights back against sexual assault

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five women nationally is living as a victim of sexual abuse. That translates to a potential 90,000 women in East Baton Rouge Parish. As 225 reports, Baton Rouge's Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response Center is leading the charge against this gender violence and sexual abuse. The organization's services include a 24-hour crisis hotline, 24-hour medical advocates, counseling and support groups as well as educational programs. "My motivation is to create social change—to actually work towards breaking through the stigma of sexual violence and get to the root cause of this social and public health problem," says Racheal Hebert, STAR's executive director. "From TV, advertising, videogames and music, our culture has a huge influence on the perpetuation of sexual violence." Slightly more than half of all sexual assaults go unreported, according to the Justice Department's...

Local law firm now accepting Bitcoin for payment

Local real estate attorney Bryan G. Jeansonne kicked off the new year with a new way of doing business. On Wednesday, Jeansonne's firm, Dore Jeansonne, began accepting the digital currency Bitcoin as a method of payment, along with more traditional modes of payment like credit cards and personal checks. "A lot of people find it easier to use than regular currency," says Jeansonne, explaining why his firm decided to begin accepting Bitcoin. For those unfamiliar with the technology, Bitcoin is a four-year-old electronic currency that in many ways functions like any other currency. It was created by a software developer and is accepted as payment by a growing number of merchants, both online and in the real world. What makes Bitcoin unique is that it is decentralized and no single institution controls the Bitcoin network. Jeansonne says for his clients there are a couple of potential advantages to using the digital currency. "There are a lot fewer fees than payment processing companies...

Ideas flourish to spend Louisiana's surplus and amnesty money

After years of divvying up cuts, state lawmakers have a pleasant financial problem: deciding how to spend as much as $300 million in unallocated cash from Louisiana's treasury. The Associated Press reports dollars include a surplus from the last fiscal year and excess collections from a recent tax-amnesty period that generated more than expected. With the cash surprise comes disputes about how to allocate the money in a state that has struggled through years of budget slashing, faces a looming shortfall next year and has a list of needs that far surpass available income. "Everybody has an idea," says Sen. Jack Donahue, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "At least it's nice to have money to talk about." Some people are eyeing the money for long-stalled highway projects. Donahue, R-Mandeville, thinks the state's "rainy day" fund should be replenished with some of the cash, since the state owes the fund $330 million by 2015 as part of a lawsuit settlement. Lawmakers eyeing a...

One love, one lawsuit

Bob Marley's family apparently has little love for Raising Cane's. Fifty-Six Hope Road, owned by Marley's widow and children, has asked a federal court in Massachusetts to permanently stop the fried chicken finger chain from using the phrase "One Love"—which also happens to be the title of the reggae songwriter's immortal ballad—in its promotions.

Face-off

Late this summer, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East sued 97 oil and gas companies, seeking unspecified (but no doubt massive) damages to pay for the industry's share in contributing to the state's coastal erosion. Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes since have filed similar suits. Louisiana Oil & Gas Association President Don Briggs calls the lawsuits "just more extortion by the trial lawyers," while former authority member John Barry says it's right to hold the industry accountable.

B.R. police union opposing city of St. George effort

The Baton Rouge Union of Police Local 237 is the latest organization to publicly oppose the proposed incorporation of the city of St. George, saying Baton Rouge's police department would be weakened through the creation of the new city. A statement issued this morning by union president Cpl. Chris Stewart says the new city would “lead to disastrous unintended consequences” for local police. “We have made great strides in the war on crime in recent years and the incorporation of St. George will harm those efforts. In the City of Baton Rouge, as of December 17, 2013, the murder rate is down 31.9% and violent crime is down 24%,” reads the statement. “These positive results are due to our work within and outside of the city limits of Baton Rouge and made possible through our current staffing levels and partnerships with other local law enforcement agencies.” Stewart points to a recent study commissioned by BRAC and BRAF and conducted by economist Jim...

Judge revisiting challenge of La. teacher tenure law

A Baton Rouge judge is today reconsidering his decision to throw out Gov. Bobby Jindal's revamp of teacher tenure and salary laws. The Associated Press reports Judge Michael Caldwell is set to begin a hearing at 9:30 this morning on the issue. He had previously ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional because it bundled together too many items spanning Louisiana's education laws. But the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated Caldwell's decision and asked him to re-evaluate his ruling. The Supreme Court said its opinion in a separate education case involving Jindal's statewide voucher program contains new case law for Caldwell to review. In that case, the high court rejected a similar argument that the voucher bill contained too many objectives. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit challenging the 2012 law, which limited local school boards' authority, made it harder for teachers to reach tenure and eliminated statewide teacher pay scales.

Despite 'hostile' court decisions, class-action litigation alive and well in La.

An October headline in Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed "The end of the class-action carnival." "Is the end of class actions upon us?" SCOTUSblog wondered. "Justice for Big Business," was the decision law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky spotlighted on the July 1 opinion page of The New York Times. But Louisiana lawyers on both sides of the class-action question tell Business Report they wonder if reports of the anticipated demise of these mass torts aren't greatly exaggerated. Class action, in which a large number of plaintiffs—often each with a small claim—come together to make litigation possible, has always been a complex issue. When the class-action rule was rewritten in 1968, these cases became more widely used and largely centered on anti-trust, security fraud, civil rights and consumer suits. Cases in which attorneys get multimillion-dollar fees while plaintiffs receive little compensation make the headlines. Yet, in recent years, the judicial...

Ex-BP engineer convicted on one obstruction charge, acquitted on second

A former BP drilling engineer was convicted today of deleting text messages from his cellphone to obstruct a federal investigation of the company's massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Kurt Mix was found guilty on one charge and acquitted of a second charge. A federal jury deliberated for more than nine hours over three days before reaching the verdict on his case. The count of obstruction of justice carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Mix will be released on his present bond, and sentencing is scheduled for March 26. The Associated Press reports Mix hugged his friends and family members in the courtroom before leaving the courthouse hurriedly. "I'm only going to speak through counsel," he told one reporter trying to ask him a question. Trailing behind her brother in the courthouse lobby, Bridget Mix called the verdict "just unbelievable." "You can't wrap your head around any of it," she said. Prosecutors argued that the 52-year-old engineer...

Lawyers for levee board, oil and gas companies at odds over which court should hear suit

A legal tug-of-war continues in a state levee board's lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies over the erosion of wetlands. The Associated Press reports the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority - East wants U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown to send the case back to Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where the board filed it in July. Attorneys for Chevron USA Inc. got the lawsuit moved to federal court in August, arguing that federal laws govern many of its claims. Since then, lawyers have filed hundreds of pages of arguments and exhibits just on the question of which court should hear the case. Brown has scheduled arguments on the matter today. The lawsuit says oil and gas canal and pipeline work has contributed to the erosion of wetlands that protect New Orleans when hurricanes move ashore. Corrosive saltwater from a network of oil and gas access and pipeline canals has killed plants that anchored the wetlands, letting waves sweep away hundreds of...

Eight former workers sue 'Times-Picayune' and parent company

Eight former employees of The Times-Picayune have sued the newspaper and parent Advance Publications Inc., alleging their layoffs violated a longstanding "job security pledge" and age discrimination laws. The Associated Press reports the plaintiffs were 46 to 59 years old when they lost jobs ranging from warehouse worker to reporter in June and September 2012. They either were not allowed to apply or applied unsuccessfully for lower-paid replacement jobs, according to lawsuits filed on Wednesday and Friday last week in Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Times-Picayune publisher Ricky Mathews did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the AP. The plaintiffs are: Keith Catalanotto, 53; Patricia Gonzalez, 59; Aileen Kelly, 50; Vivian Hernandez, 50; Jeanne Woods, 60; Ulpiano Lugo, 50; Stephanie Stroud Naylor, 47; and Patricia Pitt, 49. All the plaintiffs said they relied on a longstanding company pledge not to fire non-union workers because of economic or...

La. Supreme Court Justices panel settles misconceptions in the media

At a luncheon hosted by the Baton Rouge Federalist Society Chapter at Galatoire's, a panel of three Louisiana Supreme Court Justices seemed to be on a mission to clarify the public's perception of one of the most high-profile cases of the past year. Joining Justices Marcus Clark and Jeff Hughes, Justice Greg Guidry began with the court's decision to deny a writ application for a New Orleans case. The case involved the search of a panhandler under a city ordinance—which the city attorney's office had agreed not to enforce after the court struck it down for the second time in 2009—prohibiting the solicitation of funds. Although the search of the panhandler yielded a bag of cocaine, both the trial court and the Court of Appeals suppressed the evidence on the grounds that the search was illegal. "We denied writs in that case," Guidry said. "It had nothing to do with the purpose behind the statute or even in this case the constitutionality of the statute. It just dealt with...

Where they live: The Baton Rouge Police Department

When it comes to policing the streets of Baton Rouge, a rather sizable percentage of the Baton Rouge Police Department drives into the city to perform the task—including nine who commute from Mississippi.

Under fire

An October headline in Bloomberg Businessweek proclaimed "The end of the class-action carnival." "Is the end of class actions upon us?" SCOTUSblog wondered. "Justice for Big Business," was the decision law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky spotlighted on the July 1 opinion page of The New York Times.

New attack ad targets Landrieu on judge votes

A conservative group is criticizing Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in a new television ad for supporting the president's judicial picks. The Associated Press reports The Judicial Crisis Network will begin running a 30-second commercial today, which will air statewide for two weeks. The spot slams Landrieu for backing President Barack Obama's judicial nominees and for supporting a Senate rule change curbing the use of the stalling tactic called the filibuster, a move that will help Obama fill vacant judgeships. The organization ran a similar ad against U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat from Arkansas. It's the latest of several attack ads launched by conservative groups against Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in next year's election. She faces two Republican challengers: U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness of Madisonville.

Audrey Wascome

What should have been a joyful childhood for Audrey Wascome was marred by horrors that anyone would want to forget. For years, she was sexually abused by a male relative, and then as a teenager she was raped. But instead of burying these awful memories, Wascome found the strength to use her experiences to help others.

New La. state troopers to begin training in January

After years of shrinking trooper ranks, Louisiana is planning to train a new class of state police officers early next year. The Associated Press reports budget constraints kept the state police from adding new troopers, but lawmakers earmarked a $5 million set-aside fund for the training in the last legislative session, saying they worried that too few officers were patrolling state highways. The 19-week training academy for 50 people is scheduled to begin in January, the first cadet class since September 2008, according to the Louisiana State Police. Col. Mike Edmonson, superintendent of the state police, had repeatedly assured lawmakers that he was comfortable with the number of troopers, even as the ranks dwindled from more than 1,150 in 2009 to fewer than 950 this year. But legislators said they worried about the thinning number, particularly as more and more state police officers became eligible for retirement. When Gov. Bobby Jindal didn't propose dollars to add more state...

Local lawsuits more to Jindal's liking

There is a good reason why Gov. Bobby Jindal responded so calmly to Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes suing dozens of oil companies for coastal damage, compared to his ballistic reaction to a similar suit filed earlier by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East.

BRPD earns national accreditation for sixth time

The Baton Rouge Police Department has been reaccredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and Mayor Kip Holden says Chief Carl Dabadie is due a lot of the credit for the achievement. "This is a tremendous credit to Chief Carl Dabadie because he inherited a situation where accreditation could have been in jeopardy if he had not moved quickly to maintain accreditation as a top priority," reads a prepared statement from Holden, who joined BRPD officials today at a press conference. "Today, the nation's top accreditation commission has confirmed that he is moving BRPD forward with programs such as BRAVE." Dabadie took over as chief on an interim basis in late February, after former Police Chief Dewayne White was fired, and was named chief in late July. It was in July, Holden says, that the department received its best-ever on-site review. It ultimately earned its sixth accreditation by the...

LSU FACES lab compiling database for missing people

Claxton Mark Mayo was involved in a traffic accident on Interstate 20 on March 30, 2011. The Advertiser reports surveillance footage shows Mayo entering a Ouachita Parish truck stop, but the cameras never filmed him leaving. That's the last time anyone has seen Mayo. He was reported missing to the Bienville Parish Sheriff's Office more than two years ago, and he's never been found. Now the case joins more than 200 others in the missing persons database operated by the FACES Lab at LSU. Director Mary Manhein and her staff are working with local law enforcement agencies across Louisiana to compile a central database of all the state's missing and unidentified people. "Nobody is going out and aggressively searching for these cases like we are," Manhein tells the Lafayette newspaper. "We're the only state that has an effort on this kind of scale." The FACES Lab (an acronym for Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services) has been compiling the database since 2004. It...

Commission says New Orleans crime stats down again

The Metropolitan Crime Commission reports arrests in New Orleans slid again in the first half of 2013. The commission's latest semi-annual report shows 60,000 total arrests in 2009 dropped to barely half that number during the 12 months ending this past June, The Associated Press reports. Total arrests fell by 9% from the first half of 2011 to the same period this year, and arrests for violent felonies slid by 12%. The city has reported a 13% rise in the number of "person crimes"—including murders, rapes, robberies and assaults. Commission President Rafael Goyeneche says the numbers show the city isn't getting any safer. The report finds more than 300 police have left the force since Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010. "You can affect things by your actions or inactions. The [arrest] numbers are a reflection of policy decisions made, by not hiring new officers," Goyeneche says. "It's our position that the arrests, particularly felony arrests, being down is a direct...

Jindal: DOJ giving up on school vouchers, but trying to bog down program in red tape

Gov. Bobby Jindal says Louisiana has won its fight against a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice attempting to block the state's school voucher program, but claims the department is now trying to “red tape and regulate the program to death.” In a statement issued late Monday, Jindal announced that U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle “stated the Department of Justice has abandoned its previous request that the Court permanently stop the scholarship program.” “We are pleased that the Obama administration has given up its attempt to end the Louisiana Scholarship Program with this absurd lawsuit. It is great the Department of Justice has realized, at least for the time being, it has no authority to end equal opportunity of education for Louisiana children,” reads Jindal's statement. “However, we will continue to fight, at every...

Who's on the board?

Rep. C. Neil Abramson, New Orleans
Louisiana House of Representatives
Glenn Armentor, Lafayette
Glenn Armentor Law Corp.
Sen. John "Jack" Donahue, Mandeville
Louisiana Senate/Donahue Favret Contractors
Rep. James "Jim" Fannin, Jonesboro
Louisiana House of Representatives
E. Phelps Gay, New Orleans
Christovich & Kearney
Richard Goorley, Shreveport
Richard C. Goorley Attorney at Law
Rep. Joseph Lopinto III, Metairie
Louisiana House of Representatives
Sen. Daniel Martiny, Metairie
Louisiana Senate/Martiny & Associates
Rick McGimsey, Baton Rouge
Office of the Attorney General Civil Division
Sen. Ben Nevers, Bogalusa
Louisiana Senate/Nevers Electrical Contracting

Judge refuses to delay CNSI lawsuit against state

A Baton Rouge judge is allowing a Maryland company to move forward with its wrongful termination lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration. Client Network Services Inc. sued the state for canceling its $200 million Medicaid contract. Judge Tim Kelley today rejected a request from the attorney general's office to delay evidence-gathering in the case until January, The Associated Press reports. Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell argued the delay was needed to protect the integrity of a separate state grand jury investigation into the CNSI contract award. Kelley said he received no evidence to suggest that allowing the wrongful termination lawsuit to proceed would harm the criminal case. The Jindal administration has accused its former health secretary, Bruce Greenstein, of inappropriate contact with CNSI during the bid process. CNSI sued, saying it did nothing wrong.

Feds seek more time for documents in La. voucher case

The U.S. Justice Department is asking for extra time to produce documents in a case linking the state's private school tuition program to longstanding federal desegregation orders. Gov. Bobby Jindal responded in a prepared statement today, saying that the request is an example of Obama administration incompetence. "Were these documents lost in the Obamacare website? Or did the Department of Justice just ignore the documents and file a lawsuit against the state without having all of the information available?" Jindal says in the statement. Justice attorneys say in papers filed Tuesday that the recent partial shutdown of the federal government has contributed to a delay in compiling the documents being sought by Louisiana. They asked for a new Dec. 16 deadline. The case arises from an August filing in which the Justice Department argues there is evidence that moving students from...

Breaking away

In the past year and a half, Baton Rouge has seen efforts to create a breakaway chamber of commerce, a breakaway school district and a breakaway city. Now, a conservative nonprofit has been created, reportedly, to challenge the one organization that is trying to bring Baton Rouge together.

Trash talking

Over the course of her tenure with Keep Louisiana Beautiful, Executive Director Leigh Harris has issued cautionary tales about what happens when communities don't pick up their trash.

Report: Louisiana is not 'Smart on Sentencing'

A study of Louisiana's prisons and court system suggests that the state Legislature's "get tough on crime" laws haven't worked, Gannett Louisiana reports. Instead, the laws that are primarily directed toward nonviolent crimes have filled prisons with nonviolent offenders who run up a huge tab for taxpayers. The study, titled "Smart on Sentencing, Smart on Crime: Reforming Louisiana's Determinate Sentencing Laws," is being released today by The Pelican Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime. Lawmakers over the past several decades have adopted numerous laws, many of them imposing minimum sentences that keep convicts in jail for inordinate spans. Many of them deal with drug offenses. In an Aug. 15 report to the Louisiana Sentencing Commission, Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James Le Blanc said state and local prisons "lock up 860 people per 100,000. The national average is 540 per 100,000," making Louisiana lead...

BRAVE is working, LSU crime research expert says

LSU sociology department chair Edward Shihadeh, coordinator of the Crime and Policy Evaluation Research group at LSU, today spoke to members at a Rotary Club of Baton Rouge luncheon on the importance of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination (BRAVE) Project for crime reduction in the Capital City. "It's actually on the cutting edge of how people will be responding to crime in the 21st century," Shihadeh said, presenting innovative maps and scoring systems that allow BRAVE to track criminal hot spots and create lists of the most dangerous offenders. It's crucial for analysts to comb through upwards of 50,000 records every few weeks to update these hot spots, Shihadeh said, because criminals are savvy about targeting different areas. "Once the criminals realize we're in an area," he said, "they move." This sort of transfer occurs between the zip codes 70805 and 70802, for example, which is why

'Parish Heat' publisher seeks to clean up crime

While The Advocate and The Times-Picayune duke it out for subscribers in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the owner of a Watson sand and gravel company thinks he has hit on a formula that may appeal to a niche market of readers. It's called Parish Heat, and it's a biweekly newspaper of crime news that features mugshots and arrest records of every perpetrator in East Baton Rouge Parish. "There are two ways of looking at crime," says Tony Modica, who works in his family-owned business by day and publishes the paper after hours. "You can sweep it under the rug or you can try to clean it up. I'm trying to clean it up." Modica says he was motivated to publish the paper because he got fed up with crime in the community and wanted to lay bare the facts to as wide an audience as possible. Reaching that audience is not easy, however. For the moment, Modica is direct mailing free copies of Parish Heat to different neighborhoods. The first edition, published in early...

Big money scams

A new FINRA Investor Education Foundation survey concludes that many Americans can't identify the classic red flags of fraud. Many are vulnerable because they don't know what to look for when engaging in a financial activity, lacking an understanding of reasonable returns on investments. A look at the most common scams:

Head of security

There are two chiefs on LSU's campus.

BRPD to provide more comprehensive crime stats online

In response to complaints from the community, the media and at least one local councilman, the Baton Rouge Police Department is making plans to improve the way it reports crime statistics on its website. The BRPD, which currently reports only selective crime incident reports online, is working on implementing a new system that will enable users to see all incident reports filed by responding officers in all crime categories across the city. The data will be provided in a text format organized by category and date, much like the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, as well as graphically. "We're looking to make the data more accessible to the public so they can see the information that is important to them," says BRPD spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola. Coppola says community concerns about crime in recent weeks and the demand for more timely information helped fuel the decision to improve the way crimes are reported. Metro Councilman John Delgado has also played a role in speeding along...

Local lawyer recounts Supreme Court experience

Local attorney Phil Preis of Baton Rouge's Preis Gordon law firm was at the counsel's table Monday as the Supreme Court discussed a case that could impact compensation for Stanford Group victims. "I was about four feet from Justice [Stephen] Breyer," he says. "It was a wonderful experience. Our whole law firm went just to see it." Washington attorney Tom Goldstein handled oral arguments, though Preis Gordon helped prepare the briefs. Preis says the atmosphere was cordial, yet adversarial, and less formal than he expected. "Nobody really gets to make a presentation," he says. "As soon as we sat down, [the justices] started asking questions." Preis' clients want to sue firms that worked with Stanford, claiming those firms negligently aided the fraud, while the federal government says allowing a state class action would interfere with the SEC's enforcement powers. While the fraudulent Stanford CDs were not "covered securities" under the law, since they weren't backed by real...

Former DHH secretary's deposition pushed back to Oct. 29

Gov. Bobby Jindal's one-time health secretary will be questioned under oath Oct. 29 in a lawsuit filed by a Maryland-based company against the Jindal administration over a canceled Medicaid contract. Bruce Greenstein's deposition had been scheduled for Thursday, but The Associated Press reports it has been pushed back to coordinate with lawyers' schedules. The Jindal administration wants to delay Greenstein's deposition while a separate criminal investigation into the Medicaid contract award is ongoing. A judge denied the request for the delay on Sept. 30, and his decision is being appealed. Greenstein's questioning is part of a lawsuit filed by Client Network Services Inc. accusing the state of breach of contract for firing the company from a $200 million Medicaid claims processing contract. The Jindal administration has accused Greenstein of inappropriate contact with CNSI throughout the bid process. Greenstein, who was once vice president of CNSI, has denied any meddling in the...

Local attorney says '60 Minutes' coverage 'a little sensational,' but with 'some legitimate points'

Local personal injury attorney Gordon McKernan was relaxing with his family in front of a Disney World hotel room TV Sunday night when he saw a snippet from one of his firm's TV commercials in an episode of CBS's 60 Minutes. It was hardly a case of positive PR. The story, which also showed similar commercials from firms around the U.S., explored the rise of fraudulent disability claims nationwide and suggested one of the reasons more cases are being filed with the Social Security Administration is because of aggressive "trolling" by disability lawyers, who get a cut of the benefits if they're awarded. "We've got a system that is being gamed pretty well right now," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, tells 60 Minutes. The report also spotlights the practice of a West Virginia law firm that made $70 million off disability claims last year, many of which were fraudulent, according to former employees...

High court hears tale of Stanford's Ponzi scam

Investors who lost their life savings in convicted Texas financier R. Allen Stanford's $7 billion Ponzi scheme got their day in court today on the first day of the Supreme Court's 2013 term, but it was unclear whether their plea will pay dividends. Unable to recover their investments from Stanford or his fraudulent entities, including a bank based in Antigua, the plaintiffs filed class-action lawsuits in state and federal courts in Texas and Louisiana. But a law passed by Congress in 1998 was intended to preclude such lawsuits and assert federal jurisdiction. Faced with conflicting lower court rulings, the Supreme Court must decide whether to side with the defrauded investors or the financial institutions, law firms and insurance companies accused of aiding Stanford's scheme. The federal government, seeking to protect the Securities and Exchange Commission's regulatory authority over security fraud claims, is siding with the defendants. Ironically, USA Today reports, the case...

Reported crimes on LSU, Southern campuses up slightly last year

The LSU Police Department says there was a slight increase in some on-campus crimes reported last year in its annual security and fire report released earlier this week. The report shows burglaries on campus rose to 49 from 47 in 2011; aggravated assaults rose to 11 from nine; robberies were up to 13 from nine; and forcible sex offenses were up to three from two. Auto thefts, however, were down to two from 10 in 2011. There were no murders reported on campus, nor were there any in 2011 or 2010. At the same time, the 247 arrests for drug and liquor law violations on the LSU campus in 2012 was sharply down from 308 in 2011. Federal law requires all universities to publish annual crime data by Oct. 1 of the following year. See the complete LSU crime report. Meanwhile, Southern University reports forcible rape/sexual assaults on its campus increased from none in 2011 to...

The final decision

When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes Oct. 7, justices will hear a case that could decide whether victims of the Stanford Group scandal will finally be compensated, some five years after the Ponzi scheme fell apart.

Jindal, Perkins 'both have something to gain' from appointments, SPLC says

Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed Family Research Council head Tony Perkins to the Louisiana Commission on Marriage and Family in 2008, although the Washington, D.C.-based Perkins apparently does not attend the meetings. But poor attendance didn't stop Jindal from appointing Perkins to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement earlier this year, possibly because they "both have something to gain" from the relationship, writes Josh Glasstetter of the Southern Poverty Law Center in a blog post. "Jindal dreams of running for national office, and he wants support from and access to religious-right primary voters,"...

Local LGBT group concerned about Jindal appointment

Matt Patterson, a board member of Capital City Alliance, which works "to improve the quality of life for LGBT people and their allies in greater Baton Rouge," says the organization is concerned that Gov. Bobby Jindal has appointed Tony Perkins to the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement. The former Louisiana legislator heads the Family Research Council, which seeks to "advance faith, family and freedom in public policy and the culture from a Christian worldview." The Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 classified the FRC as a hate group, saying it has been "a font of anti-gay propaganda." Given the recent local controversy in which the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office targeted gay men for arrest under an unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, Perkins' possible influence on the law...

Editor: A trip down the BRPD's crime statistics rabbit hole

Lately, Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel has been trying to get crime statistics from the Baton Rouge Police Department to see if there's evidence to support the narrative that has been developing about an increase in property crimes in the south Baton Rouge neighborhoods that comprise the second district. “While the public information office of the BRPD is friendly and responsive, they have been largely unhelpful in actually providing numbers. The problem is a system seemingly designed to thwart transparency and stymie the dissemination of accurate, timely and easily comprehensible statistics—the stuff people want and deserve to know,” Riegel says in her latest column. “This quest to find out how safe our neighborhoods are from the people who know has devolved into a trip down the rabbit hole.” After discovering a discrepancy in reported crimes in the area near Southdowns, Riegel requested year-to-date crime statistics for the entire...

Federal grant to expand BRAVE Project

Mayor Kip Holden announced today that the city-parish has been awarded a $1 million federal grant to expand its Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project. Launched in May 2012, the BRAVE Project—which zeroes in on a small number of chronic offenders in a specific area—has thus far been limited to the 70805 ZIP code in north Baton Rouge. The grant funding announced today will allow the crime-fighting initiative to expand into the 70802 ZIP code, which includes the downtown area and portions of Old South Baton Rouge. 70802 is bound by Choctaw Drive to the north, Park Drive to the east, the LSU campus to the south and the Mississippi River to the east. Holden and other local law enforcement officials will formally announce the grant award and program expansion at a press conference Monday. Baton Rouge Chief of Police Carl Dabadie has said he expects the FBI's forthcoming batch of Uniform Crime Reporting statistics to show a 40% to 45% drop in violent crime in the 70805...

Down the rabbit hole

Lately, I've been trying to get crime statistics from the Baton Rouge Police Department to see if there's evidence to support the narrative that has been developing about an increase in property crimes in the south Baton Rouge neighborhoods that comprise the second district.

Grigsby shelves push for law enforcement consolidation

Nearly one year after launching a campaign to consolidate the Baton Rouge Police Department with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, businessman Lane Grigsby says he is temporarily shelving the effort because it lacks popular and political support. "The search for a solution can't be abandoned," Grigsby says. "But it can be put on hold until there is greater support for it and a greater desire in the community for change." Grigsby says while crime is a growing concern across Baton Rouge, the city's political and business establishment will not be motivated to take drastic action as long as most violent crime remains concentrated in low-income neighborhoods in north Baton Rouge. "No one is going to do anything until the criminals start crossing Florida Boulevard," he says. Consolidating the police department and sheriff's office would be logistically challenging. Earlier this year, Metro Councilman Joel Bo's East Baton Rouge Law Enforcement Unification Committee, which was...

Painter alleges investigative misconduct, seeks dismissal

Another conspiracy theory has emerged in the federal criminal case against former Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter. In a motion federal prosecutors characterize as "all bluster," Painter's defense attorney, Michael Fawer, urges a judge to dismiss the indictment against his client. He alleges that Shane Evans, the former investigator in the Office of Inspector General who served a search warrant on Painter's office, is related to Kelli Suire—Painter's former administrative assistant and a key witness in the case. Based on a report from a forensic computer expert working for the defense, Fawer also contends files were deleted while the computer was in Evans' possession over the weekend after it was seized. "By the time federal authorities picked up the case," the attorney writes in his memorandum to the judge, "it had been compromised." Prosecutors confirm that Evans—now chief of investigations for the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office—is...

B.R. police chief anticipates big drop in forthcoming crime stats

Baton Rouge Chief of Police Carl Dabadie says the FBI's next batch of Uniform Crime Reporting statistics should be out by the end of the week. When released, Dabadie expects the numbers will show a 40% to 45% drop in violent crime in the 70805 zip code area, where police are conducting the Baton Rouge Violence Elimination Project, or Project BRAVE. The chief also says he expects violent crime statistics for the entire city to be down, but not at the same level as in 70805. Dabadie, who was sworn in as police chief in July, told the DDD Commission today that he has put education programs in place to improve the communication skills of department officers, addressing one of the top public complaints. Also discussed at today's DDD meeting:

Editor: Louisianans remain complacent on public corruption

Despite the fact that Louisiana has long been known for public corruption, you have to engage in some really serious extortion to raise the ire of the general public—much less grab the attention of federal or state prosecutors—says Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel in her latest column. "If you're just extraordinarily sloppy with the bookkeeping at your nonprofit or quasi-governmental agency, misplacing a few thousand dollars here or there, no one seems to care—especially if your organization exists to help the poor and the needy," Riegel says. "Consider, for instance, the lack of public outrage over a couple of recent city and state audits." One was the Aug. 8 review of the Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center, one of five local community centers. According to the city-parish audit, some $3,600 in lease payments to the center never made it to the bank. According to the audit, staffers routinely accepted cash payments, failed to issue receipts, recorded...

The tipping point

Louisiana has long been known for public corruption. But you have to engage in some really serious extortion to raise the ire of the general public, much less grab the attention of federal or state prosecutors.

BP accuses Louisiana leaders of 'political grandstanding' and 'false accusations'

BP and Louisiana's political leaders have become embroiled in an acrimonious war of words over the oil giant's cleanup record as legal wrangling over the 2010 Gulf oil spill continues. As British newspaper The Guardian reports today, a senior BP executive has accused Louisiana's leaders of "political grandstanding" and making "patently false assertions" about the environmental record of the company. The move comes after BP failed again to convince a federal judge it could limit compensation payments on the grounds of fraud, and remains mired in a criminal case with the U.S. Department of Justice. Geoff Morrell, BP's vice-president of U.S. communications—specifically responding to comments made earlier by Gov. Bobby Jindal and his top coastal official, Garret Graves—at a meeting of the Gulf Coast restoration council, said: "Their political grandstanding contains patently false assertions, defies the demonstrated record of environmental recovery that has occurred...

Crime complaints on the rise in Southdowns, Lakeshore neighborhoods

While the city's murder rate is down an impressive 38% so far this year—a fact trumpeted by the Baton Rouge Police Department—frustrated residents of neighborhoods generally considered "safe" are complaining that robberies, car thefts and other crimes are on the rise in their areas. "I am hearing from a lot of constituents," says District 12 Councilman John Delgado, whose district runs east-west between Perkins and Highland roads, from LSU to Bluebonnet Boulevard. "People post to my Facebook page about incidents in their area every day." The most recent one to gain attention was the mugging Tuesday of a female jogger in the 3100 block of East Lakeshore Drive, which is on the LSU lakes. The previously unreported crime—details of which were widely circulated via social media—has been confirmed for Daily Report by BRPD, which says the victim was attacked and robbed about 3:45 p.m. by two females and one male. The case is under investigation,...

Internal probe: No fraud at Ala. claims center

The head of security for the administrator of BP's multibillion-dollar settlement with Gulf Coast residents and businesses says an internal probe of alleged misconduct by an employee of a claims center hasn't turned up any evidence of fraud. BP said it received a tip in July that someone who worked at the Mobile, Ala., office helped people submit fraudulent claims in exchange for a portion of awards. But David Welker, a former FBI supervisor who now works for claims administrator Patrick Juneau, says in a letter dated Aug. 22 that his investigation found no evidence of fraud in any of the claims handled by the employee. BP cited the employee's alleged misconduct in its Aug. 5 request for a federal judge to temporarily suspend all settlement payments, according to The Associated Press.

AG and LDR crack down on tax fraud

After seeing an increase in the number of tax preparers completing fraudulent returns, Louisiana Secretary of Revenue Tim Barfield and the Louisiana Department of Revenue's Criminal Investigations Division are cracking down on such fraud. Since the renewed focus started earlier this year, investigators were ordered to target tax preparers who opened businesses only to illegally profit from the trust of taxpayers. Last week alone, six tax preparers were arrested on charges ranging from filing false public records to fraud. LDR has added two criminal investigators to the staff that are housed in the Louisiana Department of Justice. "This addition to our staff and our partnership with the attorney general's office has strengthened one of the core competencies of our department," LDR Secretary Tim Barfield says in a statement released this morning. "We are charged by the taxpayers of this state to protect their interests and focus on tax fraud and similar issues. The investment in these...

Decision days

A recent Securities and Exchange Commission ruling calling for three former Stanford Group executives to give up their licenses and pay millions in fines might not have set a legal precedent.

Supreme Court case impacting Stanford victims to decide Ponzi scheme law 'for years to come,' attorney says

On the first Monday in October, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in a case that could have a major impact as to whether local Stanford Group victims finally will be compensated, says local attorney Phil Preis. Preis won at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals the right to pursue in state court a class action suit against law firms and financial services companies that he argues enabled the infamous Ponzi scheme. Put simply, state law allows for a negligence claim, while federal law would require investors prove knowledge of the fraud, a much higher bar. Tom Goldstein, a prominent Washington, D.C., attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog, will argue before the high court that the Fifth Circuit's decision should stand. "This is going to establish the law on Ponzi schemes in the United States for years to come," Preis says. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge

La. 'stand your ground' law not a 'license to kill,' DA says

Though much attention has been paid to so-called stand your ground laws recently, District Attorney Hillar Moore III says Louisiana's version is rarely invoked in court. He says the statute, which basically says people who aren't breaking the law are allowed to "meet force with force" if they have good reason to feel threatened, simply extends the traditional "castle doctrine" that allows people to defend themselves in their home. "The presumption of reasonableness is not a license to kill," Moore says, citing a court's decision in one such case. Shenequa Grey, an associate professor with the Southern University Law Center, says unlike Florida's, Louisiana's statute does not provide immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action. The law requires jurors to "get inside someone's head" to determine if the person truly felt threatened, Moore says, which is difficult, but says juries tend to have good "B.S. meters." Moore suggests people who have completed the requisite training to...

Green and two other former Stanford executives ordered to pay $5.5 million

Three former executives of the Stanford Group have been found liable in the $7 billion scam of convicted Ponzi-schemer R. Allen Stanford and ordered to collectively pay roughly $5.5 million for their roles in it. The ruling handed down by Securities and Exchange Commission Administrative Law Judge Carol Fox Foelak on Friday also bars Bernerd Young, Daniel Bogar and Jason Green from working in the securities industry. Though the SEC didn’t allege that any of the three knew about the fraud while they worked for Stanford, Foelak ruled their conduct was so "egregious" that they were nonetheless liable—essentially agreeing with the SEC’s charge that they didn't do enough to ensure that Stanford's marketing materials and disclosures were adequate. Young was Stanford Group's chief compliance officer, Bogar was its president and Green—a prominent figure in the Baton Rouge community and the firm's downtown Baton Rouge office—was head of its private client group.