Content tagged “Crime, law and justice”

BP shouldn't get new trial in spill ruling, Halliburton says

BP's bid for a new trial over causes of the 2010 Gulf oil spill should be rejected because the judge didn't rely on excluded testimony, Halliburton Co. says in newly filed court papers. As Bloomberg reports, Halliburton—the cementing subcontractor on the blown-out well—says BP's own lawyers are responsible for trial testimony that the London-based oil company is now complaining led to an unfair gross-negligence finding against it. "BP itself introduced the very testimony that it now claims was excluded and upon which the court relied to partially support its casing-breach findings," lawyers for Houston-based Halliburton say in a filing in New Orleans federal court. BP "mischaracterizes" the record of a 2013 trial over the spill "to remedy its own failed trial tactics," Halliburton adds. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who oversees consolidated spill-damages litigation against BP and its contractors, ruled last month that BP acted with gross negligence in drilling the...

Jury rules in favor of Gerry Lane in discrimination suit

Gerry Lane Enterprises has won its defense in a two-and-a-half-year-old lawsuit filed by a former employee, who alleged he was a victim of harassment and discrimination at the car dealership because he is African-American and of Italian descent.
A three-day trial was held last week in U.S. Middle District Court in the case of Eric Angeletti vs. Gerald Lane, et al. Angeletti was a sales associate at Gerry Lane Chevrolet. Late Friday a 12-member jury ruled there was not enough evidence to support Angeletti's allegations that he was harassed because of his race or nationality. The jury also rejected his claim of battery against the late Gerry Lane, who died in May 2013, a year after the suit was filed.

LSU Law Center boasts highest bar exam passage rate in La., 81.5%

With more than 80% of its students qualifying to practice law during the July bar exams, the LSU Law Center is boasting the highest passage rate among all of the state's law schools. LSU says 81.5% of all of its bar exam takers passed, including 85.8% of those taking the test for the first time.
LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss says he's especially pleased to see the percentage of students passing the exam on their first try increased by nearly 13 percentage points over last year's passage rate. The LSU Law Center also had the highest percentage of students passing the bar in July 2013, with a roughly 70% passage rate overall. This year's rate is more than 11 percentage points higher.

Understanding privacy

Companies that employ hundreds or thousands of people are the businesses most likely to have written policies to govern workplace behavior and privacy issues, but small firms need to pay attention to such matters, too, according to human resources consultant Carol Olsby.

Study commission looking into cost of La. death penalty

A state senator is trying to determine how much Louisiana agencies spend on the death penalty. Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans, is leading a new study commission looking at capital punishment. The panel held its first meeting Wednesday. Morrell, a former public defender, says he wants to find ways to streamline the process for dealing with capital cases, litigation that can span decades. Having reliable data is critical to decision-making, he adds. "We've had an ongoing debate over years regarding what the potential costs or repercussions are of having capital punishment in the state of Louisiana," Morrell says. "State resources continue to dry up. Decisions have to be made on how we prioritize funding." But The Associated Press reports tensions were obvious at the opening meeting of the commission, which includes people who support and oppose the death penalty. Those present included lawmakers and budget analysts, as well as officials from the legislative auditor's...

Businesses won't have to return BP spill payouts

BP wants its money back—hundreds of millions of dollars of it—but a federal judge ruled today that the oil giant must keep its promises to the companies it compensated for losses they blamed on the 2010 Gulf oil spill. As The Associated Press reports, BP argued that a flawed funding formula enabled many businesses to overestimate spill-related claims, and some "weren't warranted at all." U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier agreed several weeks ago to change the compensation formula for any future payments, but he ruled today that a deal is a deal when it comes to money BP has already paid out. Under that deal, claimants agreed to drop their lawsuits, and BP agreed that no future court action could change their payments. The ruling thwarts BP's latest attempt to control its soaring liability from the spill, which may be nearing $50 billion. "BP disagrees with today's decision and will appeal it," company spokesman Geoff Morrell says. "We asked the Court, as a matter of equity...

Council to defer discussion on body cameras for BRPD

Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle will defer a discussion planned for tonight's council meeting on outfitting Baton Rouge Police Department officers with body cameras because Police Chief Carl Dabadie is unable to attend the meeting. But Marcelle, who announced earlier this month she wants city police to use body cameras to increase their accountability, is nonetheless confident her initiative is moving forward. Marcelle says she met late Tuesday with Dabadie, city-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel, Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe and representatives from the city-parish Finance Department, and she says the group has agreed to outfit 400 officers with body cameras. She says cameras will also be installed in the DWI vans used by the department. Marcelle says the council and administration are still looking for funding sources to pay for the cameras, however. The city has an estimate of $312,000 to purchase, outfit and maintain the cameras on a yearly basis, as well...

Shooting tragedy affects us all

Last month the Coleman family of Baton Rouge was on its way home from a family reunion. Everything seemed normal as they made their way down Prescott Road at about 11 p.m. But then, tragedy struck, and it will change their lives forever.

Appeal notices filed in La. gay marriage case

Gay marriage supporters in Louisiana have given formal notice of their appeal of a federal court ruling upholding the state's same-sex marriage ban. The Associated Press reports the Forum for Equality Louisiana and several gay couples filed their notices Thursday and today in their challenge of the ban. The appeal goes to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where a Texas gay-marriage case also is pending. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman upheld Louisiana's ban on same-sex marriages and its refusal to recognize same-sex unions legally performed in other states. Feldman's ruling was a rare federal court loss for same-sex marriage advocates. A day later, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit appeals court rejected bans in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Red Jacket Firearms cuts ties with 'Sons of Guns' star accused of raping child

A Baton Rouge firearms company at the center of the reality show Sons of Guns is distancing itself from the program's star this week after he was arrested on charges of repeatedly raping a child. Will Hayden was arrested Tuesday. Today, Red Jacket Firearms says that it is "with heavy hearts" that it has legally cut ties with Hayden, but that it will continue to operate. "We are the heart and soul of Red Jacket and will remain steadfast in our commitment to quality and our customers, for years to come," reads a statement on the company's website. An email request sent by The Associated Press for information from the company was not immediately answered. After the arrest, The Discovery Channel canceled the show, citing "the serious and horrific nature of the charges" against the star. Hayden remained in prison as of this morning, jail records showed, with bail set at $250,000. He was arrested on aggravated rape charges involving a child, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's...

Settlement reached in lawsuit involving Nick Saban, BR Mercedes-Benz dealer

A trial involving Nick Saban and Mercedes-Benz of Baton Rouge owner Joe Agresti that had been set to begin on Nov. 3—the week prior to the LSU-Alabama game in Tiger Stadium—will not go on as planned. The Birmingham News reports that's because a settlement has been reached, the details of which are being kept confidential by the parties involved. The settlement was reached between Hoover Crown Automobile Co. and Mercedes-Benz USA. Crown filed suit last year seeking to stop Mercedes from granting a new dealership in Irondale—a suburb of Birmingham—to Saban and his business partner, Agresti. Attorneys would not comment on terms of the settlement or what, if anything, it might mean to the proposed Irondale project. But Irondale's mayor says that while he doesn't have it in writing yet, the project is still on and planning is underway for a road to the new dealership. Robert S. Plott, attorney for Saban and Agresti, says in a statement to The Birmingham...

Majority in BR say BRAVE has had positive impact on crime reduction

Of the 58.5% of Baton Rouge residents who have heard of the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination (BRAVE) Project, 79% feel as if the initiative has had a "somewhat positive" or "very positive" impact on crime reduction. Those are some of the findings of a survey released today by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab on the BRAVE Project, which was launched in late 2012. "These numbers are certainly encouraging," says East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III, whose office was instrumental in rolling out the program along with local law enforcement agencies, Mayor Kip Holden's office, LSU and other local agencies and organizations. "I was really encouraged that BRAVE has become a brand for crime reduction." Moore credits BRAVE with helping in the reduction of violent crime in recent years, especially in the 70805 and 70802 ZIP codes in which BRAVE is focused. Homicides in...

Alexandria council moves toward $1.3M settlement with BR attorney

The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday indicated its willingness to pay more than $1.3 million to a Baton Rouge attorney for work he did in the city's lawsuit against Cleco, The Town Talk reports. But the City Charter won't allow a payment to be made as quickly as a federal judge would like, City Attorney Chuck Johnson says, so Johnson is trying to make arrangements that will satisfy the judge. The City Council voted 4-3 on Tuesday to authorize Johnson to proceed with a process so that payment of $1,320,457.40 can be made to attorney H. Craig Davidson. The action comes in the wake of a federal court order issued Friday by U.S. District Judge Dee Drell that the city had five business days to pay Davidson or else representatives of the U.S. Marshal's Office would seize the funds from Alexandria's Utility System Enterprise Fund. The 4-3 vote on Tuesday did not actually authorize the payment. The council will vote on that on Sept. 2. Davidson was hired in 2005 during the Mayor Ned...

Freedom and faith

Attorney, Carleton, Loraso & Hebert

Levee board challenges law blocking 'big oil' lawsuit

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority – East has launched a legal fight against a new state law aimed at retroactively killing a lawsuit filed last year over coastal damage attributed to oil and gas drilling, The Associated Press reports. The south Louisiana flood board argues in federal court papers filed Tuesday that the law cannot be used to block the lawsuit. The flood authority filed the lawsuit last year against dozens of oil and gas companies over damage to coastal wetlands that protect New Orleans from hurricanes. Gov. Bobby Jindal and oil industry supporters pushed a bill through the Legislature in this year’s session aimed at killing the lawsuit. The flood authority's lawyers argue that the law incorrectly defines the flood authority as a local government entity. It also raises constitutional questions about the law. Growth Louisiana Coalition has...

551 new laws take effect Friday in La.

Slug a referee at your child's sports game? You'll face jail time. Sixteen and trying to improve your tan? You'll have to head outside because minors are barred from the tanning bed. Want to snoop in your employee's social media accounts? You'll hit roadblocks. The Associated Press reports those are among 551 new laws on the books that take effect Friday, passed by lawmakers in the legislative session that ended in June. Many laws are minor, like naming the mayhaw tree as Louisiana's official state fruit tree and offering new specialized license plates for U.S. Army Rangers, supporters of artist George Rodrigue, Louisiana "master gardeners" and NRA members. Other new or rewritten statutes impact health care options, change educational programs and reach into people's everyday activities. Many of the laws focus on crime. Louisiana's ban on cockfighting has been broadened to sweep in more types of birds and to criminalize the buying and selling of the spurs and knives used in the...

'WSJ': Invoking anti-fraud law, Louisiana doctor gets rich

Over two decades, Metairie internist William LaCorte has received $38 million from five of the 12 lawsuits he's filed accusing health care companies of defrauding taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicare, The Wall Street Journal reports. Those five suits have together led the government to recover hundreds of millions of dollars. Dr. LaCorte is a so-called serial whistleblower, one of the more prolific plaintiffs among a growing number of Americans who use the U.S. False Claims Act to finger alleged wrongdoing. Critics say the act's incentives go too far, encouraging people to file suits that often go nowhere. Of the 5,400 suits filed from fiscal 1987 through 2010 that had outcomes, 74% didn't result in settlements or judgments, Justice Department statistics show. Government agencies say they rely on citizen suits under the act to help find misdeeds. They are "instrumental in bringing to the government allegations of fraud that might otherwise go undetected," a Justice...

Stanford losses not covered by SIPC, appeals court rules

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission can't force a brokerage account insurer to pay victims of R. Allen Stanford's $7 billion fraud because their purchases weren't covered, an appeals court has ruled. Bloomberg reports the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington says the 7,000 investors in certificates of deposit sold by Stanford didn't qualify as customers of a brokerage who would be insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corp., as the SEC argued. The CDs were bought at Antigua-based Stanford International Bank LLC, which wasn't an SIPC member, the court says. The Stanford case is the first in which the SEC has gone to court to force SIPC to extend coverage. SIPC, a nonprofit corporation funded by the brokerage industry, has come under criticism from U.S. senators for allegedly favoring its Wall Street members over fraud victims in recent years. In a pair of letters recently sent to President Barack Obama, a bipartisan group of lawmakers—including Louisiana Reps.

Foster case shows how legacy lawsuits in La. come from 'inside'

In the second part of a series of stories, The Advertiser looks at the history of so-called legacy lawsuits in Louisiana and highlights a case involving former Gov. Mike Foster to show how plenty of legacy suits start with the property owners themselves. The Lafayette newspaper notes that Foster didn't just support tort reform, he campaigned on the issue, promising to rein in plaintiffs' attorneys who made big bucks suing big companies for big damages. And he delivered in a big way. Shortly after his inauguration, he called a special session of the Legislature and passed a bill package to lessen liability exposure for businesses. He then ran campaign ads bragging that he had successfully stopped trial lawyers from filing frivolous, job-killing lawsuits. "That's what makes the legacy lawsuit Maryland Co. v. Exxon so surprising. The 2010 suit is just one of about 360 lawsuits by landowners claiming contamination by oil and gas companies—and asking for multimillion dollar...

ULL shuts down after device found near campus

Students at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette were told to stay in their on-campus apartments and commuters were sent home this morning after police found a suspicious device in a park next to the campus. Lafayette police spokesman Kyle Soriez tells The Associated Press police received a phoned-in threat shortly after 5:35 a.m. that a bomb had been placed at the 33-acre Girard Park, a public recreational facility next to the sprawling, 1,500-acre university campus. Soriez says police and firefighters sent to the scene located what they believed was a suspicious device in a trash can. He says authorities had not yet attempted to remove the device. Soriez did not have a description of the device. State police say they are sending a hazardous materials team to the park. The area around the park, including the university, was blocked off as a precaution. The university has cancelled classes on the campus today and moved other scheduled events off campus. It has told staff and...

Federal Judge John Parker dies at 85; oversaw school desegregation in EBR

Judge John V. Parker died on Monday. He was 85. While Parker handled a variety of issues over his nearly 20 years on the federal bench, he is best known for presiding over court-ordered desegregation in East Baton Rouge Parish schools. "He was a good guy, a good man and a good dad," his son Michael Parker, an attorney at the Taylor Porter law firm, tells Daily Report. Parker was born in Baton Rouge in 1928. After receiving a bachelor's degree and a law degree from LSU, he was in the Army from 1952 to 1954. He entered the private practice of law after leaving the service and served as assistant parish attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish from 1956 to 1966. Parker was nominated to the newly created judgeship for the Middle District of Louisiana by Jimmy Carter. Confirmed in 1979, he served as chief judge until 1998 and assumed senior status that year. "I was very sad to learn that Judge Parker passed away yesterday. He was an extremely fine judge and a very good man to anyone...

Louisiana ruling on confession rankles Catholics

Catholics are decrying a recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision that reaches into the most sanctified of church places, the confessional booth. The Associated Press reports the ruling revives a lawsuit that contends a priest should have reported allegations of sexual abuse disclosed to him during private confessions and opens the door for a judge to call the priest to testify about what he was told. The lawsuit was filed by parents of a teen who says she told the priest about being kissed and fondled by an adult church parishioner. If the priest were called to testify, Catholic groups say it could leave him choosing between prison and excommunication. "Confession is one of the most sacred rites in the Church. The Sacrament is based on a belief that the seal of the confessional is absolute and inviolable. A priest is never permitted to disclose the contents of any Confession," Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, says in a statement blasting...

Former NOLA mayor Nagin sentenced to 10 years in prison

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for bribery, money laundering and other corruption that spanned his two terms as mayor—including the chaotic years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. U.S. District Judge Helen Berrigan handed down the sentence. Nagin was convicted Feb. 12 of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen who wanted work from the city or Nagin's support for various projects. The bribes came in the form of money, free vacations and truckloads of free granite for his family business. The 58-year-old Democrat had defiantly denied any wrongdoing after his 2013 indictment and during his February trial. Moments before sentencing, a subdued Nagin made a brief statement, thanking the judge for her professionalism. He made no apologies. "I trust that God's going to work all this out," he said. After the sentencing Nagin smiled and hugged supporters as he walked out of the courtroom with his wife, Seletha, and...

Making way for whistleblowers

Whether you are an employee of a private company or the owner of one, a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling could soon change the way your business operates.

More than an IT guy

Though data security breaches have been the stuff of news headlines for years, the dangers may not have hit home for many people until a major U.S. retailer fell victim to electronic hackers.

How to hire a lawyer

If you're being sued, the prime time to hire an attorney has already passed.

Getting to 40%

Baton Rouge entrepreneur Scott Van Kerkhove is a political anomaly: a Republican who takes the dangers of man-made climate change seriously. Not because he thinks there's definitive proof on either side of the issue, but because he thinks the possibility of making the planet uninhabitable for future generations isn't worth the risk.

Lafayette lawyer fires back at BP after taking heat for handling of oil spill claims

Lafayette attorney Patrick Juneau has administered some of the biggest claims settlements in U.S history. He handled Vioxx and Toyota settlements. And he is the administrator for BP settlements, paying claims to those who can prove their businesses were damaged by the impact of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The BP settlement is complex and mammoth—more than 1,000 pages—and Juneau had nothing to do with writing or approving it. He was appointed by a federal court to administer it, which includes filing and reviewing claims in a timely fashion and keeping track of the company's appeals. Not once in his career, Juneau maintains, has a corporation attacked his integrity—until BP. In a recent interview with The Daily Advertiser, Juneau fights back. "BP's CEO Bob Dudley said I was willfully misinterpreting the settlement; that's a lie and, yes, it is actionable," Juneau says. "BP agreed to the settlement and its terms and it had the advice of some...

Awaiting justice

Despite a recent win at the U.S. Supreme Court, some Louisiana victims of R. Allen Stanford's $7 billion Ponzi scheme have doubts they will ever see the money they are owed.

Jindal signs bill to kill levee board oil and gas suit

Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed a bill aimed at killing a Louisiana levee board's lawsuit against 97 oil and gas companies, despite warnings from legal experts that it could also affect state and local government litigation over the 2010 BP oil spill. Jindal announced the signing in a mid-day press release today, saying: "This bill will help stop frivolous lawsuits and create a more fair and predictable legal environment, and I am proud to sign it into law." The levee board suit, now in federal court, says drilling and dredging by oil, gas and pipeline companies are partially to blame for the degradation of coastal wetlands that serve as a natural hurricane buffer for New Orleans. The bill by Sen. Bret Allain would retroactively scuttle the lawsuit. Opponents say the law will likely be challenged in court. Jindal and his top lawyer say they do not believe the law would affect state and...

Local Stanford victims meet with Vitter, say process of recouping funds is 'excruciatingly slow'

Despite a recent win at the U.S. Supreme Court allowing victims of R. Allen Stanford's $7 billion Ponzi scheme to push forward with a class action lawsuit, some Louisiana victims who met with Republican Sen. David Vitter in Baton Rouge today admitted doubts that they would ever see the money they were bilked out of by the Stanford Group. While some of the victims have seen a meager 1% of their losses returned from the pool of money the U.S. receiver has gathered from Stanford's companies, assets and real estate, the majority have recouped nothing. "It's been an excruciatingly slow process," says victim Branan Beyt of St. Martinville. For Beyt and other victims—some of whom had their entire life savings wiped out by the scheme—Vitter provided little hope today that the process would speed up any time soon. "I wish I had some dramatic new headline to report, but I...

The next step

Owner, Judy P. Foust Inc.

Kimberly Robinson

Kimberly Robinson's passion for justice and improving people's lives is what attracted her to the practice of law. Few would assume her area of expertise—tax law—could be the means to feed those passions.

'Business Report': Business takes on plaintiff lawyers at Capitol

"The most sweeping legal reform bill of the year died pitifully less than halfway through the session," writes Business Report's David Jacobs in the magazine's new cover story. In Louisiana, when the plaintiff in a civil suit wants less than $50,000, the combatants don't have the right to a trial by jury. Most states have no such barrier; of those that do, the cutoff is $15,000 or less. "It's such an obvious example where Louisiana is far out of alignment with many other states," says Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. "We're completely off the reservation." But House Bill 917 never even got a real vote. On April 15, the House voted 51-49 to table the measure, which means the $50,000 threshold most likely lives at least another year. "I'm still a little stunned that the debate ended the way that it did," Landry says. Plaintiff attorneys lined up with the courthouse crowd, led by the Louisiana District Judges Association, in support of the...

Reforms on the Legislative agenda

The Louisiana Legislature is addressing several high profile legal matters this year. Here's where some of those efforts stood as this issue of Business Report went to press.

Merit selection: Not an option

"Judges are not politicians," U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts declared during his 2005 confirmation hearing.

Blane Clark

"My first real job was at McDonald's, where I worked for Charlie Valluzzo and many other managers who taught me a lot. My friends and colleagues at Kean Miller make fun of me for continuing to tell McDonald's stories' 35 years later. However, there is a piece of advice from one of my former managers, Charlie Jones, that I took to heart. He told me that if you wanted to advance up the corporate ladder, you had to train people to take your place. I am not sure if that philosophy is taught in management schools across the country, but it always made sense to me."

Quest for justice

The most sweeping legal reform bill of the year died pitifully less than halfway through the session.

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...