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Ready, Set — Wait!
The wheels of justice are said to turn slowly " and that applies doubly so when LSU's Tigers are playing for the BCS championship against Ohio State. According to the Associated Press, Baton Rouge attorney Stephen Babcock requested a court delay in a car-crash lawsuit involving Imperial Casualty Insurance because he has tickets " and a Bourbon Street balcony reserved " for the match-up. 'In his written request for a new trial date, Babcock refers to Ohio State as "Slowhio' ("due to their perceived lack of speed on both sides of the ball') and notes that Allstate, sponsors of the Sugar Bowl, are not a party in the insurance case," the AP report states. West Baton Rouge Parish District Judge Alvin Batiste agreed to the postponement. " Alford

 

Outgoing Judge 'Rules' on Merit Selection Idea
'The Mississippi River will freeze over and we will walk over it backwards" before Louisiana adopts a merit selection process to replace judicial elections " thus predicted New Orleans Criminal Court Chief Judge Calvin Johnson before retiring on Jan. 2. 'But what can happen is we can better define who can run for office," added Johnson, 61, who stepped down after 17 years as an elected judge. His term officially ends Jan. 1, 2009. Johnson, who previously worked for 14 years as a criminal defense attorney and law professor, plans to resume teaching at the Loyola University School of Law. He said the long-running debate over whether judges should be appointed or elected has focused too much on mechanics and not enough on quality. 'It's not the selection method that's the problem," he says. 'We haven't defined who can be a judge " that's where the problem is." For example, eight years of legal experience, the current minimum requirement for judicial candidates, 'ain't enough," Johnson says. 'With all respect to the young people who have been elected, the fact of the matter is that in your mid-30s, you're not old enough, you haven't sinned enough, you haven't failed enough, you haven't succeeded enough to judge others." Some jurisdictions require lawyers who aspire to the bench to attend the National Judicial College or to pursue a scholarly track to the bench. But in Louisiana, Johnson says, any lawyer with $500 for a candidate qualifying fee and $200,000 in the bank can be elected judge. 'That's a dumb idea," he says, adding that Louisiana could create its own judicial college in concert with in-state law schools to prepare better candidates for the bench. " Johnson

 

Something for Mary
In a Christmas Day letter to the editor published by The Washington Post, former Louisiana Congressman Chris John praised a recent vote by U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat from New Orleans, to block legislation that would have dramatically increased taxes on core Louisiana industries. Noting that a Dec. 16 column by Post writer Steven Pearlstein 'clearly demonstrated that he does not understand how a $12 billion tax increase on the oil and gas industry would burden American consumers," John wrote that in casting her deciding vote, Landrieu 'exhibited the courage to stand up for consumers who would have been left "footing the bill' for the ill-advised legislation." John's letter could offer a bit of insight into where the oil money will be flowing as Landrieu prepares for re-election in the fall. John is more than just a fellow Democrat and old-time Landrieu chum; he's now the president of the Louisiana Mid-continent Oil and Gas Association, the state's premier energy association. Treasurer John Kennedy has announced that he will run against Landrieu, while Secretary of State Jay Dardenne is on the fence. Both men are Republicans. " Alford

 

Blanco's 'Breather'
Gov. Kathleen Blanco leaves office next Monday (Jan.14) after telling The Times-Picayune last week that she needs a 'breather from elected politics." OK, so what's the Governess going to do with her $2.9 million campaign war chest? The T-P's otherwise comprehensive front-page article on Blanco's 'Stormy Tenure" made no mention of her last public campaign filing of 2007. 'She has not made a decision on how to use the campaign funds," Marie Centanni, a spokesperson for the Governor's Office, told Gambit Weekly. On July 23, five months after Blanco announced she would not seek re-election, Cliff E. Laborde III, chair of Blanco's campaign committee, reported that the lame-duck governor had $2,956,209 in campaign funds in the bank. Of that amount, all but $30,798 was held in investments. Under campaign finance laws, Blanco can hang on to the money for another campaign, give it all back to her contributors or donate it to charity. " Johnson

Blanco's Book
Outgoing Gov. Kathleen Blanco plans to write a book when she leaves office next week, but she does not have a publisher yet. 'It's way too early for that," says Blanco spokesperson Marie Centanni. Blanco last month told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that Katrina and Rita, the hurricanes that drove her from office, would not be the focus of her work. The Times-Picayune reported she has been keeping journals for years, since before she was elected to the Legislature in the 1980s. Blanco can labor without high expectations. Political memoirs, even by presidents, can be tedious reads, full of 'accomplishments," revisions of history, and plenty of self-congratulations. Moreover, how many page-turners have you read by reformers, particularly in a state that loves its rogues? In that vein, probably the most eagerly anticipated political autobiography in Louisiana would be the prison diary of incarcerated former Gov. Edwin Edwards. " Johnson

 

House Enviro Panel Gone
State Rep. Gordon Dove, a Houma Republican, says the House Environmental Committee will officially be disbanded when the Lower Chamber gathers this month. All environmental issues will be directed to the House Natural Resources Committee, which Dove has been tapped to chair. 'I feel like it's an additional workload we can handle," says Dove. The Natural Resources Committee traditionally has handled hunting and fishing issues, although recent years have brought an influx of coastal management topics to the panel, including marsh conservation and tidelands. During last year's regular legislative session, the Environmental Committee was assigned only eight bills, whereas the Natural Resources panel handled 42 measures. The slow pace in the Environmental Committee is attributable to a variety of factors, ranging from a lack of interest by lawmakers to other committees expanding their jurisdictions. A note of interest to lobbyists: If you want to get a handle on natural resources issues, get to know Terrebonne Parish. While Dove has the House side locked up, his fellow parish delegation member, Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat from Bourg, is chairing the Senate panel. That should signal an added emphasis on coastal restoration, barrier island projects and commercial seafood. " Alford

 

Judges Want More Time
Orleans Parish has the only courthouse in the state with a docket that consists solely of criminal cases " but that is scheduled to change Jan. 1, 2009. New Orleans Criminal District Court and Civil District Court are set to merge at the end of this year, creating the 41st Judicial District Court, under post-Katrina reform legislation aimed at reducing the size of the local judiciary and making the system more efficient " or at least more like the rest of the state. Judges from both courts are expected to ask the Legislature for more time for the monumental merger when lawmakers convene in the spring under new Gov. Bobby Jindal. A consultant has been brought in from Philadelphia to facilitate the merger of the courts, which are now housed in separate courthouses, use separate computer systems and are completely disjointed. 'It's not an easy task," former Criminal Court Chief Judge Calvin Johnson said shortly before he retired last week. Other courts across the country that have undergone similar mergers have been given roughly five years to combine their civil and criminal functions. The Louisiana Legislature gave the New Orleans courts only two years to get the job done. But it remains to be seen if the legislature will make any changes in an election year. All judgeships in Orleans Parish are up for grabs in the fall. Civil as well as criminal judges serve six-year terms, which currently are scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2009. " Johnson

 

Hospitals Go High Tech
A $15.9 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission will foster digital record sharing at more than 100 nonprofit and rural hospitals across Louisiana. The transmission of complete medical records through a high-speed network has been a pet project of Louisiana's larger hospitals since before the 2005 storms, but rarely has such an undertaking been launched on the community hospital level. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is overseeing the project, which gives the hospitals access to a statewide fiber-optic network. The network will be especially important in the event of another disaster like Hurricane Katrina, because doctors in one part of Louisiana will be able to transmit patient information instantly to another part of the state. If patients evacuate without taking along their medical information, as many did during Katrina, the network connections will allow doctors to continue current courses of treatment and to access patients' medical histories. 'Although we have recognized the importance of electronic health information for the past four years, Hurricane Katrina clearly demonstrated that paper records are not sufficient, and that there is tremendous value in ensuring that a patient's record is easily accessible by anyone providing care," says Dr. Roxanne Townsend, DHH secretary. " Alford

 

Moving On Up
The transition period in state government moves along at a rapid pace. Here's a quick overview of major developments.

After more than a decade of public service, LRA executive director Andy Kopplin is heading off to the private sector. Replacing him at the LRA will be Paul Rainwater. That's an interesting choice in that Republican Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal plucked Rainwater from the nest of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat. Rainwater served as Landrieu's legislative director and chief of operations. 'Governor-elect Jindal could not have chosen a better candidate to lead our state's continued recovery," Landrieu says.

Attorney General-elect Buddy Caldwell, meanwhile, announced that a long-time television newswoman and aspiring Hollywood actress will serve as his director of communications. The Democrat has selected journalist and broadcaster Tammi Arender as his first line of defense against the Fourth Estate. Arender has worked all over Louisiana, but currently anchors and produces at KTVE/KARD in West Monroe. As a side note, Arender has had cameo roles in several movies, including Dukes of Hazzard. Even as she begins her job in the AG's office next year, two full-length films that feature her " Major Movie Star and Comeback " will be released.

Baton Rouge Congressman Richard Baker has lost a veteran staffer to the Jindal team. Michael DiResto has served as the Republican's press secretary since 1999 and took a temporary leave of absence to handle media on the governor's race for the state GOP. Now he's slated to become director of communications for Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis, who takes office alongside Jindal following his Jan. 14 inauguration. Davis is another Jindal appointee who was tapped from the ranks of a Landrieu office " she has served as Secretary of Culture Recreation and Tourism under Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Davis, like Jindal, is a Republican.

Jindal has selected Tammy Woods as his deputy legislative liaison. She currently serves in a similar capacity at the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, where she is a direct contact for lawmakers.

The Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System has unanimously elected Elsie Burkhalter as its 2008 chairperson. In assuming this post, she becomes both the first female and the first African-American to ever chair that board. " Alford

Following Florida's Lead
With everything Louisiana and Florida have in common when it comes to insurance challenges and hurricanes, it came as no surprise when Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal hosted Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for an in-depth meeting on the issues. Jindal was particularly interested in the way Florida has addressed problems that Louisiana now faces, and both governors support a national catastrophic insurance plan. Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, says while the odds are probably long against such legislation passing, it is certainly a reasonable project for the governor and the governor-elect to pursue. But, 'aside from the national catastrophe fund, one would hope that Gov.-elect Jindal doesn't follow Gov. Crist's lead in how to handle a property insurance crisis," Juneau adds, noting that Florida's system forces insurers to write coverage and creates billions in unfunded liability for the state. Louisiana lawmakers, however, also are watching Florida closely. Earlier this year, a group of lawmakers from south Louisiana traveled to Florida on a 'fact-finding" mission to learn how that state lowered property insurance rates for homeowners. The key meeting was with Florida Sen. Bill Posey, a Republican who recently sponsored the state's far-reaching insurance law changes. Posey's bill came as welcome relief to homeowners in the hurricane-prone state, but the decreases in insurance premiums will continue only if the state doesn't see another major storm. If it does, premiums on homes and cars would spike as the state deals with mountains of claims as the insurer of last resort. Many expect insurers in Louisiana not to buy into the entire Florida plan, but pieces of it may surface during the upcoming regular session. " Alford

Ethics Charges for Trahan?
State Rep. Don Trahan, a Lafayette Republican recently re-elected by a slim 33-vote margin, apparently violated state campaign finance laws in his recent campaign. In a prepared statement, Trahan explained that an inexperienced staffer unknowingly misidentified contributions from political action committees, also known as PACs, causing the campaign to exceed the legal limit for such donations by at least 40 percent. A review of Trahan's campaign finance reports reveal that more than $23,000 worth of contributions were treated as individual gifts and deposited to his campaign account during the most recent election cycle; the excess donations should have been returned. The PACs allegedly mistaken for normal donors had names like EASTPAC, NORTHPAC, SOUTHPAC, Soft Drink PAC, LUPAC and SUGAR PAC. 'Those errors were all clerical in nature and consisted primarily of inconsistencies in designating PAC expenditures," Trahan said in his written statement. 'We are in the process of correcting these errors." In a telephone interview, Randy Hayden, Trahan's campaign manager, did not refute the figure, adding that his team is still sifting through reports. He says the campaign contacted the state Ethics Board on its own and plans to return any PAC contributions that were accepted over the legal limit. Although the PAC threshold covers a four-year span, the pattern of crossing the legal limit begins to emerge in Trahan's reports during the weeks leading up to the Nov. 17 runoff. During the month of September, Trahan was already nearing the $60,000 PAC limit. Some $6,500 in PAC donations from health-care groups and business associations were incorrectly listed in the September report. These inconsistencies brought Trahan's PAC total to $61,631, or $1,631 over the legal limit. In October, the same discrepancies occurred " only this time to the tune of $20,757. Committees formed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) alone gave Trahan $14,500 in October. Kathleen Allen, an attorney for the state Ethics Board and former acting administrator, says Trahan faces a variety of fines at the discretion of the board. " Alford

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