Saturday, September 9, 2017

New Orleans bail bond companies overcharging defendants, according to SPLC complaint

Posted By on Sat, Sep 9, 2017 at 10:00 AM


New Orleans bail bond companies have charged defendants illegally high bond rates to get out of jail, according to an investigation by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which revealed roughly $5 million in excessive fees was collected from nearly 50,000 people over 12 years.

The SPLC's announcement was released the same day Orleans Parish Criminal Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell said he plans to cut the hours that his office will process bail bonds, meaning people locked up after office hours will likely remain in jail despite having met the bond set by a judge.

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Suppressing free speech on the bayou

Posted By on Fri, Aug 5, 2016 at 6:26 PM

ExposeDAT, a website that drew the wrath of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.
  • ExposeDAT, a website that drew the wrath of Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter.

Former LSU Law Dean Jack Weiss, a highly respected First Amendment lawyer, taught me a valuable lesson about some of our most cherished freedoms.

“First Amendment freedoms, including free speech, freedom of the press, open meetings and public records, don’t get eroded in large cities where big news organizations can fight back,” he said. “They die in small towns, where entrenched politicians control virtually everything and most people are too afraid or too poor to fight back.”

I thought about Jack’s lesson when I read about Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter’s deputies executing a search warrant on the home of Houma police officer Wayne Anderson in hopes of learning the identity of an anonymous blogger who had the audacity to criticize Larpenter and other Terrebonne bigwigs.

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Friday, February 19, 2016

CSI: Baton Rouge

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 1:17 PM

  • Graphic by Lyn Brantley Vicknair

A common refrain among some lawmakers in Baton Rouge these days is that we should “look forward” and stop blaming former Gov. Bobby Jindal for Louisiana’s unprecedented fiscal crisis. If those lawmakers were to read the latest annual report by the Legislative Auditor, they’d change their tune.

According to the auditor, the Jindal Administration failed to timely file the vast majority of statutorily required reports on more than $1 billion a year in tax incentive giveaways for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.

“We found that three of the six agencies that administer tax incentives submitted reports as of March 23, 2015. As a result, the Legislature only received information on five of the 79 tax incentives administered by these agencies,” the auditor’s report states on page 17.

“In addition, of the 79 tax incentive reports agencies were required to submit to the Legislature by March 1, 2014, 70 (89%) either were not submitted or did not comply with all of the reporting requirements. According to the Department of Revenue’s Tax Exemption Budgets, the revenue loss from tax incentives claimed in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 for which agencies provided no information or did not comply with reporting requirements totaled approximately $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.”

You read that correctly: $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2013 and $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2014.

There’s our budget deficit right there, folks.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jindal’s naked cynicism

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 10:48 AM

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lawsuit against the Obama Administration over Common Core is sure to excite the GOP’s red meat crowd, but at the end of the day few believe it will change anything other than the governor’s network TV schedule.

In other words, the lawsuit has already succeeded, regardless of what happens in court.

As if to drive home the point that the suit is purely political and utterly without legal merit, Jindal hired his former executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, to lawyer the case — at $225 an hour, billed to Louisiana taxpayers. Faircloth has a perfect record on behalf Team Jindal in major cases; it is untarnished by victory.

Last week, Faircloth lost another round in state court on behalf of Jindal, who claims that state Education Superintendent John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) illegally procured Common Core testing services. In that case, a Baton Rouge judge found that Faircloth failed to produce a shred of evidence in support of the governor’s contention.

Blogger and LSU professor Bob Mann, whose columns appear in The Times-Picayune, nailed Jindal for filing a “politically motivated, frivolous lawsuit,” which he dubbed a “thinly veiled campaign document.” Such comments by Mann, an unabashed liberal and consistent Jindal critic, are not surprising, but when they sync with observations by conservative think tanks, it’s worth noting.

“I don’t think this lawsuit has a lot of merit,” Michael Brickman, national policy director for the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said in the T-P. The newspaper also quoted Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, who said, kindheartedly, “I do think it will be kind of an uphill battle.”

Truth is, if Jindal were sincere about wanting to end Common Core, he would have backed legislative efforts to repeal it earlier this year. Instead, he did virtually nothing. Why? Because deep down, Jindal wants — needs — to keep Common Core alive as a campaign issue. I don’t know who should be angrier with him — supporters or opponents of Common Core.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Jindal's 'dirty pool'

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s politically motivated attacks against the Common Core educational standards have become so heavy handed that even some of his traditional allies are calling him out. Until recently, Jindal ranked among the leading supporters of Common Core.

The governor changed his position after the state’s rollout of Common Core last year. Many students, teachers and parents complained that the new curricula were confusing, even controversial. That led to a groundswell on the far right, which was all it took to get Jindal to switch sides.

Anti-Common Core forces were all set to wage war on the initiative during the spring legislative session, but Jindal was a no-show each time a bill to weaken or kill the program came up. (That spoke volumes about the sincerity of Jindal’s newfound opposition.) After the session ended, he tried to gut the initiative administratively — and unilaterally — by going after the standardized test that is part of the Common Core program.

The governor claimed the state Board of Elementary and Second Education (BESE), which is constitutionally empowered to set education policy, failed to follow proper procurement procedures in buying the so-called PARCC test. That test was set to be used this academic year, which begins in a few weeks. With great fanfare, Jindal issued an executive order instructing his underlings not to pay for the test, arguing it was purchased illegally. That created a constitutional standoff with BESE — and threw Louisiana public education into disarray on the eve of the coming school year.

Jindal met last week with state Education Superintendent John White to discuss the impasse, to no avail. White, like most BESE members, supports Common Core. After the meeting, the governor’s top aide told reporters that Jindal’s main concern is Louisiana’s “history of public corruption” — a thinly veiled accusation that BESE and White broke the law in buying the PARCC test.

That caused even some of Jindal’s allies to gag.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Interview with the zombie

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Hours after a visibly humbled Ray Nagin took his post-conviction perp walk from the federal courthouse, I had the privilege of sitting down with the guy who actually uncovered the steaming pile of dung that became the case of United States of America v. C. Ray Nagin.

His name is Jason Berry. No, not that Jason Berry (the novelist and op-ed contributor). This is Jason Berry the blogger.

That’s right, a blogger broke open this scandal, on a blog called American Zombie ( TV and newspaper reporters have crowed about their “scoops” on this story, but the truth is no one had it before Berry. His work continues on other investigative fronts, but he took time out to chat with me about the Nagin verdict.

Did you feel an element of schadenfreude when the verdict came down? If not, what was your initial reaction?

No. I honestly didn’t feel vindicated in any way. In fact, I felt a little aggravated because I couldn’t wrap my head around the efforts of the defense. I suppose it’s my Catholic upbringing that seeks redemption for even a narcissist like Ray Nagin. There were so many things that could have been addressed in this trial but weren’t. I felt like it was a McDefense instead of the Brigtsen’s five-course meal that it should have been. Having said that, I don’t think there is any way to argue with credit card statements, checks, and bank statements, which leads me to wonder why Nagin had [defense attorney Robert] Jenkins take the case to trial in the first place. I do think Nagin’s prosecution and conviction are important for our city, though, and overall I’m relieved it actually happened.

You were onto this scandal long before anyone else in the media, yet you got very little credit for that. How did that make you feel as you watched the trial?

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. I sat through about 70 percent of the trial and I watched other journalists being praised by the prosecution for at least a few stories I know I broke, namely the granite deal between Stone Age and Cornerstone, the HSOA subsidiary, and the existence of the credit card Meffert was using under Netmethods’ name. Perhaps I’m taking it too personally, but I think there was an effort to diminish my role by both the prosecution and other journalistic entities. From the prosecution side I understand that the last word they wanted coming up in this trial was “blogger” in the wake of the commenting scandal, but on the journalistic side it’s tough to read commentary that dismisses and diminishes the work on the blog. Yes, much of my work was sourced anonymously, but this is not uncommon in journalistic endeavors, and ultimately the accuracy of the work should speak for itself. I’m a big defender of anonymity, but I suppose that’s another argument altogether.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nagin guilty in corruption trial

Posted By and on Wed, Feb 12, 2014 at 1:15 PM

Ray Nagin leaves U.S. Federal Court in downtown New Orleans, surrounded by family and defense attorneys, after being found guilty on 20 of the 21 charges against him. - KEVIN ALLMAN
  • Ray Nagin leaves U.S. Federal Court in downtown New Orleans, surrounded by family and defense attorneys, after being found guilty on 20 of the 21 charges against him.

After six hours of deliberation over two days, the jury in former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin's federal corruption trial returned this afternoon and found him guilty of conspiracy, money laundering, nine counts of wire fraud, six counts of bribery, and filing false tax returns from 2005-2007.

He was found not guilty of one of six counts of bribery, a $10,000 payment to his sons in 2009.

Prosecuting attorneys left the courthouse shortly after the verdict was read, not stopping to speak with reporters.

Ray Nagin walks with his family and defense team from federal court through Lafayette Square toward the law offices of his defense attorney, Robert Jenkins. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Ray Nagin walks with his family and defense team from federal court through Lafayette Square toward the law offices of his defense attorney, Robert Jenkins.

Nagin left court 90 minutes later with his wife Seletha Nagin and members of his defense team. Rather than leave in cars, Nagin and his defense team walked the two blocks to defense attorney Robert Jenkins' office on St. Charles Avenue. Nagin, looking grim and impassive, ignored shouted questions from reporters, saying only, "I maintain my innocence."

The only reaction the former mayor showed was to a passerby in Lafayette Square, who yelled, "We got your back, Ray!" Nagin briefly looked at the man and nodded his head.

U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan ordered Nagin to home detention. Sentencing will be in Berrigan's courtroom June 11 at 9 a.m.

Below the jump: the statement from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite's office.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Y@ Speak: "ready to get some truth out"

Posted By on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 1:45 PM

The truth is hard to swallow, but here are a few mouthfuls. This week's Y@ Speak spits so much truth that I must ask you whether you can handle it. Ray Nagin, take it away...

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Ray Nagin's final act

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2014 at 5:58 PM

A Mardi Gras float lampoons former Mayor Ray Nagin and his sons' granite business, which became a major point this week in Nagin's federal trial on corruption charges. - CREATIVE COMMONS/INFROGMATION
  • A Mardi Gras float lampoons former Mayor Ray Nagin and his sons' granite business, which became a major point this week in Nagin's federal trial on corruption charges.

If the verdict in former Mayor Ray Nagin’s federal corruption trial brings closure to a sad, sordid chapter of post-Katrina New Orleans, the trial reminded us all of the four dysfunctional years of Nagin’s second term.

The government put on a solid case. Lead prosecutor Matt Coman mapped out a narrative in his opening statement and then produced 26 witnesses and reams of documents to support it. That’s what good lawyers do: they begin by telling a story and then they promise to prove it from the witness stand. If they fail to keep that promise, they lose the case. Coman kept his promise.

When prosecutors put on a strong case, the burden shifts — not legally but practically — to the defense. Instead of presenting an alternate narrative, Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, simply tried to spin the government’s facts with a handful of witnesses who generally did not hold up well under cross-examination.

Jenkins closed with Nagin himself, who delivered a tour-de-force reprise of his role as the city’s narcissist-in-chief. Some courtroom observers painted him as arrogant; others said he was just trying to be charming. I wasn’t there, but as I followed his testimony online and talked about it with courtroom observers, I think what jurors saw was Nagin trying to be charming — in his hallmark above-it-all sort of way. On his final day on the stand, Nagin also played the victim card. Several times, particularly when Coman produced documents to discount the former mayor’s testimony that he took no bribes, Nagin shrugged and said, “It was post-Katrina.”

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The final chapter

Posted By and on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 12:17 AM

Ray Nagin
  • Cheryl Gerber


Former Mayor Ray Nagin’s federal trial on 21 public corruption charges was postponed again last week — for the third time. The former mayor is now set to stand trial on Jan. 27, 2014. If and when Nagin does go to trial — or if he pleads to a reduced charge — it will be the final chapter of Hurricane Katrina’s political arc.

Guilty or innocent, Nagin’s fate will bring closure to a city that arguably suffered as much after the storm as during it, thanks in large measure to the former mayor’s failure to implement a recovery program with any traction.

Nagin faces six counts of bribery, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. All of those are major felonies, which means Nagin faces a lot of jail time, even if he’s convicted on just one or two counts.

Federal prosecutors often pile on charges, sometimes adding one or two “minor” counts. In addition to having evidence of multiple crimes, prosecutors use the threat of lengthy jail time to leverage guilty pleas to lesser crimes with reduced sentences. At the end of the day, a win is a win.

Earlier this week, for example, former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to steal money from the coroner’s office, which carries a maximum sentence of five years. That’s serious jail time, but it’s a lot less than Galvan might have drawn had he gone to trial facing multiple counts of public corruption.

In Nagin’s case, a conviction on all 21 counts would send him to jail for a very long time, possibly longer than the 17-plus years given to Mark St. Pierre, the former City Hall tech vendor who rolled the dice and went to trial on 53 bribery counts rather than accept a plea deal. St. Pierre was convicted on all 53 counts. Now he’s anxious to testify against Nagin, hoping it will get him a reduction in sentence.

If convicted of even one count, all of the other counts against Nagin would still factor into his sentence as “relevant conduct” under the federal sentencing guidelines. The former mayor thus faces a lengthy prison term for any conviction — and the fact that he was a public official at the time of his alleged crimes enhances his potential jail time.

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