An appellate court panel on Wednesday upheld The Independent's lawsuit against Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope, who argued the newspaper had no legal basis for filing the suit.
A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal also lodged against the marshal more than $6,300 in the court costs of his appeal in which he sought to overturn a January judgment against him for withholding public records from the newspaper.
Pope's attorney argued The Independent had no right to file the suit because its reporter, Christiaan Mader — and not the newspaper — requested the records and that only a person has the right to sue for public records.
If successful, the argument would have voided the entire suit.
But appellate judges Elizabeth A. Pickett, Billy Howard Ezell and Phyllis M. Keaty found the argument "unpersuasive," adding that the state's public records law extends to corporations or companies and pointing out that Mader identified himself in his records requests as a reporter for the newspaper.
The appellate court panel also disagreed with Pope's argument that he legally withheld the documents on the advice of an attorney who said the documents were part of an ongoing criminal investigation and thus exempt from production.
Pope first denied any records existed, the court pointed out. And once 588 pages of documents were later produced upon a court order, there was "no evidence that any of the documents…were withheld because they contained matters incident to a criminal investigation," the judges wrote.
The panel also upheld the $100-per-day penalties and attorneys fees lodged against Pope.
"The trial court is afforded great discretion in awarding civil penalties under the Public Records Law, and the court of appeal will not overturn an award of penalties absent an abuse of that discretion," the appellate judges wrote.
Pope faces a five-count felony indictment on charges of perjury and misuse of public funds stemming from the records lawsuit. He is set for arraignment in October.
A separate appeal for Pope's contempt-of-court sentence for withholding the records is pending before the state Supreme Court. He's facing a 30-day sentence, of which 23 days are suspended and 7 days to be served under house arrest.
The Independent sought emails showing Pope used his public office to aid a political ally in last year's Lafayette Parish Sheriff's election.