A district judge late Thursday sentenced Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope to serve seven days in jail and pay almost $100,000 in penalties, attorney fees and court costs after finding him guilty of contempt of court for withholding public records sought by a Lafayette news organization.
Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards handed down a 30-day jail sentence against Pope, with all but seven of those days suspended, and ordered him to surrender to the Lafayette Parish jail by Monday. Edwards said Pope will be allowed to serve the sentence on house arrest, but he will remain on unsupervised probation until 2021.
Pope also has been ordered to pay $18,800 in penalties and more than $77,900 in attorney fees and court costs in the case, which began when The Independent sued the marshal for refusing to release certain emails sent to and from Pope’s public email account.
The judge also ordered Pope to perform 173 hours of instruction on public records law. Those community-service hours of instruction represent the 173 legal days that lapsed before Pope produced an encompassing response to The Independent’s two public records requests, which sought emails that showed he used his public position, facilities and resources as a platform for Scott Police Chief Chad Leger’s unsuccessful campaign for sheriff.
Edwards said he found Pope “intentionally withheld the public records” and “intentionally misused his public office,” adding that evidence produced throughout the lawsuit serves as potential grounds to investigate the marshal for perjury and malfeasance in office.
Edwards also chided Pope for appearing armed and in uniform throughout the court proceedings, citing a statute that prohibits a law enforcement officer from appearing in court in official attire and toting a weapon when the officer is a defendant.
Edwards said Pope’s neglect of the well-known law serves as “another example of his attitude that he is above the law.”
Pope’s evasion of public records law and the legal proceedings that followed — including allegations of lying under oath — revolved around an Oct. 7 news conference he had called to attack Leger’s then-opponent, Sheriff-elect Mark Garber.
The eventual production of those emails showed Leger’s campaign manager, Joe Castille, authored the words behind the conference Pope held — at his office, in uniform and while flanked by deputy marshals — to accuse Garber of encouraging illegal immigrants to settle in Louisiana.
Suspecting Pope was working with the Leger campaign, The Independent filed a request the next day that sought emails including keywords like “Leger,” “Garber,” “Castille” and “Campaigner,” the latter being a Web service Castille used during election season to send email blasts like the one that distributed Pope’s news conference announcement.
The Independent also filed a second request, on Nov. 30, that sought additional information, like the Campaigner mailing list.
Pope first testified in a Dec. 14 court hearing that no emails existed in response to The Independent’s request, that he never used Campaigner and that his staff wrote the news release announcing the news conference.
But upon a court order, Pope three days later provided 588 pages of emails responsive to the request.
Another 79 pages of emails deleted from Pope’s computer were obtained Dec. 24 through The Independent’s parallel records request to Lafayette Consolidated Government, which found the files on backup servers that store all incoming and outgoing emails to lafayettela.gov accounts — regardless of whether they’ve been deleted in the user’s email client.
Included in those documents were correspondences between Pope, Castille, Leger and a confirmation email, sent to Pope from Campaigner, in which Pope had to click a link to authorize the service’s use his email account to send email blasts.
Emails also showed Pope used his staff to draft fundraising letters for his own campaign, in violation of state law, with the marshal testifying in a video deposition used in evidence during the lawsuit hearings that “everybody does it.”
“He insisted it was perfectly appropriate,” Edwards said, adding the admission provided “remarkable insight into Pope’s use of his public office.”
Public records law is designed to protect against “that particular approach to office-holding,” attorney Gary McGoffin, who represents The Independent, said during closing arguments Thursday, with the law providing a way “the public keeps the office-holder honest.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.