Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope may owe more than $90,000 in legal fees and penalties in a local news organization’s lawsuit against him for withholding public records, which were sought to show Pope used his public position and facilities to aid a Lafayette Parish sheriff candidate’s campaign.
Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards will decide Thursday how much Pope owes The Independent in penalties for not providing an adequate response to the organization’s Oct. 8 and Nov. 30 requests until March 11. Edwards will also decide whether to hold Pope in contempt of court for failing to produce deleted emails in his first court-ordered response to the request — documents recovered only through the city’s archive server, even though Pope claimed under oath that such records did not exist.
The emails, sent to and from Pope’s lafayettela.gov email account, show his correspondence with Scott Police Chief Chad Leger and Leger’s campaign manager, Joe Castille, in planning a news conference that attacked Leger’s then-opponent, Sheriff-elect Mark Garber.
The Independent followed up on the news conference by requesting emails sent to and from Pope’s lafayettela.gov email account containing keywords like “Garber,” “illegal” and “Leger,” but 79 pages of relevant emails were excluded from the marshal’s response.
Edwards on Tuesday heard testimony in the case from Douglas Menefee, an information technology expert who examined both Pope’s office computer and Lafayette Consolidated Government’s backup servers as part of the lawsuit to gain an understanding of how information is stored across the equipment.
Menefee explained how all emails sent and received on LCG’s email accounts are archived on backup servers physically located in city hall, even when the user deletes an email from a computer or mobile phone. All users may access the information pertaining to their own accounts.
The software, however, does not record when an email is deleted, Menefee said. A forensic computer expert would have to examine Pope’s hard drive to potentially determine when the emails were deleted, although that information is overwritten with time, he added.
Pope’s attorney, Kevin Stockstill, pointed out that short of a successful forensic examination, there would be no record of whether Pope deleted the emails in question — which were sent and received from Oct. 5-7 — before or after The Independent submitted its first records request on Oct. 8.
Stockstill further argued that Pope should not be expected to know the emails existed on a backup server.
Emails first produced to The Independent through its parallel public records request to LCG were retrieved through the backup server. The emails show Leger’s campaign helped Pope plan the conference, during which the marshal — at his office, in uniform and flanked by deputy marshals — accused Garber of encouraging illegal immigrants to settle in Louisiana.
Pope’s 588-page, court-ordered response to the request on Dec. 17 — after he initially refused to produce the documents and later claimed the emails did not exist — did not include those emails.
Gary McGoffin, the attorney for The Independent, on Tuesday requested more than $74,000 in legal fees and $17,300 in penalties — at the $100-a-day penalty Edwards awarded in January — for the 173 legal days that passed before Pope produced an encompassing response to the news organization’s two records requests.
The hearing will resume at 3 p.m. Thursday with closing arguments and a ruling.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.