City Marshal Brian Pope has been ordered to pay a Lafayette news organization what could amount to thousands of dollars in damages and legal fees for withholding emails sought in a public records request.
Fifteenth Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards ruled the marshal did not meet his legal obligation to provide emails The Independent sought that would show whether Pope used his position for political purposes.
Edwards penalized Pope the maximum amount allowed under the state’s public records law: $100 for each business day he’s failed to produce adequate responses to The Independent’s two requests dated Oct. 8 and Nov. 30, along with attorney fees and court costs, said Gary McGoffin, who represents The Independent in its civil lawsuit against Pope.
“People underappreciate the power of (public records law), and if you’re the public official and you don’t respect it, you are gonna get hurt,” McGoffin said in a phone interview Tuesday.
Neither Pope nor Charles Middleton, the Lafayette attorney representing the marshal in the matter, responded to requests for comment.
State public records law provides Pope can be held personally liable for paying the damages, although his office may legally cover the costs of the court proceedings.
Both costs will be determined at a Feb. 29 hearing before Edwards, who also will decide whether to hold Pope in contempt of court for allegedly deleting some emails responsive to The Independent’s request.
With the court-ordered aid of a computer-data expert, the marshal in late December produced 588 pages of emails after initially refusing to respond to the request and later claiming the emails did not exist. Additional emails responsive to the request were released only through The Independent’s parallel public records request to Lafayette Consolidated Government, which owns and operates the lafayettela.gov email account that Pope uses for official business.
Pope will have to produce the additional emails retrieved through LCG’s servers to satisfy the request, McGoffin said.
The LCG-produced emails show Pope coordinated with Scott Police Chief Chad Leger’s campaign for sheriff in planning an October news conference that spurred The Independent’s records request, according to Pope’s video deposition played in court on Monday.
During that news conference, Pope tried to link sheriff candidate Mark Garber — now sheriff-elect — to illegal immigration.
The Independent sought emails containing the keywords Garber, Neustrom, Chad, Leger, immigration, Honduras, worker, compensation, illegal, alien, haven, Castille, Team Leger, personal injury, campaign, campaigner and mailing list.
Pope has since countered with his own expansive records request to LCG, which seeks all LCG employee emails from Sept. 1 to present that include those keywords, along with keywords related to each employee of The Independent and the city-parish legal and information technology departments.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.