A district judge on Monday postponed until next week Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope’s seven-day, house-arrest sentence for contempt of court in a public records lawsuit.
Pope, who had been ordered on Thursday to surrender to the Lafayette Parish jail by noon Monday, will now be required to surrender by noon April 4, according to an order signed Monday by 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards.
The judge also reduced Pope’s 4-year, 9-month, 7-day probation sentence — one that would have kept Pope under the court’s custody until 2021, or the end of his term — to two years, in keeping with the maximum probation penalty allowed for a misdemeanor conviction.
Edwards on Thursday gave Pope a 30-day jail sentence, with all but seven days suspended and the option to serve the sentence on house arrest, after finding him in contempt of court in The Independent’s lawsuit against the city marshal for withholding certain emails sent to and from his official account.
Kevin Stockstill, Pope’s attorney, said Monday there’s been no evidence admitted into the case to show Pope did not comply with a Dec. 14 court order to produce the emails.
“The conviction should be overturned because there was no proof beyond reasonable doubt submitted that would show that Marshal Pope violated any orders,” Stockstill said.
The Independent sued Pope after he refused for more than a month to fulfill a public records request. The news organization sought emails showing Pope’s involvement with Scott Police Chief Chad Leger’s unsuccessful campaign for Lafayette Parish sheriff in planning a news conference that attacked Leger’s then-opponent, Mark Garber, by accusing him of encouraging illegal immigration. Garber won the election and is now sheriff-elect.
Pope complied with Edwards’ Dec. 14 order to enlist a computer technician to help produce the documents, with the judge at the time questioning Pope’s technological competence in producing the records on his own. That technician produced 588 pages of emails from the email program on Pope’s computer workstation at the Lafayette City Marshal’s Office.
But another 79 pages of emails of Pope’s correspondence with the Leger campaign — including emails that showed Leger’s campaign manager authored Pope’s statement delivered at the news conference and other public statements he made in reference to it — were later produced through The Independent’s parallel request to Lafayette Consolidated Government.
Stockstill said Pope did not know the emails were stored on LCG’s backup archives when he fulfilled the records request.
“For us to be guilty of criminal contempt, we must know that they are contained on this archive,” Stockstill said.
The attorney also said for Pope to be held in contempt of court, The Independent would have to prove Pope deleted the emails — which were sent from Oct. 5-7 and requested on Oct. 8 and Nov. 30 — after the Dec. 14 order.
Douglas Menefee, the computer expert who testified on behalf of The Independent during the contempt hearing last week, said city backup servers store all emails coming to and from the city’s lafayettela.gov accounts, but they don’t record the date and time when an email is deleted.
A forensics expert would have to examine Pope’s hardware to potentially determine when the emails were deleted, but only if the hard drive did not write over the relevant information, Menefee said.
Edwards on Thursday also ordered Pope to pay $18,800 in penalties and more than $77,900 in attorney fees and court costs, and to teach 173 hours worth of classes on public records law, what it takes to comply with the law and the adverse effects of evading it.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Tuesday, March, 29, to note that Pope is required to surrender to the parish jail by Monday, April 4.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.