The Independent's ongoing public records lawsuit against Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope is back in court this week, with the publication seeking more records they assert may link the marshal to political activity during the sheriff's election.
Pope faces five felony counts of perjury and misuse of public funds after records unearthed through the lawsuit revealed he used his public office to campaign on behalf of his political ally, Scott Police Chief Chad Leger, in his unsuccessful campaign for sheriff. Pope will face arraignment in state court in October.
Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope was booked into and released from the parish jail on Thurs…
Now at issue is a redacted November invoice from attorney Charles Middleton, who represented the marshal in the earliest stages of the court battle. The Independent alleges Pope and Middleton were behind a lawsuit to unseal Sheriff Mark Garber's divorce records in effort to discredit him before the election, and that Pope funded that suit with public dollars.
Pope was set to testify on the matter Monday, but he instead provided written responses invoking Fifth Amendment privilege.
The questions, prepared by Gary McGoffin, The Independent's attorney, touched on whether Pope was involved in the divorce records lawsuit and whether he intended to reimburse the Marshal's Office for his legal fees in the public records lawsuit by The Independent.
Pope's attorneys, who now include Kevin Stockstill and Joy Rabalais, argue providing unedited copies of the bills, without blacking out sensitive material, would violate attorney-client privilege.
The paper is asking 15th Judicial District Judge Jules Edwards to compel the entire production of those invoices, and it's also asking the court to recalculate the attorney's fees, court costs and penalties the marshal owes in their lawsuit.
Edwards said he'll decide on the two motions by Friday.
The publication estimates the amount of those court costs reached about $180,000 as of last week, with costs accumulating as the litigation proceeds.
Pope already posted a $168,000 bond on the fees, but The Independent is asking Edwards to increase the bond to $270,000.
In addition to what the marshal owes the newspaper, pending a final judgment on his state Supreme Court appeal, Pope has also been billed more than $106,000 for his own legal representation in the public records lawsuit. He has been paying those bills through a Lafayette City Marshal's Office bank account, according to records received by The Advocate last week.
The Marshal's Office budget was about $2 million in 2015-16, although the amount has been reduced to about $1.7 million in the proposed budget for next year.
McGoffin said the court should determine whether Pope or his office should be footing the costs.
"The Independent has no interest in collecting public money on these penalties," McGoffin said. "We don't believe it's appropriate."
State law provides that a custodian of records is personally liable for damages in public records lawsuits. But the public body — in this case, the Lafayette City Marshal's Office — could be held liable for attorney fees and court costs if the documents were withheld on the advice of an attorney, as Rabalais pointed out in court on Monday.
Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope’s pending house arrest on a contempt of court conviction i…
Pope already faces a 30-day jail sentence, with all but seven of those days suspended and to be spent on house arrest, for contempt of court in the civil lawsuit. He was also ordered to pay $100 a day for each of the days the public records request went unfulfilled and to conduct community service providing public records law instruction.
The sentences are suspended while Pope asks the state Supreme Court for a review.