EBR council considering Parish Attorney Roper’s removal _lowres

East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney Mary Roper

A report prepared for the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council includes a laundry list of complaints about Parish Attorney Mary Roper, including that she secretly recorded a conversation with Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe.

The thick white binder of evidence against Roper distributed to council members on Wednesday, then retrieved, includes allegations of dual office holding, disclosure of proprietary software to a third party and mismanagement of her office.

The allegations, many of which have been raised previously by Loupe, will be aired at a June 18 hearing at which the Metro Council will decide whether to dismiss Roper. The council has been sharply divided on her fate.

Documents including emails, state and local policies and records of a previous investigation of Roper’s office by Loupe in 2009 were compiled by attorney Jack Whitehead, who is representing some Metro Council members in a bid to remove Roper.

Whitehead declined on Wednesday to provide a copy of the documents to The Advocate. They later were obtained from attorney E. Wade Shows, who represents Roper and was her predecessor as parish attorney.

The hiring of Whitehead has provoked controversy, as at least two council members expressed concern that Whitehead was hired without their consent to investigate Roper.

The council has expressed intentions to remove Roper on the grounds of “improper disclosure of proprietary information, breach of fiduciary duty and failure of confidence,” according to the documents.

Loupe, who made it clear shortly after his election in 2008 that he wanted to replace Roper, said Thursday that the recorded conversation was a tipping point for him in bringing the issue to a head.

“I don’t think she had the right to covertly tape me because I am her client and she is my lawyer,” Loupe said. “If other council members put themselves in my shoes and answered that question honestly, I feel like they’d feel the same.”

He said their conversation was related to the issues surrounding her dismissal, but that he also discussed personal issues concerning his family and his son’s medical condition.

He said he subsequently confronted Roper about the tape, which he learned of recently, and said she admitted she regularly tapes conversations.

Roper deferred comment to Shows, who said there is nothing illegal about recording a conversation, as long as one person is aware, per state law. He added that Roper doesn’t work for Loupe individually but rather serves the council as a whole, as well as the mayor and the various city-parish departments.

The binder includes a six-page investigation into the Parish Attorney’s Office that Loupe conducted and submitted to the previous Metro Council in 2010.

Loupe’s report at the time took issue with the backlog of unprosecuted cases, and the concern that attorneys are not documenting their hours. His report said attorneys are frequently working less than 40 hours a week, splitting their time with their own private practices or second jobs.

In an attempt to document that Parish Attorney’s Office employees were not working 40 hours a week for the city-parish, Loupe pulled data from the parking garage logs from 2008 and 2009 documenting when employees entered and left.

“Parking records reveal that many attorneys arrive at 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. each day, and leave at 2, 3, or 4 p.m. each day. This amounts to a 5- or 6-hour workday at best, and at worst represents part-time hours worked by an attorney employed full-time,” Loupe wrote in the 2010 report.

Roper disputed Loupe’s six-page report at the time, saying it was filled with “numerous inaccuracies, incorrect assumptions and distortions.” Loupe was unable to persuade the council at the time to move forward with a public hearing to remove Roper.

Loupe said Thursday that the problems he detailed in his 2010 report still exist. He said many of the parish attorney’s employees hold second jobs that create conflicts for the city-parish.

Documents in the binder point out that Roper works part time at the Louisiana Appellate Project, a nonprofit that provides free legal counsel for indigents in noncapital felony appeals. One of the supervisors of the nonprofit is Gwendolyn K. Brown, who also works under Roper in the Parish Attorneys office.

Brown is on a list of witnesses that Whitehead expects to call during the hearing. Other witnesses on the list include: Roper; City Prosecutor Lisa Freeman; Leslie Schiff, an Opelousas-based attorney who is expected to weigh in on legal ethics; William Daniel, chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden; and a representative on behalf of the Louisiana Appellate Project.

Shows said he felt like the questions about hours worked and conflicts of interest were settled in 2010, when they were initially raised.

In 2010, Roper said the parking garage logs were not a fair representation of hours worked, because many attorneys have meetings outside of the office.

Roper was asked to take leave in recent weeks, after it was discovered she sent her husband an email with source codes from an in-house software program called TRACE 360.

Roper said she was dealing with the source codes because she was asked to copyright the program, a process that includes sending the codes to the U.S. Copyright Office. She said she forwarded them to her husband because she had a question and he has a software background.

The email came to light because another city-parish employee, Kyle Jones, was discovered to have been attempting to sell the software program as his own.

The emails in which Roper inquires about the source codes from the Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security are also included in the documents, as well as the email from Roper to her husband with the codes. The software was used in-house for MOHSEP.

Roper has said the codes are public information. She also said her husband served as a technical adviser on the MOHSEP team that sought to copyright the program.

Earlier this month, Roper said she felt like the attacks against her were politically motivated, referencing attempts by Loupe to remove her in 2009 and 2010.

Her concerns have been echoed by other council members, who on Wednesday questioned why Whitehead was hired by some council members to present a case against Roper.

On Wednesday, Assistant Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson said she approved a pro bono contract with Whitehead — meaning that Whitehead is providing his services without compensation — at Loupe’s request.

Loupe said Whitehead only represents the council members who want his representation.

He also said Thursday that he did not reach out to Whitehead but that Whitehead came forward to offer his services to the council. Loupe provided emails demonstrating that he had notified the council last week of Whitehead’s assistance.

However, some council members said Wednesday that Whitehead isn’t representing their interest. At least four council members have expressed support for Roper: Tara Wicker, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Joel Boé and Scott Wilson.

The council will need seven votes to remove her.

Loupe flatly denied that his grievances are politically motivated.

“There is nothing political about this,” he said. “She can cry wolf all she wants, but I don’t have anything to gain or lose by this.”

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow the City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz.