EBR judge hears arguments in Mary Roper case _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Former EBR Parish Attorney Mary Roper goes into the 19th JDC Building in this August 2014 Advocate file photo.

Ousted Parish Attorney Mary Roper fired another shot at her former employers on the Baton Rouge Metro Council on Monday when she filed a lawsuit accusing the city-parish of refusing to respond in a timely manner to a public records request.

Roper was fired from her position as the city-parish’s top attorney in September after a monthslong standoff with a faction of Metro Council members. A contingent of members accused her of mismanagement and poor judgment, while she accused the council of playing politics and trying to award the position to their friends.

In August, before she was fired, Roper submitted a public records request asking for the communications of six council members: Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, Trae Welch, C. Denise Marcelle, Buddy Amoroso, John Delgado and Ryan Heck.

The request sought all correspondence, including emails, text messages and social media messages on both public and private email accounts and public and private cellphones beginning Aug. 1, 2008.

Loupe, Welch and Marcelle took office in January 2009. Amoroso, Delgado and Heck took office in January 2013.

Grant Guillot, an attorney for Roper, said they have so far only received a “very scant” and incomplete response to the records request.

“It’s been three months; it’s not like it’s been six days,” he said, adding that the request is very specific and not a “fishing expedition.”

Roper deferred comment to her attorneys.

Baton Rouge attorney Murphy Foster III, who was retained by the council to handle matters related to Roper, said the staff is in the process of fulfilling her records request.

He said some records have been turned over and some are awaiting her review. But he admitted that after Roper lost her suit in September trying to block her firing, the staff assumed the records request was moot.

“We are working nonstop trying to prepare the documents for her review,” Foster said. “It’s taking a lot of time, effort and money to cull through these documents to get to her.”

He said the request has turned up thousands of documents, which need to be examined for privileged information and communication that is not related to public business.

The public records request was tailored to search for keywords that included: “Greg Rome,” an attorney who Roper said was Loupe’s favorite parish attorney candidate; “Jack Whitehead,” an attorney who caused waves when he showed up at a hearing to represent the council against Roper without the knowledge or consent of several council members who supported Roper; “Eiad Odeh,” Roper’s husband; and “Lon Norris,” a City Court administrator who has been rumored as a potential candidate for parish attorney.

Guillot confirmed that Roper is looking for evidence that council members were colluding to remove her.

“It’s our position that they wanted her out and are looking for reasons to substantiate firing her,” Guillot said.

The public records request was filed before the September hearing where the council fired her. Roper had hoped to have some of the documents in hand to better prepare to defend herself against the allegations being made against her by the council, Guillot said.

Now that she’s fired, Roper is not seeking reinstatement, but Guillot said the records request could turn up information for a defamation lawsuit his client is preparing to file against the council.

The defamation lawsuit likely will center around statements made by council members that Roper and her husband, Odeh, were linked to another employee who attempted to sell copyrighted city-parish software as his own. Roper surfaced in the investigation of the alleged software theft because emails showed she sent Odeh, an employee with a private software development company, source codes to the city’s software. Roper said she did so only because she was in charge of seeking the copyright for the program and was asking her husband for technical help. But council members said she wrongfully shared proprietary information with him.

District Attorney Hillar Moore III previously said Roper never was being investigated for wrongdoing.

“She and her husband’s names were dragged through the mud for something that amounted to nothing,” Guillot said. “Now the damage is done, and she’s lost her job and part of her retirement.”

Foster declined to comment on the threat of a defamation lawsuit by Roper.

This is the second lawsuit Roper has filed. Before the council convened to fire her, she filed a suit asking a district court judge to declare that she was not an at-will employee and that the council could not fire her without cause. Judge Michael Caldwell ruled against her, but last week, Roper filed an appeal.

Roper also filed a separate public records request, apart from the one mentioned in her most recent lawsuit, asking for every email she sent or received while working for the city since 1993. The query yielded 90,000 documents, and the city-parish is currently battling with her about whether she should pay for the labor costs associated with redacting privileged communications from the massive amount of messages.

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